Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Government By Ambush

Yep, that's what my friend, David Stiller, calls it. He coined the phrase a few years ago when he thought there was insufficient notification on an issue to be heard by the City Council. Last night's council meeting was the perfect example of what he meant.

New Business #3 - which the council very kindly moved from the back of the agenda to the front to accommodate the many seniors in the audience - is the agreement between the City and the Costa Mesa Senior Corporation regarding the operation of the Senior Center for another 5 years, plus the possibility of extending the agreement for three more five-year terms.

The staff report originally posted online represented the hard work over many months by the special Senior Center Task Force, formed to address the renewal of the contract and some specific issues that had arisen over the past couple years. Mayor Allan Mansoor and Councilman Gary Monahan were on the task force, which also included Senior Center members Arlene Flanagan, Judy Lindsey; Senior Center volunteer Anna Kozma; Chamber of Commerce nominee Patty Mason and community member, former mayor Mary Hornbuckle. Senior Center Executive Director Aviva Goelman and Costa Mesa Recreation Manager Jana Ransom were non-voting members.

This task force worked diligently over nearly a year, addressing the boilerplate issues of the official agreement and ancillary issues and, earlier this year, produced the document to be considered last night. That document had already been approved unanimously by the Task Force and the Senior Corporation Board of Directors.

However, at the very last minute - late last Friday night - "someone" requested that an additional paragraph be inserted into section 8, Programs and Services. This addition only appeared in the staff report at that time, with no prior or subsequent notification to the Senior Corporation Board. The additional paragraph reads as follows:

"Tenant has the right to reasonably control disruptive behavior at the Senior Center, but recognizes that the Senior Center is a public building and place of public accommodation. Tenant shall not discriminate against qualified users of the Senior Center on the basis of their first amendment protected activities or on the basis of their viewpoint."

In the view of many who read this quick-pitched entry into the previously-approved version, this seemed to be a clear attempt by someone - I suspect Wendy Leece - to usurp the management authority of the Executive Director of the Senior Center and her bosses, the Senior Corporation Board.

Then, during the deliberations, Mansoor attempted to slip into the agreement a requirement for the Senior Center to submit to an audit whenever the whim struck the City Council - another item that had not been approved by the Task Force nor the Senior Corporation Board.

President of the Senior Corporation Board, Bruce Garlich, addressed both issues. During his presentation he explained that the Task Force had worked for many months on the agreement and the Task Force and the Senior Center Board unanimously approved it as presented. He said the proposed amendment (above) has had no review by the Task Force and seemingly little review by the city staff. He called the timing of it's inclusion "suspicious and disrespectful to the Task Force and the Senior Center staff". He said it was "a solution in search of a problem."

Garlich went on to say that, "to the best of his knowledge, at no time had the Senior Center staff been made aware of any complaint from any Center user that their first amendment rights had been discriminated against." He explained that, if such an event occurred, there is a protocol to resolve it via the Executive Director and the Senior Board. He reminded the council that, if it chose to include the added language it would be in violation of Section 9 (d) of the agreement, which states in part that "Tenant is and shall act as an independent agency and not as an officer, employee or agent of the City."

Garlich also objected to the language Mansoor tried to insert during the discussion dealing with an audit. Section 9 (c) provides for an audited financial report requirement, which, in Garlich's view, should be sufficient.

Mansoor was part of the Task Force and, according to sources familiar with their deliberations, the issue of yet another audit - a "forensic audit" - was not discussed nor approved by the Task Force. In fact, there has been no definition of exactly what a "forensic audit" is supposed to be - that was a term tossed out quite casually by Leece during the council meeting. Springing this on the Senior Corporation Board without notice is just another example of "Government By Ambush", and a pretty crappy way to do business.

Eric Bever's "contribution" to the discussion was to gripe about there not being any language in the agreement that dealt with what he called "dispute resolution. He said, "Our only option was to say, 'Ok you guys, you're fired'". He asked the City Attorney to provide him with a list of options for the council to consider. That will be considered at a future date.

The upshot of this debacle was that, because of the requirement for the amended agreement to be, once again, considered by the Senior Corporation Board, there 's a good chance that it might not make it back through the system in time to be approved before the budget is approved to go into effect July 1. If that's the case, no checks may be issued to the Senior Center until the agreement is completed and approved.

I'm not a Senior Center insider and don't have personal knowledge of all the circumstances that led to the launching of the Task Force in the first place. I do know what has been public knowledge. A small band of malcontents - some of whom were not members of the Senior Center - decided that they were not getting their way so went to Leece and griped about it. She, unable to sort important issues from petty grievances that should have been resolved under the roof of the Senior Center, began a witch hunt. As a result, the Task Force was created and did a terrific job of sorting out the issues and making their recommendations.

The blindsiding of the Senior Corporation Board with these items as the council was about to vote on them reeks of petty politics and, as Garlich stated a couple times during his presentation, is disrespectful of the Task Force and the Senior Center management.

Fortunately, the council voted to approve the original agreement without the offending language but did add a few words requiring the ability for the City to pay for a "forensic audit" during the term of the contract. This hiccup will now require the entire agreement to be re-considered by the Senior Corporation Board and, depending on how their deliberations go, may delay the final approval of the contract.

This disregard for the process they established caused more than a few observers to lose confidence in some members of the council. It's a miserable way to do business and demonstrates the intellectual and ethical limitations of some of our elected leaders. It's a shame.

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Blogger mesa verde madman said...

And the beat goes on...

These people are simply unbelievable. And I was just re-reading the comments in the Pilot on Steve Smith's column this week, and the tangents our residents go off on and the ignorance they display is disheartening at best, and almost amusing. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to live in Irvine (never thought I'd say that)...

Those who have consumer the Mansoor Kool-Aid, I fear, just don't get it...

5/06/2010 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Yep on all counts - except, maybe, that "Irvine" comment. Not sure I could live someplace where it's so regulated that they practically tell you when it's your turn to breathe. :-)

5/06/2010 07:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Babbling crackpot said...

Im with you the rights of corporations should be protected and come before the rights of people. All hail Capitalism!

The blindsiding of the Senior Corporation Board with these items as the council was about to vote on them reeks of petty politics and, as Garlich stated a couple times during his presentation, is disrespectful of the Task Force and the Senior Center management.

5/06/2010 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Babbling crackpot, your choice would be what? To have Mansoor ignore the process of which he was a part and attempt to, at the last minute, impose a unilateral condition in a contractual agreement that had been hammered out over many months? Apply that kind of condition to your own life. Say you negotiate to buy a car, have the deal all set, the check written and are ready to go when the dealer tells you, at the last possible moment, that you can buy the car but the keys cost extra. Is that a good deal for you? How would you feel?

The Senior Corporation Board is a non-profit organization comprised of volunteers who actually do care about the well-being of Costa Mesa seniors. They've had a long and positive relationship with The City and provide a plethora of services to the seniors of this community.

5/06/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Babbling crackpot said...

I think you may have flipped the roles in your scenario. The scenario should be a person goes to buy a car and at the last minute a regulatory board tells the dealership you need to make sure your customers are happy with the car they are buying. You also need to submit to reasonable audits to further transparency and customer satisfaction.

I'm not saying the Senior Board is acting underhanded. I just don't understand the hang-up. Are additional audits a disservice to patrons? How about the extra verbiage protecting patrons freedom of speech and religion? What’s the problem there? If the boards intentions are good and they don't fear transparency they should be for these items.

PS You might like Irvine. the city is in step with your crusade to ban all fireworks here in Costa Mesa.

5/06/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Babbling crackpot, both items represent an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion into the operations of the Senior Center. The City already gets audited financials as prescribed by the current - and the new - contract. If any user of the Center feels their rights are being abridged there is a mechanism in place, as described above. This is just a brainless response to a couple malcontents who feel slighted because the Executive Director won't jump when they holler. Sounds like you might be one of them. If so, have you attempted to have your grievances heard? If not, why not?

5/06/2010 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous bubbling crackpot said...

According to Garlich, anyone displeased with the executive Director can complain to the executive Director, and if that doesn't work (why would it?), the next option is to complain to the Board, which of course backs the Executive Director. After that, the only option is, according to Garlich, the judicial system.

Garlich was overheard telling someone at least we got rid of that first amendment crap after the meeting. The whole thing stinks to high heaven and stifles any dissent - it is Aviva's way or the highway. It is the senior center, not Aviva's.

I can't believe you aren't more suspicious of senior center leadership, pot stirrer.

5/06/2010 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

babbling crackpot, did you actually read what you wrote before you sent it? I suspect not.

If a person has a grievance they can take it to Aviva, who, as Executive Director, is charged with handling problems. If not satisfied with the result of that approach the person can appeal the decision to the Senior Corporation Board.

If we're talking "first amendment" rights and there is still no satisfaction there is the option to take it to the courts. If you heard Garlich's comments then you know he is aware of NO incidence of such a complaint.

I have confidence in the leadership of the Senior Center Board. I think there is sufficient intellectual horsepower and management experience to effectively run the operation. If you have a specific complaint please feel free to vent your spleen here. If you prefer a more private communications, go to my profile and send an email to that address. Thanks for participating.

5/06/2010 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Babbling crackpot said...

"The Pot Stirrer said...
This is just a brainless response to a couple malcontents who feel slighted because the Executive Director won't jump when they holler."

Another way to refer to them is Seniors or People or Citizens who want improved conditions. For a complainer, like yourself, I'd think you'd be more sympathetic to their plight. Ahh but you have friends on the Senior Center board. So morals go out the window when you can cater to friends right? Hopefully you’re getting paid for your compromise.

5/06/2010 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Babbling crackpot said...

Non-profits still pay their officers. How much are board members like Garlich making?

5/06/2010 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Babbling crackpot (a perfect name, by the way),

Of course your definition of the malcontents works. Simply because a person is getting along in years doesn't mean they can't be a pain in the butt. Shoot, look at me as a perfect example of that! And, simply because a person is older doesn't mean they are immune from rules of conduct, either.

Yep, I DO have friends on the Senior Corporation Board and am quite proud of their contributions to the community in general and to our seniors specifically. It's curious that you view our difference of opinion as a "moral" issue. I certainly don't see it that way. You make it sound like some seniors are being treated immorally - is that what you mean? If so, by all means immediately call the authorities and be prepared to provide PROOF of such accusations - and be aware of the penalties for filing a false report.

Of course, I'm not getting paid for my opinion - are you being paid for yours? If so, how much? Who pays you?

As to how much, if anything, any member of the Senior Corporation Board may or may not be paid - I have no clue and don't really care. If they are paid, whatever it is certainly isn't enough to have to put up with some of the nonsense foisted off on them in recent months. How about you? How much money do you make a month? What are your sources of income? Don't like that question? None of my business, you say? Well, right back at ya, my friend.

You sound like a person who attends the Senior Center. Is that true? You also sound like a person who is very unhappy with the Center. Is that true? Have you voiced your complaints, and to whom have you voiced them? Care to share your grievances here, realizing that NOTHING will come of it?

I'm happy to give you a place to vent your spleen. Keep them coming and invite your friends.

5/06/2010 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Senior Center Board Member said...

Babbling crackpot: as I member of the Senior Center Board I will tell you that we get paid absolutely nothing. In fact being on the board tends to cost money. we support fundraisers, we donate our own funds, we take time away from our business' to "serve' on the board. You are very misguided if you think a non profit pays it's board members. Let me know which ones do, I want to volunteer for those. Get real, oops you are just living up to your moniker.

5/07/2010 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous millierda said...

Don't worry mesa verde madman, the majority of tangents you speak of stem from the same nutcase source.

5/07/2010 02:59:00 PM  

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