Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Price Of A Municipal Heart?

A couple days after the Monahan Massacre at the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last
Tuesday night the blood splatter has begun to congeal and the impact of the changes to the proposed budget are being assessed.

Although the
city staff had presented the council with a balanced budget, Gary Monahan apparently felt it was necessary for him to put his mark on the process by recommending what he initially said would be $600,000 in budget savings. He didn't even get close! When council members Eric Bever, Wendy Leece and Katrina Foley rejected his proposals to chop 1 animal control officer and 2 code enforcement officers from the budget - correctly so, in my opinion - that blocked more than $300,000 of his "savings". That left him with only a few other items that amounted to any significant savings - and not very significant, at that.


Based on the postmortem of the massacre, it appear
s that all that shouting, name-calling and angst netted a budget dollar savings of around $100,000 - and $36,000 of that came from the city council budget itself by cutting out things like training and meals for the council, commissions and staff before their regular meetings.


The long term affects of Monahan's mayhem Tuesday night will take a longer time to assess. By
cutting out the Mobil Recreation Van - a new piece of equipment, by the way - the city will lose 4 staff members. By cutting out the Teen Center at the Downtown Recreation Center we will lose 3 more. If Monahan's proposal to contract-out the operations of the Neighborhood Community Center and the Downtown Recreation Center are successful, that will mean the loss of 5 full time and 20 part time staffers.


I was among the many residents of this city that sat with our jaws dropped as Monahan, and his willing accomplice,
Allan Mansoor, went about hacking away at an already professionally trimmed proposal. The blood they leave on the floor is that of the youth of this city - mainly the Latino youth on the Westside of our city. By eliminating so many of the successful programs for the youth of this city it leaves those children with few opportunities for positive activities in the afternoons. This opens the door for gang involvement, graffiti "tagging", vandalism and more. You can thank Monahan and Mansoor for that...

I guess I can understand h
ow Mansoor and Bever, who supported many of the cuts, can be so clueless about anything dealing with the children of our city - they don't have any. I couldn't understand how Monahan, with six children of his own, could be so heartless until a friend reminded me that all his kids go to private school and won't be affected by any of these program cuts he enforced. Reflecting on the proceedings Tuesday night, I recall him making statements that implied that parents should be paying for programs - a reference, I guess, to his situation. I guess if it's good enough for Monahan, who splits his time between his bar and two municipal troughs - the city and the sanitary district - then it should be good enough for everyone!


Because Monahan's draconian recommendations were not specifically "noticed" in the staff report there has been some concern within the community that there might have been a Brown Act violatio
n. According to city sources, that's not the case. The "budget" was noticed and everything is on the table at budget time. While that may be true from a legal standpoint, it still reeks of what a friend refers to as "Government By Ambush". You can bet the farm that if members of this community had been made aware that Monahan was planning to decimate our youth after school and recreation programs there would have been a packed house of unhappy parents to speak against his move.


I agree with councilwoman Katrina Foley. With these c
uts Monahan and his heartless majority have torn at the very fabric of our city. He even tried to de-fund our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), for goodness sake! Their actions will almost certainly cause young families to think hard before moving to our city. This city's motto may be, "The City of the Arts", but it will never be considered a city with a heart - Monahan took care of that last Tuesday night.

Monahan, early in his presentation, speculated that he was going to make some people angry. Well, Gary, you did that - in spades! You demonstrated to many of those voters who were suckers enough to return you to the dais last fall that you are not to be trusted with the welfare of our city. You've proven, once again, that you are a devious politician, looking out only for his own political future. I hope the voters of this city remember last Tuesday - I'll remind them, by the way - when you trot out your plan for a directly-elected mayor (without term limits) again.
Few in this city want to see you anoint yourself as "mayor for life"...


With the carnage Tuesday Monahan has provided us with the answer to the question, "What is the price of a municipal heart?" The answer is $100,000, give or take a couple bucks.

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Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff, I think the bigger issue here is that the Council approved a budget that relies on the assumption that the employee unions will agree to the proposed cuts. They have not yet done so, and the budget ship has sailed.

I was unable to make either the study session or the workshop due to pressing work projects that have been keeping me at work late, but you provided some detail on the negotiations. Even if they were going well, they did not reach any agreement before the deadline - which is a VERY clear indication that the employee associateions are dragging their feet. If they truly intended to accept the proposals,they would have done so by the deadline.

All of the theatrics and vitriol at the Tuesday meeting will be for naught if the employee associations refuse to sign off on the proposals. Monahan's cuts will literally be drops in the bucket, as those MILLIONS will have to be found elsewhere - in layoffs (with the associated program cuts and service reductions).

Please let me know if I am missing something - everyone is wringing their hands over Monahan's cuts, when the entire budget is based on the ASSUMPTION that the unions will miraculously agree to accept a deal they have refused to accept for over a month.

Looks like Eric Bever was the only responsible adult on the dais last Tuesday.

6/18/2009 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Rob, I read your "companion piece" on the DP blog. I responded to it, but don't think it's up yet.

First, Bever is NOT a responsible adult on the dais! What a truly unfortunate statement for you to make. You need to spend more time paying attention - as you used to do - before chiming in! If he had his way we would be looking at dozens - maybe 100 - staff members being laid off to balance the budget! That's an infantile approach to a very complicated issue. It doesn't surprise me that he feels that way, but it astonishes me that you fell for it. You're a lot smarter than that!

There are way, way too many unknowns in this year's budget - how much the state will steal from property taxes and gasoline taxes, for example. It they "do their worst" it could mean $9 million from our coffers. We don't know how many people will take advantage of the early retirement program yet - and won't for a couple months. Roeder, Puckett and Young presented the council a balanced budget - with areas of attention that will be required over the next couple months. Monahan's massacre was inconsequential in the big picture - it just did damage to the families of this city and didn't really help the budget at all.

6/18/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Geoff, I read and responded to the companion piece on the Daily Pilot, here it is:

"Geoff, you're right - there are too many unknowns! The budget is NOT completed - which is why I agree with Bever's stated reason for not voting to approve the budget. While the unions should be applauded for coming to the table - not reaching an agreement BEFORE the council was scheduled to vote on a "balanced" budget is pretty compelling evidence that they aren't willing to agree to the proposed cuts! I hope that I'm wrong. Finally - thank you for covering the budget process so thoroughly here and on your blog!"

I was specificallly referring to the responsible act of NOT voting to approve this budget. With so many unknowns, voting to approve it is irresponsible. I'm not a fan of layoffs, and have consistently stated that opinion since this budget debate started. The employees are who keep every city function viable, without them we really do lose the "heart" of the city. The employee associations are, in my opinion, in the drivers seat here - they could propose significant and temporary concessions to save jobs and fire station(s), maintain staffing levels and programs and bridge the gap to keep the budget balanced.

No one wants to take a pay cut, but wouldn't people losing their jobs be worse? The $6.4 million in raises and increases from last year should be a starting point, then percentages to close the gap. These pay cuts should be temporary and conditional on repayment when revenues rebound.

So no, I don't think that 100 layoffs is responsible if those positions provide valuable service to residents and businesses. But I do think voting against an incomplete and speculative budget is responsible.

6/18/2009 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Rob, among the many unknowns is exactly what's been happening between the city and the unions. It is my impression that significant talks HAVE been occurring. Roeder has said in public that he expects something to come to fruition within 60 days - now 45 if my calendar is correct. Bever's vote made no difference at all, but his reason for voting NO did. It was in immature and petulant act - one not supported by any logical analysis of the situation.

The budget MUST be implemented by July 1 - no choice there. The staff gave them a balanced budget that, granted, will require certain things to happen for it to end up balancing a year from now. That's really the point, isn't it? We don't have to have all those bucks in the bank on July 1, but we have to have a plan to balance the budget throughout the year. Of course, we must have the cash to pay the bills as we go along, but our municipal world won't come crashing down if we don't get agreements with the unions before July 1. If negotiations fail - I personally don't think they will - the "nuclear option" remains - laying off significant numbers of employees to make the budget work.

In the meantime, the steady - and probably very frustrated - hand of Allan Roeder is on the helm of our city. I'm confident he will find a way to navigate us through these trying times if we can just keep the council's hands off the tiller - they are the problem. They didn't have to go through all the crap Monahan put them through Tuesday night. His "leadership" will cost many recreation folks their jobs for NO REASON and he demonstrated how self-focused he is. That's a lesson all voters should learn.

6/18/2009 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Humberto said...

I watched the council meeting on Tuesday night with my daughter on my side. I wanted her to understand real life issues, and I wanted her to see how government can have so much impact on her and on the larger community. She is only twelve and she happens to have a few friends in the Westside --she goes to TeWinkle Middle School-- and was very sad that some programs were cut in that area. However, what bothered her the most was Bever's attitude during crucial moments of the vote. "How come he (Bever) doesn't say anything, but votes", she said. Honestly I didn't have any rational answer for her. I could only make assumptions. Perhaps he's tired or maybe he's already reached a decision and knows how to vote on some issues. Still, I'm puzzled by his attitude. Monahan's assertiveness surprised her as well. "It looks like Monahan talks a lot because he knows a lot, and Bever doesn't say anything because he doesn't know anything", she concluded.

6/19/2009 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Humberto, what an interesting experience for your daughter! In a world where perception means so much, her last sentence say a lot. As she moves through her life she will certainly find that just because a person says a lot doesn't necessarily mean he knows a lot! Of course, her observation of Bever may be accurate. :-) :-) I think you're preparing her for an interesting life ahead, although I wonder if paying too much attention to events like last Tuesday's council meeting might suck some of the joy from her young life. And, what is her reaction to the shouting match between Mansoor and Foley? Thanks for sharing...

6/19/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Humberto said...

Geoff, after the council meeting my daughter and I had a short talk about people and politics. She's very young and also lucid intellectually. Yesterday she went out to the beach with her friends to celebrate a birthday party. So, she isn't loosing anything a normal child of her age would do on a daily basis. Her mom and I try to balance things so that she really understands real life issues and people as well. I want to make sure she understands that those philosophical and political ideas similar to those embraced by Martin H. Millard are despicable for our society. This summer I'm preparing a trip to the Museum of Tolerance in LA, and, of course, we're going to the movies to see "Imagine that" with Eddie Murphy. Isn't that a good mix?

6/21/2009 10:46:00 AM  

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