Friday, May 06, 2011

"Waste", "Badges", Politics & Mom

Today I, along with "real" media outlets, received a little love note from Jennifer Muir - former Orange County Register ace reporter turned union spokesperson - announcing the creation of what the Orange County Employee Association (her employer) calls "Waste Watchers". She describes this effort as "our way of offering the City Council, especially Jim Righeimer, Gary Monahan, Eric Bever and Steve Mensinger, even more ways to save."

Among the subjects of this, the first of what
is probably going to be a series of similar efforts, she asks why it should cost more for a spokesman for the city of Costa Mesa (Bill Lobdell) than it costs for the Governor's spokesman, mentioning that the Governor's person makes $2,844.23 a week and Lobdell makes $3,000.00.

She also mentioned the fact that, on the day of the St. Patrick's catastrophe at City Hall, an invoice was issued by vendor Entenmann-Rovin Company for two "badges" costing nearly $450.
00, including carrying cases. These badges were apparently ordered in February for new council members Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger - all council members have them. The Daily Pilot, HERE, and the Orange County Register, HERE, immediately picked up on this "story" and published about it.

When I read Jennifer's submission I contacted her and she forwarded
copies of the invoice. I noted at the time that the face of the badge for Righeimer was to read "Mayor Pro Team", and chuckled about what I thought was a typo on the invoice. Then I read Jon Cassidy's coverage in the Register and found that, indeed, the badge does read that way. I couldn't help but smile and chuckle a little harder.

I think this "badge" thing is much ado about nothing. I have no problem with our City Council members receiving these badges - as long as they don't attempt to abuse the fact that they're carrying them. Yes, that's directed at Mensinger, who has shown us in the past that he's capable of doing just that.

I understand what the OCEA is trying to do here, and it makes me just as angry
that they've inserted themselves in our local politics as does the involvement of the Orange County Republican Party. In my opinion, both should butt the heck out and let the city, its residents and employees sort things out for themselves. Of course, I realize that's not going to happen. There's too much at stake for both sides.

It's bad enou
gh that Scott Baugh is writing the script for Righeimer - with, we understand, some recent help from Republican Party strategist Karl Rove - in an attempt to make Costa Mesa the tip of the lance in state-wide (and maybe national) pension reform. They're willing and eager to let the battle be fought here and not worry too much about the collateral damage that's being done to the fabric of our city. It's very much like Righeimer's attitude about the fireworks issue - we'll give it a try and if it doesn't work out we'll revisit it later. Except in the case of our city, they may not be much left to "revisit" when the battle over pensions, etc., finally finishes.


Add to this the insertion of the OCEA, with their pricey television ads and obnoxiou
s internet ads and the whole issue gets messier by a factor of ten - at least. I've met a few of the people appearing in the ads and like them very much. They are sincere in their concern for the future of our city and are trying to help. However, they've become pawns in this battle - the carriers of the pikes that get mowed down in the beginning of the battle. They are the ones who will step to the speaker's podium and tell the council members how they feel about things, sometimes being summarily dismissed as "an outsider" or "union thug". They are neither. However, even though I'm sympathetic with their side of the issue, I find myself getting irritated at them whenever one of their faces pops up on my computer screen lately.

As an aside, I didn't realize the full scale of the involvement of the union until I went to their page to "borrow" the photo of Muir, above. As I scrolled down the page I saw many familiar faces, including their General Manager, Nick Berardino, who has been their front man in this battle since the St. Patrick's Day catastrophe. But, I also saw faces of people I didn't know were union folks. For example, their General Counsel, Donald Drozd, who has been sitting in front of me at many recent council meetings, taking notes and scampering in and out of the chambers to make telephone calls, I guess. He is always accompanied by an entourage of, I think, other union staffers. It is, after all, a battle and every little bit of reconnaissance counts.

I fear it's going to be a long, messy next several weeks as the budget is hammered-out
and both sides jockey for position in an attempt to win over the residents of our city. The sad fact is that most residents are just too darn busy trying to make a living in these very challenging times to pay attention to what's going on. As a result, our city is being disassembled, one important piece at a time and we will not be the better for it when the dust finally settles.

Next Tuesda
y the City Council will hold another Study Session in City Council Chambers in anticipation of a large turnout. The agenda for that meeting has been posted on the city web site. Now, before you dash off to read the staff reports, there is only one available - for item #2 (below) and I've provided a link to it HERE. The rest will apparently be presentations by individuals who provided no advance information. Here's the agenda as listed:

1. Budget Update
2. Retiree Medical Benefit Program Presentation
3. Marketing and communication Initiatives Update
4. Consultants Update

The session begins at 4:30, Tuesday, May 10th and will be followed at 6:30 (or whenever the session ends) by a joint meeting of the Costa Mesa Redevelopm
ent Agency/City Council. Based on the staff report, it should be a VERY short meeting.


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Thursday, May 05, 2011

More Council Meeting Quotes

During the City Council meeting last Tuesday many speakers rose during Public Comments to address issues important to them - predominantly the outsourcing and peripheral issues. The streaming video of that event is available for viewing HERE. The Public Comments section begins following the Presentations and before the Consent Calendar - at about 00:23:00 on the counter. Just drag it over to the spot you choose. Among those speaking were the following:

Long time resident and former member of the self-named Westside Improvers, Janice
Davidson, drove her powered wheelchair up to the podium and told Mayor Gary Monahan that he needs to do better or step down. She implied that her group - the Concerned Costa Mesa Citizens, which has been dormant for a few years - had become active again. When the spotlight of publicity was shown on their activities they folded up their tent and went into hibernation.

Mike Tucker, an eleven-year employee, told the council that, in addition to doing his job every day, he attended Pepperdine University nights and weekends to obtain a degree to help him move up in the city structure. He has now begun actively looking for employment elsewhere because of the actions this council has taken.

Tamar Goldman, self-described mild mannered Costa Mesan, admonished the council that they should listen to the employees, even though they may not be residents. She said that she, and many of the speakers before them tonight, don't march to the union beat, but the council has the power. She acknowledged that the people of Costa Mesa NEED the help of the union because the council has hired not one, but two, PR people "who do their best to defend the indefensible. The outsiders you must stop listening to are the political machine that is behind the whole outrageous agenda."

Long time resident and uber-activist Cindy Brenneman stepped up to relate a story about positive encounters she had with Costa Mesa public safety staffers the previous week and said, "Somebody said something interesting to me tonight. They said that our current council is trying to whittle us all down and hope that we all go away. Unfortunately, it kinda seems that way. Too bad." Then, focusing her gaze directly at non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger, she said, "And you can wipe the smirk off your face, Mr. Mensinger, and I wish you would stop texting from the dais. It's really annoying." She then finished her story...


She was followed directly by former council candidate Chris McEvoy, who challenged the council to show some character and do the right thing by rescinding the pink slips. He also wondered how Mensinger managed to get a copy of the police report for the incident with Joel Flores so quickly, since others must wait much longer. He used his own personal experience as an example. It was a very good question.

Resident Katie Arthur th
en stepped up and told the council, specifically Mensinger, that she was a resident of the city, not an outsider and wasn't a member of a union and didn't plan to become one. She begged the council to rescind the pink slips because "you've wrecked this place".


Paula Parsley
, the woman who told Monohan that he had "small man's
complex" at a recent meeting, gave "guidance" to the council on money management by citing anecdotal information, told them that they needed an "outside internal audit" and again refused to stop speaking when her time expired. If you watch the tape you'll see her fleeing up the center aisle, being pursued by a security officer... pretty funny stuff.


Amy Leece Fox, Wendy's daughter, spoke respectfully, related some of the causes of action in the City of Bell case, comparing each to Costa Mesa and told the council "Transparency does not equal trust. It's going to be very hard to regain the trust of the citizens of Costa Mesa again after how many times they've been lied to about several issues."

Some folks - including his anti-tax buddies at the OC GOP - may
be interested in a comment made by Mensinger during his discussion about the Fireworks issue. If you drag the scroll bar across to around 02:40;00 or thereabouts you'll see the exchange between them. Following his backhand slam at Wendy Leece and before her reply, he said, "I do support the motion tonight." (Keep in mind that no successful motion had yet been made!) "I think it's critical in tough times to look at ways to generate more revenue in terms of tax revenue by allowing additional sales." Really? So, Steve, does that mean that you'll support an initiative next year to increase the Business License fees in Costa Mesa - currently the lowest in the county? What do your pals in the OC GOP feel about your pro-tax increase position? Careful, or they'll label you as a radical backslider as they did Wendy Leece.

In response to a question I posed to the CEO, Tom Hatch, I've been advised that, contrary to a comment made during the Council meeting, there is not presently a reward fund for information on the incident where a brick was apparently tossed through the window on the door of Mayor Gary Monahan's pub recently.


Today the Ci
ty issued an update on the RFP Tracking list to help interested parties stay abreast of the status of each of those items to be considered for outsourcing. You can view that updated list HERE, or go to the city web page.


The council will meet in a study session in Council Chambers next Tuesday, May 10th, beginning at 4:30 to continue the dialogue on the budget. They will continue the new practice that permits speakers to comment following each segment, just as they do during a normal council meeting.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Fireworks, Greed, Civility and Real Business

Tuesday night, during a long meeting that was generally civil, the most memorable line of the evening was delivered by second-term councilwoman Wendy Leece to non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger.

Following a long
discussion about whether or not to expand the sales of fireworks an additional day, add "spinner-type" fireworks and permit the discharge of those fireworks on four consecutive days beginning on July 1st instead of only on July 4th as in years past, during which nearly two dozen residents and interested parties stood to voice their views on the proposed change and fireworks in general, Leece made a lengthy plea for wisdom on the part of the council, suggesting that they approve the additional sale day but to restrict the discharge to the 4th. During one of her comments she referred to the youth sports groups that would benefit significantly as being "greedy", a characterization that apparently rankled Mensinger.

When it was his turn to speak, his voice choked with emotion, he delivered the following backhand blast at Leece: "Councilwoman Leece, I'm not sure, ah, I don't know how to react to the fact that you think that the kids in the youth sports groups are greedy. But let it be reflected in the record, I haven't, ah, I've been involved again in youth sports for a decade. I haven't had fireworks or had the opportunity to light fireworks myself because I'm always in a booth. In that period of time I haven't seen you there. And in that period of time I haven't seen you do a lot of fund raising for the, ah, youth sports groups, but I appreciate your concerns and and I do, ah, do understand your points. I do think your anger at the youth groups is misappropriated." I have no idea what that last word meant - maybe "inappropriate".. who knows?

Later, following further di
scussion and as the vote was about to be taken, Leece responded, "I don't think that when we're up here representing the residents we need to get personal and attack each other personally. I have lived in this city almost forty years, raised five children and I have worked in fireworks stands to raise money for many people. And, actually, I have bought fireworks last year. I think I still have the sparklers in the closet that went unused. So I don't appreciate it, Councilman Mensinger. I have been elected to this office by the people of Costa Mesa. And for you to sit up here and to demean me and to criticize me when I have given to this community over and over again with my time and with my money, you have no business, you have no right and you will not, Mr. Mensinger, bully me!" And the crowd roared... And the motion passed, 3-2, with Eric Bever joining Leece in voting No.

Almost lost in this debate was the position taken by Jim Righeimer and Gary Monahan that we should "give it a try" and if it doesn't work out we can talk about changes. So, we're going to have a long weekend of noise, smoke, frantic pets and overworked public safety staff so youth sports groups can reap a windfall at the expense of the half of the residents of this city that prefer NOT to have ANY fireworks, but have tolerated them for nearly two decades since the question was placed on the ballot that ended up virtually tied.

I'm not a big fan of fireworks in nei
ghborhoods and I certainly hope that there are no tragic incidents attributed to them this year. If our already diminished public safety teams are unable to promptly respond to emergency calls due to the heavy demand over that weekend there will be three council members with some serious explaining to do.

There were other things on the agenda, too, which the council finally began discussion at 9:00 p.m. Public Hearing Item #1, a review of a planned project on Maple Street, was approved with a condition applied by the Planning Commission removed and #2, the discussion of the awarding CDBG funds was continued to a later meeting.

Under Old Business, the appointments to city committees, Monahan moved to have the recruitment process re-started. Lee
ce balked, saying that there were plenty of good, qualified candidates in the pool available to them right now. She lost and the recruitment effort will begin again.

During the update of Working Group activities Righeimer, once again, demonstrated his disdain for previous councils, and for the employee groups. He misrepresented facts and, during a reply to Leece regarding the possibility of engaging in a "meet and confer" process, he went on a little mini-rant, stating, "I will just say that the contracts and the MOUs that we have are something that nobody in their right mind would sign." Leece subsequently reminded him that both she and Monahan were members who voted on the current agreements, as were many previous councils that considered the circumstances at the time and felt it was necessary to remain competitive, hence the current contracts. Righeimer has apparently forgotten the portion of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act that compels a "meet and confer" process - probably because it's not convenient for him.

The council dispatched with the four New Business items promptly. The discussion of possible revisions to the Sign Ordinance proposed by the Planning Commission resulted three items being passed - changes to the way building wall signage is calculated and two items dealing with free-standing signs - one, the size limitation of painted wall signs, was sent back for a review of what other cities do on the issue and the final item, LED signs, was kept under the current plan to the relief of many residents who had done their homework and spoke with passion on the issue.

Just before they adjourned to what was probably a very long closed session involving 5 items at 11:00, under Council Member Comments, Righeimer expressed concern for "threats against council people, staff and appointeds", and went on to suggest that we need a "policy or something" to prove it's not funny. He suggested that a reward program be implemented and instructed CEO Tom Hatch to come back with something. I'm not exactly sure what he was talking about other than the brick that was tossed through Monahan's door recently and the reported threat against him by a mentally-deranged person already in custody. He nodded toward the staff when he made his statement, so it's possible there have been threats made there, too. This "reward" thing smacks of over-reaction by someone trying to quiet critics. We'll see.

The next meeting will be a Study Session on the Budget again on Tuesday,
May 10th in Council Chambers at 4:30.. "transparency" on the march. There are meetings scheduled EVERY Tuesday from now until, and including, June 28th.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Irony, The Council Meeting & The Budget

The world is full of ironies. I planned to post much of what will follow here over the weekend, but fate conspired against me. The City of Costa Mesa web site was down the entire weekend. I'd planned to tell you about a couple new features on the site, but couldn't give you links because they didn't work. Irony...

The city has been tinkering with the web site, HERE, trying to add features to the existing struc
ture until they can completely re-design the site to make it more user-friendly. One of the things they've done is provide a box in the center of the home page captioned "The Latest Headlines", with frequently-updated items. The following is a screen snatch of how that looked this morning:
Now, after you've looked at that box take a gander at the white list of links above "The Latest Headlines" title. Way over on the right you'll find the wor
d "Transparency". If you click there it will take you to a scrollable box that looked like the one below this morning. Both of these new features make this site much more user-friendly.
You've probably read my post about the fireworks issue, HERE, so I won't
talk about that. However, there are a few other issues on the agenda for the City Council meeting Tuesday evening beginning in Council Chambers at 6:00 that need to be addressed.

First, for the first time EVER, there is now detail available for the warrants that will be approved as part of the Consent Calendar. This is an initiative by non-elected council member Steve Mensinger and it's possible he'll be sorry he opened his mouth on this one.

For example, on warrant 2366, HERE, you can learn that we apparently paid Catherine Corvi $40,000 as a settlement of a claim against the city. How do we know that? Well, her name is also listed as one of the line items under the bill from Jo
nes & Mayer, our contract City Attorney. We paid them $137,566.18 on this warrant, too. And, since they list many names, I guess it will be possible now to figure out some of the details of lawsuits we're involved in that previously have been guarded like Fort Knox.

We paid an outfit called "1st Jon Inc." $244.51 for the rental of a couple portable toilets. We paid "Growth Partners", one of the consultants brought in to help "fix" our city, $12,500. We paid "Larry's Building Materials" $96.14 for soil amendments and $1,838.73 to Enterprise Rent A Car for undercover police cars.


On warrant 2367, HERE, we paid Air BP Aviation Services $8,821.02, probably for fuel for the ABLE helicopters. We
paid $3,060.00 to Management Partners - another consultant. We paid $895.50 to Metro Car Wash for washing and detailing of police department and city vehicles. We paid $1,000 to San Pham as a donation for the Huy Pham Family. We paid Home Depot $431.72 for graffiti removal supplies. We paid Enterprise Rent A Car another $8347.53 for nine more undercover police cars. (Wonder if any of those were for the officers detailed to guard the homes of Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger after the Huy Pham suicide event?) And, we paid $9,000.00 to Four Boys New Media for three weeks consulting services. That's Bill Lobdell's outfit.

So, what's the point here? Well, do we REALLY need to know all this detail? Do you really want to know we paid Orange Coast Trailer Supply $10.00 for a bolt, for goodness sake? How many of you are going to go over these warrants with a fine-toothed comb, looking for curious or unauthorized payments? C'mon, now... be honest...

At their meeting Tuesday, under Public Hearings, the council will probably continue the CDBG funds authorizations
until June 7th. They will consider the Fireworks proposal by Righeimer.

Under Old Business they will finally complete the appointment process for several city committees.

Under New Business they will consider potential revisions to the Sign Code, including loosening up the restrictions on LED signs; technological efficiencies as recommended by the Planning Commission; a General Plan screening request to place 33 homes at the former site of the now-defunct Lincoln-Mercury automobile dealership at the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Merrimac; and may authorize staff time to research a Sex Offender Ordinance.


This should be an interesting evening, and that doesn't even account for the anticipated parade of sp
eakers before the council during Public Comments chiding them for their misguided plans to outsource half the city staff.


The council will wrap up the evening with what will almost certainly be a long closed session meeting in which they will consider five (5) items: 1) negotiations with employee associations; 2) a law suit involving Assistant Finance Director Colleen O'Donohue; 3) a lawsuit with Orange County Director's Association; 4)a lawsuit with James, et al; and 5) a conference with legal counsel about anticipated litigation - whatever that might be.

Interim Director of Communications, Bill Lobdell, issued yet
another Press Release today with the schedule of events for budget meetings for the next two months. You can read that .pdf file by going to the city web site and click on the link under "The Latest Headlines". It's going to be a very busy 60 days. I've provided a glimpse of the actual schedule from the .pdf file for your reading pleasure:

BUDGET SCHEDULE - 5/3/11 - 6/28/11

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