Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, Costa Mesa, The Sky Is Falling...

Tonight I had intended to write a nice entry talking abou
t the Fair Boards "Hire Local" program, HERE, which was kicked off at their meeting on Thursday by announcing the names of eight Costa Mesa students who have signed up for summer jobs at the Fairgrounds this year.


And I was going to tell you about the Orange County Marathon which runs Sunday. Rather than go into detail about that you can read about the Marathon course, HERE, the half-marathon course, HERE, the street closures HERE and more information for businesses and residents HERE. Suffice it to say, a big part of both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach is going to be hamstrung by this event on Sunday.

But my plans changed late
this afternoon when I received word that after 23 years working for the City of Costa Mesa, Development Services Director Kimberly Brandt is departing for greener pastures. Her last day on the job in Costa Mesa will be, appropriately, Friday, May 13th. She is moving all the way across the fence to Newport Beach, where she will become their director of their newly created Community Development Department. Kim Brandt is a true professional and Costa Mesa's loss will certainly be Newport Beach's gain. We here at A Bubbling Cauldron do wish her well.

I'm very disappointed that we will be losing yet another excellent senior staffer, following in the wake of recently-departed Director of Administrative Services, Steve Mandoki, Recreation Director Jana Ransom and the retirement of icon City Manager Allan Roeder. In fact, following Brandt's departure the roster of department head positions remaining not occupied by contract personnel is down to two - City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch and Public Services Director Peter Naghavi.

Her departure was announced in the Daily Pilot in an article that featured the fact
that more than 20 members of the Costa Mesa Police Department seem poised to depart, too. The article by Joseph Serna and Lauren Williams, HERE, includes a quotation from Mayor Gary Monahan that is so apathetic that I just can't bring myself to type it. Go the article and read it for yourself.

Costa Mesa Police Association
president Jason Chamness is quoted as saying, "It is my understanding that approximately 20 officers have applied to other departments and several have received conditional offers of employment from other agencies. In speaking with some of these officers, a significant motivating factor is a fear of layoffs." He added, "The training, experience and noble qualities of our officers make them highly desirable employees." After reading that last sentence I found myself adding, "in cities where those characteristics are appreciated."

In fact, this situation may actually be worse - I've heard a very recent rum
or that the number is closer to 30 officers seriously looking for new jobs. It's like watching a bunch of parachutists bailing out of an airplane, for goodness sake. And who can blame them? Since last year, when Jim Righeimer made it clear that he was going after every single employee pension and took on the police association nose-to-nose in his campaign for City Council it was clear to every observer that this kind of exodus was possible.


I find myself wondering tonight, just four months into this new regime, just what it is going to take for the residents of Costa Mesa to get involved? What else must happen for them to realize that the direction this new City Council is taking our city is WRONG! How long is it going to take for them to realize that the hostile working environment created by the council majority - and led by Righeimer and Steve Mensinger - will chase out whatever number of employees that are left after their bogus outsourcing scheme is consummated? How long will it take for them to realize that Righeimer is just using this city, and its gullible voters, as a stepping stone to higher office? How long until they realize that he doesn't care what kind of a mess he leaves in his wake?


How long will it take for that council majority to realize that they cannot operate a city like some frat boys running a booster organization? How many lawsuits will it take? How many rules will they break before the residents of this town finally tell them to STOP!? What kind of a disaster is it going to take?

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mensinger/Flores Drama Continues...

The drama swirling around the alleged incident between non-elected City Councilman Steve Mensinger and Estancia High School English teacher Joel Flores continues to accelerate like a Disneyland Tea Cup out of control.

This story apparently broke around 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 24th when Daily
Pilot Editor John Canalis published a story about the incident in the O.C. Now blog, HERE. That was followed by another story around 8:30 p.m. by Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, who is tight with Mensinger and other members of the power elite, published a column about the incident, HERE. Since it has since been updated the original publishing time stamp has been replaced, but the first comment in the long thread was published at 8:52 p.m. on the 24th.

According to those reports, Mensinger "chest-bumped" Flores at Estancia High School on Saturday, April 23rd, where both were volunteering for a community run event. Opinions diverge as to the actual circumstances and what precisely was said between the two men, but Flores did file a police report on the encounter on Saturday.

Apparently PR representatives from the Orange County Employee's Associ
ation heard of the encounter and began calling media representatives, who, in turn, began calling Interim Director of Communications Bill Lobdell about it on Saturday. According to Lobdell, he and Hatch received a copy of the police report shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. He forwarded the report to Mensinger at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday and the media reports mentioned above were published Sunday evening.


In pu
blished reports Mensinger is quoted as saying, "This is the kind of thing that occurs when outside interests attempt to take control of local government. They will do anything to disparage our city leaders, even if it means fabricating incidents. No matter what they do, I remain committed to balancing our budget." Some of us who have been following events in this city closely found that statement truly ironic, since Mensinger and his pal, Jim Righeimer, have been following the lead of the Orange County Republican Party and its President, Huntington Beach resident Scott Baugh.

On Monday, acc
ording to a report by Lauren Williams in the Daily Pilot, HERE, Mensinger filed a conduct complaint with the Newport Mesa Unified School District, apparently indicating that Flores confronted him Saturday, boxed him in making verbal threats and making him feel uncomfortable. According to subsequent reports, the School District has dismissed this complaint, citing that it had no jurisdiction because it occurred while Flores was not acting in his capacity as a teacher.


Permit me a little editorial comment here. If you've actually seen Steve
Mensinger and Joel Flores you'd realize how disingenuous and hollow Mensinger's complaint really is. Shown here with Righeimer and ABLE Commander Tim Starn on St. Patrick's Day, 2011, he towers over Flores and probably outweighs him 50 pounds. I'm trying to imagine just how "uncomfortable" Mensinger felt on Saturday.

This morning blogger Kathy Findley, a Westside Costa Mesa resident, posted an entry on the LiberalOC blog describing her conversation with Flores at a meeting last night. You can read it HERE. In a nutshell, she describes a very nervous young man, concerned about this situation and his personal safety. Findley also relates a story Flores told her about an incident involving students at school this week. Scary stuff, for sure. An observer privy to Findley's conversation with Flores described him as intimidated and petrified.


Findley describes what appears to be a campaign by The Mouth From
Mesa North, our community racist laureate and supporter of the Mensinger/Righeimer cabal at the CM Press, to incite a confrontation with Flores at the Open House at Estancia High School this evening. He's written about it twice in recent days, suggesting that concerned citizens attend the open house and confront Flores to "try to find out whether Flores' is spreading his lefty political/social view in the classroom." It's easy to understand why Flores is concerned about his safety.


I don't know how this issue is going to eventually shake out and what the police investigation will turn up, if anything. One thing becomes more clear each day, though. Steve Mensinger does not like to be challenged on any issue and will use and abuse his authority against those who express an opposing viewpoint, including chiding fellow council members and members of the public from the dais. This heavy-handed behavior, which he apparently is used to being tolerated in private industry to some extent, is completely unacceptable when demonstrated by a member of a government body that has control over so many elements of individuals lives. This is bullying carried to the extreme and must not be condoned. If he is permitted to continue this abusive behavior he's going to cost the City of Costa Mesa, and its residents, a lot of money in legal fees and in judgments paid and will discourage families and businesses from considering Costa Mesa as a place in which to settle.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Budget Briefing Wrap Up

Things I learned at the Costa Mesa City Council Special Study Session/Budget Briefing last night. Kudos to CEO Tom Hatch and the staff for providing this opportunity for us all to get just a little bit smarter. The streaming video is up and available for viewing, HERE, and the meeting can also be viewed on CMTV,Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on ATT U-verse on the following viewing schedule:

Right off the bat I learned that Mayor Gary Monahan was "got a little injured today, but he's fine" from Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who ran the meeting last night. No additional information was forthcoming, so the dais had a small hole in the center.

I learned that, even though only a handful of people
stood to speak last night, more than 100 people found time to come to the City Council chambers at an early hour - 4:30 p.m. - for this first-of-its-kind event, and that more than 40 remained until the very end nearly four hours later. Looks like this "transparency" thing might actually work.

I learned when I got ho
me that Joe Serna of the Daily Pilot got there first with the local media coverage, HERE, but that Jon Cassidy of the Orange County Register gave us more data, HERE. However, a more potent assessment of the meeting last night can be found HERE, in an entry at the Orange Juice Blog posted by Major Quimby this morning.

I learned that Hatch has the rest of the fiscal year's events charted out in great detail and that this schedule of events will soon appear on the City web site:

May 3rd - A budget update at the council meeting
May 10th - A budget study session (without any information on the Orange County Fire Authority proposal because the analysis is incomplete)
May 17th - A presentation of the Preliminary Budget and Detailed Presentations of Sales Tax, property Tax and TOT revenue
May 24th and, possibly May 31st - A Detailed Discussion of CEO Recommended Reductions
June 7th - A Five Year Financial Forecast with Capital Reinvestment Plan
June 14th - Departments will provide details about their budgets
June 21st - Follow-up budget items with possible budget adoption, with June 28th as a backup date.
July 1, 2011 - Fiscal Year
2011-2012 Budget is due for adoption


I learned th
at the current year budget is in the hole for $1.6 million, which will have to be plugged using Fund Balance if revenues for the last half of the fiscal year do not increase dramatically. On the positive side, recent information indicates that Sales Tax revenue is up significantly for the last quarter of the calendar year.

I learned that of the total $41 million in Fund Balance only $27 million is not restricted to a specific use and available for budget purposes.

I learned that Hatch has contracted with the consulting firm Management Partners to the tune of just under $25,000 to help with the assessment of the CMPD and also extended that contract for another $25,000 for help in other areas - like picking up the slack caused by the recent departure of Administrative Services Director Steve Mandoki.

I learned, in
response to a question asked by resident Greg Ridge, that there may be a privately-financed move afoot to salvage the ABLE helicopter program, and that Hatch has been in contact with Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff on the issue. It's still too soon to tell if this is going to pan out.

I learned that the recruitment effort for a new, permanent Finance Director is underway - fina

I learned that th
e larger venue and the relaxed atmosphere, providing for a more "conversational" exchange of questions and answers with the public, worked pretty well. Righeimer had a light touch on the timer and no body seemed to abuse it. The result was a more civil, productive meeting.

learned that resident and former City Council candidate Lisa Reedy can still deliver the best line of the evening. As she rose to thank the council for this opportunity she expressed her gratitude for being able to get this information at City Hall instead of Monahan's pub.


I learned that Katrina Foley still finds time to deliver excellent questions to the council, as she did a couple times last night. It was good to see her back asking difficult questions, trying to help the public understand the issues.

I a
lso learned that Steve Mensinger has NOT LEARNED to stop texting from the dais. It must be a great imposition on him to actually listen to the speakers. For all in attendance, and those who took the time out of their busy lives to stand and speak to the council, I sincerely apologize to Mensinger for being such an inconvenience to him. Geez!

I learned that Rick Santos, the actuary from CalPERS, is one informative dude,
but he was the bearer of bad tidings - in great detail, at that. His fourteen years with CalPERS has prepared him to deliver numbers with such skill that most of us actually understood a few of them. Unfortunately, the numbers were mostly not good news. His presentation lasted almost 90 minutes, but the time just seemed to fly by. I did learn that trying to absorb all the numbers makes my head hurt. The PowerPoint presentation Santos used to guide his discussion is available on the city web site, HERE.

I learned from Santos that, among other things, even when the PERS investment perform
ance is good that doesn't guarantee lower rates for the municipalities it serves. We also learned that $130 million, the number recently being tossed around as our "unfunded pension liability" is off... the number is actually around $119 million - mere chump change. Only kidding - it's serious, but not the-world-is-coming-to-an-end serious.

I learned that, although this dance we're doing with CalPERS is a very expensive polka, dumping CalPERS has severe financial consequences and that even suspending the program (which requires laying off the people involved) can be very costly - a fact that the runaway train we call the council majority apparently failed to consider.

I learned that it's not permitted to "negotiate back" a lesser retirement plan - to revert to 2% at 55 years of age instead of the current 3% at 50 for some groups, for example.

I learned, though, that it is possibl
e to negotiate the elimination of the 50% spousal retirement segment of the plan. Righeimer's eyes lit up when he heard that news.

I learned that the most recent consultant hired to help our city navigate through the pension part of our current budget deliberations, John Bartel, has only been on board less than a week, but he will be prepared to present some options to the City Council within a couple weeks. I got the impression from his brief introductory presentation last night that we're not going to like those options much. And, as an aside, he has this interesting affectation - he wrings his hands as he speaks which, considering the subject, may not be a good sign...


I learned from
new Interim Finance Director Larry Hurst and Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young that the City has, indeed, drawn down its reserves to the tune of more than $30 million in the past 3 years. They also reaffirmed that we will likely begin the new fiscal year with at least a $5 million shortfall, but won't be able to provide specifics until all the departments have completed their budget submissions. It's curious that the $5 million number keeps getting thrown around, yet nobody is willing to quantify how they got to that number. We are told all will become clear early in May, when the draft version of the 2011-2012 budget is available for council and public scrutiny.... guess we'll see.

Finally, I learned that the vagaries of municipal finance can be treacherous turf, especially when some of the decision-makers have a political agenda that doesn't necessarily track with the well-being of the community. Trying to navigate through it can be a little like maneuvering through a swamp following instructions of a guide who speaks in tongues while avoiding the occasional poisonous snake, hungry alligator and the infrequent plots of what appears to be solid ground, but are actually little patches of quicksand.


Next stop is the Council Meeting next Tuesday, May 3rd, where a budget update will occur. I'm taking some aspirin before the meeting to get a jump on the throbbing in my skull those numbers cause.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Voice Of OC Exposes Righeimer

Today, the morning of the scheduled special Budget Briefing at City Hall, I found an entry on the Voice of OC blog by Managing Editor Norberto Santana, Jr., - shown here with Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit at the recent Feet To The Fire forum - of great interest.


In an article titled, "Costa Mesa's Curious Math", HERE, he discusses three
separate numbers that have been bounced around by officials in our city that just don't ring true. When you read the piece you'll understand why.

Let me dispense with the last number in Santana's report first - 9%. That's the number Wendy Leece has said she's paying for her PERS retirement contribution. It turns out that she may be working with faulty information - or she misinterpreted the information provided. I expect some kind of public announcement clarifying her situation soon.


The second item discusses Mayor Pro Tem Ji
m Righeimer's claim in his biography on the city web site that he received 64% of the votes in the last election. As you read the piece you'll find that he's playing games with numbers and highly-respected current and former registrars of voters reject his portrayal of his performance. Santana quotes Conny McCormack, a retired LA County Registrar of Voters as stating very simply, "It's made up numbers". According to Santana, when confronted with the numbers "Righeimer acknowledged that his math might not be entirely clear." This misstatement of important numbers is a habit Righeimer has developed over the years, which becomes more and more clear each day.


The final set of num
bers also involves Righeimer. That is the $25 million that he and others claim will be the city's annual payment to fund employee pensions in 2015-2016. Righeimer has made a very big deal about this and uses this number as the cornerstone of his plan to outsource more than half the city jobs.

As Santana points out, this number doesn't jibe with new CalPERS
estimates delivered to the city. You can read the actual numbers in Santana's article, but they are half the number Righeimer has been using as his primary outsourcing tool - the meat cleaver he's been wielding lately.

Santana quotes Righeimer, when acknowledging the d
ifference, as saying, "I work in bigger numbers of magnitude and staff comes in and drills it down." So, I guess what he's saying is, "I make up numbers and then see if the staff can prove me wrong." Righeimer goes on, according to Santana, noting that "all pension estimates - including CalPERS are both political and financial calculations." He said, when referring to the actuarials, "They're all guessing anyways."

Based on the quotations contained in Santana's article, in my opinion there really is no other way to say this - Jim Righeimer is a flat-out liar when it comes to important, life-altering, statistics. He makes them up to suit his purposes and, I guess, hopes nobody will challenge them. It's easy to understand how he managed to ride a division of SunCal Companies into bankruptcy with that kind of cavalier attitude about important fiscal realities.


Today, beginning at 4:30 in City Council Chambers,
a Budget Briefing will be held to provide, hopefully, some REAL numbers for the council and residents to consider. There will be a couple "experts" on hand to guide us through the CalPERS numbers and get our fiscal house in order. We can only hope that these will not be fabricated, like those Righeimer has been trying to foist off on folks, so we can get to the real nut of our fiscal situation.

I think it's important for all observers to understand that Jim Righeimer is a self-serving political opportunist who will make up numbers and fabricate events - the DUI checkpoint fiasco and the stinkeye affair - to suit his purposes. He's not going to let the facts of issues interfere with his plans. Santana's article only amplifies this character flaw - one that should make every single resident in our city very nervous about his agenda.


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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mensinger Accused By Teacher

Is it possible that Costa Mesa City Councilman Steve Mensinger - the fellow who was NOT elected by the voters, but was appointed by his buddy, Jim Righeimer and two other cohorts in January - is REALLY as stupid as he's been acting in the past week?

In an article by Daily Pilo
t Editor John Canalis published online in the Daily Pilot and the OC Now blog Sunday evening, HERE, Mensinger is accused by Estancia High School teacher Joel Flores of "chest-bumping" him Saturday morning - and not in the "good way" shown in this photo - during a discussion at Jim Scott Stadium, the site of a fun run. Based on the quotes from the article, both men are adamant about the events that morning. Flores said he was bumped, Mensinger said he didn't do it.

Mensinger apparently has a witness who corroborates his version - one Robert Murtha, father of Estancia High School star running back Robert Murtha. You will recall that, on the evening of Mensinger's appointment, Murtha was one of many people who stood at the speaker's podium and heaped praise on Mensinger for his positive involvement in youth sports and the football program specifically. He could hardly be described as an impartial observer in this situation.

If you've been paying attention to civic events recently you may have seen Flore
s stand before the City Council and strongly recommend that it rescind the recent layoff notices. And, yes, I've seen him in the ads distributed by Repair Costa Mesa, too. He's made it abundantly clear that he has an ax to grind with Mensinger and the rest of the council majority.

You can read the article and try to decipher the "he said, he said" dialogue for yourself. I suspect this is not the last we're going to hear about it. I
n fact, The City of Costa Mesa published a comment about it on its Facebook page this evening, too.

What really got my attention, though, were the quotes attributed to Mensinger by Canalis. According to Canalis, when asked about this event Mensinger said the following:

"This is the kind of thing that occurs, when outside interests attempt take control of local government. They will do anything to disparage our city leaders even if it means fabricating incidents. No matter what they do I remain committed to balancing our budget.


I've watched Mensinger in action on the Planning Commission and, since January, on the City Council. I've seen him treat speakers before him with disrespect, chide fellow council members and staffers, busy himself sending and receiving text messages while on the dais during meetings and, most recently, make the most amazingly stupid statements while on the dais, which I wrote about HERE. I've never thought of him as a particularly slow learner - a bully - yes, but a slow learner - no.

However, here he is again, less than a week after making that statement about "outside influences", doing it all over again.

I hope this issue will be resolved quickly and that the truth of the matter will be known. Until that happens, though, Mensinger's friends should probably counsel him to just keep his mouth shut for awhile. Lately, it seems that every time he opens it he manages to jam one foot firmly inside. I suggest he consider a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln in which he said, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

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