Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Of Bars, Barbs and Boneheads

Well, the dust is beginning to settle after the late (early?) meeting of the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority Tuesday night - actually, 12:10 Wednesday morning - and some subsequent information makes this whole process even more fascinating.

For example, Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit tells us in his column, HERE, that the deal was dead until Gary Monahan resurrected it on cocktail napkins at his gin mill late Friday night. His account of this event is very interesting.

Before going further I must commend Monahan for his role in salvaging the deal, both Friday evening and during a marathon session on Saturday. That, plus his matter-of-fact comments in the proceedings Tuesday night, probably kept it from going down in flames. He correctly pointed out, after much rancorous discussion, that we didn't really have a choice. Only by approving the deal with Facilities Management West would the City avoid having absolutely no influence on the future of the Fairgrounds. If the State, as it threatened, did put the property back on the market Wednesday it would likely be lost forever. And, as Monahan quietly alluded to, there was the chance that the State would simply lease the property, voiding the impact of Measure "C" and permitting an unlimited variety of uses.

Early in the discussion Monahan provided seven bullet points - a list of benefits to the city that this deal represents:
1 - Maintains control of the property's use.
2 - It receives a steady income from the property.
3 - We're not investing City tax dollars for the purchase of the property or for operations of the property.
4 - Unfettered ownership of the property when the lease terminates.
5 - Protects the community uses on the property as well as the annual fair.
6 - Benefits from protection from damages and liabilities.
7 - Has the opportunity to receive big ground lease payments once the state loan is repaid.

Clearly, many speakers Tuesday night, among them former Mayor Sandra Genis, were unhappy - that's no surprise. Each of them had a passionate interest in keeping the Fairgrounds as-is. I understand their angst. However, this deal is much, much better than they could have expected under almost any other scenario. I hope, as time passes, they will begin to see that more clearly.

The trail of speakers on this issue during public comments made it clear that few were happy with the deal as they understood it. I phrase it that way because there was much confusion about just which version of the deal we were addressing at this point. Many of them thought this was a bad deal, that lacked transparency as it progressed and without any kind of guarantees for transparency in the future. They're not wrong...

Burned in my brain is the exchange Tuesday night between OCFA Chairman Allan Mansoor and of the Facilities Management West team. I think a peek at the streaming video of the proceedings, HERE, will help you understand just how that went. Drag the timer bar over to 39:50 if you're in a hurry. That's the point where Mansoor begins his inquisition of Facilities Management West partner, Richard Dick, who was speaking in the absence of their normal negotiator, Guy Lemmon. Mansoor posed to Dick an issue that, in Mansoor's words, was "a deal breaker"... he told Dick that "it's my understanding some of the attorneys from Facilities Management West were, um, and this is what I've been told, I was not there, were considerably less than respectful to some of our city staff." He went on to express more concern about the alleged disrespectful treatment of the Costa Mesa team and stated, "that troubles me more than some of these details that are in this written agreement." waving the papers in the air. Oh, really, Allan? Is that right? You care more about some hurt feelings than a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the city with a life span of more than a half-century? Are you really that obtuse? Guess so, because he persisted.

Mansoor then went on to question Dick about the product sponsorship segment of the MOU, observing that there is a cap on the amount the OCFA would receive. Of course, this issue had been hammered out over long, long meetings by teams of negotiators. It sure looked like Mansoor was attempting to modify the agreement that had already been approved by the City team and Facilities Management West. Dick attempted to give a little history and pointed out that the issue Mansoor was raising was just part of the approximately $300 million in net income to the city under the deal. Mansoor persisted, asking if there was a reason it couldn't be a percentage. Dick responded by saying, "Excuse me, but I didn't think we were coming here this evening to negotiate." Mansoor persisted and Dick said, "I didn't think we were in a negotiating position on rent."

This is where it got to be fun. At that point, around 46:45 on the counter, Kenneth Fait, head honcho of Facilities Management West, came to the podium - apparently tired of seeing his guy getting pilloried by Mansoor - and tried to calm the issue down. He apologized for any incivility by his team. He emphasized that "Sir, we're going to be in it forever, and how that works out - we better get along." Mansoor persisted, pointing out to Fait the difference between "hard, aggressive negotiating and unprofessional actions". In response to that Fait said, "I apologize, but we've offered you the max rent and I'm not going to offer you a penny more." He pointed out that it represents about $371 million "coming down the pike here." Mansoor persisted, indicating that he just wanted to know why there's a cap. Fait explained that, "If it's just money you want, we've offered you the max that we're going to offer." Mansoor said, "I appreciate that, but it really doesn't answer my question, simply a question of why there's a cap." Before Mansoor could finish that statement Fait said, "Because I want all the profit beyond that! It's very simple - I want all the money beyond that. It's really simple - that's mine! I've offered you what you're gonna get. That's a good working relationship. You know, I'm a private entrepreneur, I hope to make more than the money I'm paying you." He and Dick then left the podium and took a seat in the audience.

At that moment many of us watching the proceedings thought that Mansoor, in his ignorant, clumsy way, had blown the deal that had taken hundreds of hours of negotiation to bring to this point. With his apparent complete lack of grasp of business dealings and negotiations - probably due to spending 16 years in the black and white world of a jailer - he was going to destroy all the efforts of our negotiating team. In a headline in my previous post I asked, "Is he that stupid?" Here was your answer - Yes, he is.

Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed. Fait and his team didn't do what some of us might have done - tell Mansoor to take the deal and shove it where the sun don't shine - and, after long and contentious discussions, the deal was finally approved by the OCFA Board, 4-1. Katrina Foley, to the surprise of a few observers, voted "No" on the deal.

I doubt if any of the participants would choose to try to put together a deal of this complexity in such a short time if the State had not held a gun to our heads all the way. And yet, they managed to do it. Good for them.


Now the details must be hammered out and the State must do it's part - that's no slam dunk, either. Our "amigos" in the Latino caucus are lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to stick a knife in the jugular of this deal by not passing the required legislation. We can only hope that they won't hold the political posturing of our mayor with his "Rule of Law City" resolution against the entire city and block the sale for spite. We hope they are bigger than that. Time will tell.

So, we now move forward toward a probable September 30th closing date for the escrow with fingers tightly crossed that nothing else will occur to quash the sale.


One thing became crystal clear Tuesday night - Allan Mansoor has demonstrated, one more time, just how ill-equipped he is for higher office. While watching him Tuesday night it was obvious why he was not one of the members of the negotiating team. His limited intellect, lack of formal education and narrow life experiences have left him unprepared for a role in this kind of activity. No matter how hard he prays, no amount of divine intervention is going to change that. As we approach the November elections I'll remind you of just what a short-sighted, ignorant, political opportunist he is and how unworthy he is for your consideration for the Assembly seat he's seeking. History shows us that he will provide us with plenty of opportunities to point out his shortcomings between now and November.

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Blogger mesa verde madman said...

Thank you, Geoff, for your clear analysis and opinion of Da Mayor... and for calling a spade a spade... Unfortunately, I think people will line up to vote for him for Assembly, and all I can say is, be careful what you wish for, because it just might happen. The only benefit is he won't be on our City Council any more.

6/24/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous GOP Voter said...

Mansoor won the Republican primary, and will always be a far better choice than ANY CA Democrat. He should be elected. Geoff claims he is a Republican, we'll see if he endorses Mansoor for the assembly.

6/24/2010 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Observer said...

Both of the FMW speakers displayed genuine rudeness and incivility. Mansoor was right to call them out on it, especially in light of the many comments from respected community members and Councilmember Foley detailing the large flaws in the MOU. FMW knew they were our only hope and shoved a bad deal down our throats. The best we can do is hope for a good working relationship - Mansoor caling them out was a shot acroos the bow, and not as bad as you think.

6/24/2010 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

This deal is far from the best we could have hoped for and, "Observer" I agree that Fait was angry and borderline rude - no question. There are still may details to be worked out and there is still the threat by the Latino caucus to quash the sale... we'll see how this plays out.

GOP Voter, let's dispense with any suspense.. I will NOT be supporting Mansoor for Assembly. I've been a registered Republican all my voting life and I'm frustrated that he is apparently the best we can do, but just because he's a Republican doesn't mean I'm voting for him. Party affiliation doesn't assure competence. For almost 8 years I've seen him choose the politically expedient path instead of what was right for the city. I don't choose to reward his mediocrity with a seat in the Assembly.

6/24/2010 04:39:00 PM  

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