Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revisiting Hatch's Comments

The end of last week I wrote about the speech Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch gave to the good folks at the monthly meeting of Mesa Verde Community, Inc. last Wednesday evening. According to the report published in the Daily Pilot, reporter Joe Serna told us that Hatch, referring to increasing the size of the City staff, had pledged, "As long as I'm our leader, I'll make sure we don't do that." You can re-read Serna's article HERE.

I read Serna's report with some consternation, then launched off onto my views on that pronouncement. You can read what I wrote HERE.

Saturday Hatch called me at home. He was wrapping up the end of a long day
and a long week, and wanted to clear up a misunderstanding about what he said last Wednesday night in Mesa Verde. He told me that it is not his intent to NEVER fill vacant slots, but that he doesn't foresee any circumstance in the future when the city would return to the high-water mark of 611 employees. He does plan to selectively fill openings to round out a core staff and will attempt to use contractors or temporary staff members to meet peak needs as they occur.


Hatch told me Serna got it wrong in his report and encouraged me to contact others who attended the meeting to get their take on what he said versus what was reported, which I have done. I've communicated with a few long time Mesa Verde residents who were actually in the room last Wednesday and they've shared their thoughts with me about Hatch's speech.

Some of them understood the message Hatch was trying to send - that he didn't exp
ect to ever get back to the peak staffing levels of the past - and also heard that "not on my watch" comment, too. That phrase was apparently followed by high praise for the employees who are dealing with undermanned departments and are learning to do more with less. Regarding outsourcing, one of my correspondents told me that Hatch was confident that some outsourcing might be appropriate, but in other cases it might not. I found myself thinking that, unfortunately, Hatch isn't the only person making these decisions.

Since I've begun nosing around this issue I've had another interesting report from that evening, too. Apparently following Hatch's presentation non-elected council member Steve Mensinger chided him because "he said too much" to the group. This kind of micromanaging is what happens when a guy who is used to having his minions immediately levitate when he says "jump" is handed a position of high authority. He has not had to earn the job by campaigning. He has not had to convince the electorate of the purity of his intentions and his worthiness for the position. Unlike every other person currently sitting on the dais, he didn't need more than 10,000 votes to secure a seat - he only needed three. He, therefore, assumes that dictatorial brevity is more appropriate than true leadership communication. He doesn't understand that in a governmental leadership position it's necessary to explain the "Why" of his actions. It's an alien concept to him. We see this frequently on the dais when Wendy Leece, for example, challenges his actions. He cannot wait to chide her with some "clever" retort. He's very much like Eric Bever in that respect. In fact, his tendency to try to push people around, to bully them, is very reminiscent of the character Biff Tannen in the "Back To The Future" movies.

But I'm off track. B
ased on my conversations with him and input from others in the room last Wednesday, I have no doubt that Tom Hatch sincerely believes that our municipal government must operate with fewer full-time, permanent staff members. I believe he feels this way because the current economic conditions force us to do more with less. I also believe that he understands that an inflexible position is simply bad management, and that he will assess the circumstances as they evolve and fill each position as required.

That being said, I'm still very uneasy about the direction this current city council majority is heading. While it seems to me that the whole outsourcing scheme is being done backwards, I'm most concerned about the public safety aspects of their present plan.

The fire department, moving forward with no permanent senior leadership in place, continues to await the final determination of the proposal by the Orange County Fire Authority to take over fire and EMS service for the City. I've read the proposal and heard the concerns when it was discussed by the city council, so I understand why there has been a delay - there were many questions that needed to be resolved. However, until we know which way the city will move, the lack of direction only adds to the unease within the department and the public, too.


We know that the police de
partment is rapidly shrinking to staffing levels not seen since the late 1980s when our city was 25% smaller, and it's difficult to imagine just what kind of configuration of resources could possibly be implemented with those few numbers that won't result in a much less effective police presence in our city. We are hemorrhaging trained, experienced law enforcement officers virtually every week and the bleeding seems destined to continue through the summer - at least. Some of those departing men and women are not just rookies, fresh out of the academy. Many are veterans with several years experience who have been prompted to seek jobs elsewhere rather than be forced to endure the uncertainty and hostile environment that currently exists in our city. Not only is this disappointing, but it's frightening, too.

Baring some last minute miracle, in thirty days the ABLE helicopter program will cease to exist, leaving Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Santa Ana without airborne support for their law enforcement efforts. In the case of Costa Mesa, the timing could not be worse, since it gives no airborne support for the police and fire staff over the July 4th holiday weekend - one in which fireworks, for the first time, will not be restricted to only the day of the holiday. No, this year, bowing to pressure by booster groups and led by Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, our city will be subjected to an entire long weekend - Saturday through Monday evenings - during which fireworks may be legally discharged. This will certainly strain already thin resources on the ground, which will only amplify the loss of ABLE.


Newport Beach, for the first time in nearly four decades, also faces a summer without ABLE available to help patrol its beaches when tens of thousands of tourists jam the sand every day. I cannot help but wonder how t
his short-sightedness will manifest itself in the loss of lives and property.

I hope Tom
Hatch's plans pan out, and that the city will be able to maintain our current high level of service by using a smaller cadre of permanent staffers supplemented by temporary personnel. It's my personal opinion that we will not be able to pull that off because of the almost irreplaceable loss of experience and institutional knowledge. If the economy recovers and developers once again begin knocking on the doors of our Planning Department we will find out how this scheme actually impacts service - and development in the process.

During this summer, with diminished police resources patrolling our streets and no helicopter available, we will find out whether the current re-structuring plans will make our streets safer - or not. I hope I'm incorrect, but I doubt many of us will feel safer with fewer cops on the streets.

If Tom Hatch believes I mis-characterized his speech last week, then this is the best I
can do with a correction. It's based on conversations with him and others in attendance - folks who actually do pay attention to what's going on in our city and whose observations are valid, in my opinion.

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Anonymous YES said...

Hi Geoff-

Your piece on Tom Hatch and your subsequent conversation with the City Manager was eye-opening. All of the employees see him more of a puppet than a real person; however, your summation has me writing a few of my own comments. The employees don't see the respect or gratitude Mr. Hatch apparently feels. His staff (consultants and assistant Kelly Shelton) on the 5th floor act like they own the building, never say hello to staff and use an attitude I would say is best portrayed as saying " I am better than thou!" City Staff is suffering from low morale and at times resentment initiated by City Council from the public. To say the employees are "understaffed and overworked" is an understatement. Lay-offs are a part of reality; however, even in the PRIVATE SECTOR, respect and dignity is always present- too bad it is lacking with our City Council toward Staff.

5/31/2011 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Biff and Hatch march on said...

Geoff, Thank you for the laugh, Your anology of Biff ant the menacing is perfect. One bully to another.

Hatch and the fifth floor may become ineffective and useless to the 4-1 majority. It is easier to let a ceo go than a good manager. The people love a good manager. I know a guy who was hired to lay off a couple hundred people, he was then layed off because he was an ineffective manager

5/31/2011 11:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

At this evening's study session, Jim Righeimer finally admitted that he expected reduced service levels for residents as a result of cutting staff. None of the Councilmen has said one word about trying to increase revenues over the long term, despite urging and suggestions from the public.

They don't appear to realize -- or don't care -- that reduced services will reduce property values and, therefore, property tax revenues, putting the city into a downward spiral from which there is no escape.

It's too bad for Costa Mesa that we elected hatchet men to the City Council - men with no vision and no ideas except to cut, cut, cut services until there is nothing left.

5/31/2011 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Uh, Eleanor, we only "elected" four of the current council. The other one only got 3 votes - the majority on the council - to appoint him.

You are correct, of course. The demolition of this fine city is underway and NOBODY can stop them.

5/31/2011 11:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Nice work... said...

To YES: So the city staff is overworked, unloved and underappreciated? Welcome to the private sector world!

To Geoff: You wrote about the demolition of the city, but you should also mention that this demolition is happening to many other cities across America. The pubic sector in those cities is finally facing the same issues that the private sector has been grappling with for three years (see response to YES, above). I'm not happy about it, but the fact is that we must make these adjustments in order to preserve what we have left. The discussion I'd really like to see started here - one that would be quite constructive - is, how do we change our revenue base to avoid having to go through this again during the next recession?

Thanks for all the good reporting.

6/01/2011 01:41:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Menssy as Biff! Classic!

Better stay off the streets Geoff- we don't want you to get "chest-bumped!"

We'll know it has come to pass when the building on the SE corner of Harbor and Adams sports a giant sign that says "Steve Mensinger's Pleasure Paradise Casino and Hotel." And don't forget the adjacent "Steve Mensinger Museum," coming soon!

6/01/2011 06:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Yes said...

Nice work-
To be callous and rude is uncalled for- You are 100 % incorrect. I worked in the private sector and I have never experienced disrespect or bullying tactics as I do on a "daily" basis from these inept men and women.

6/01/2011 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Nice work said...

Yes: Just as in the private sector, you are not a slave - you can leave anytime you want. Now, if you are being harassed, or if you are being asked to do anything illegal or unethical, that is different and should be reported immediately. But rude treatment from a boss? Gee, that NEVER happens anywhere except in your office.

6/01/2011 11:16:00 AM  

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