Friday, June 03, 2011

Add Lopez To The Mix

I'm sure many of your read Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit's column on Wednesday, June 1st, HERE, in which he commented on the media firestorm that has overtaken Costa Mesa in recent months. Of course, he's played his own part in throwing fuel on that fire, but that's his job.

Well, here's an assignment for you. On Sunday find a copy of the Los Angeles Times and l
ook for their uber-columnist, Steve Lopez' byline. He's jumping onto the bus with a special column on Costa Mesa, too! Over the past couple days he's made the rounds in our city, talking with the movers and shakers - and the moved and shaken, too. I include myself in that latter group.

Most of you know of Lopez, if for no other reason than he was played by Robert Downey, Jr., in "The Soloist", a hit movie made from his Los Angeles Times series on homeless musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, (portrayed by Jamie Fox in the film). You can see the "60 Minutes" clip with host Morley Safer about that story HERE.


Personally, I'm eager to see just what Lopez comes up with that has not already been
said dozens of times over the past six months. He's a terrific writer, but there's always some trepidation when ANY journalist gets his hooks into you because the danger of a mis-quotation is always a very real possibility. So, while I'm away at the wedding this weekend your assignment is to find Lopez' column - it's probably going to be posted online late Saturday night - and report back.

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Leadership Tomorrow Graduation

Before I forget and this information gets lost in all the political morass next week, here's some very positive news for you to consider.

Next Wednesday Leadership Tomorrow will celebrate the graduation of their class of 2011 with a reception and at the Back Bay Bistro. The keynote speaker will be Newport Beach icon Evelyn Hart. You can read about the event, and Hart's achievements, HERE. You'll find a handy link on that site with which you can make reservations to attend this event.
This event is open to the public, the price is reasonable and it should be a wonderful evening. Congratulations to all those in the Class of 2011.


CMTV 24 Wins Again

Interim Communications Director Bill Lobdell just sent out the following Press Release announcing yet another basket of awards for Costa Mesa Television - CMTV 24.

Kudos to Dane Bora and Brad Long for their continuing excellence and outstanding service to our community.

CMTV 24 wins three awards for excellence in programming

COSTA MESA, CALIF.—Costa Mesa Television Channel 24 (CMTV 24) earned three top place awards this week at the 15th Annual STAR Awards presented by the California and Nevada chapter of the National Assn. of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

“City Talk” received the first place Talk Show STAR Award for the fourth time in the past five years. “The Community Report” was recognized as the best magazine show for the second time, and CMTV 24 was honored for the third time for overall excellence.

“The well-deserved awards confirm what Costa Mesa residents already know—that CMTV 24 is a community treasure that keeps us informed on a wide variety of City matters,” Mayor Gary Monahan said. “And I personally congratulate the dynamic duo who run CMTV 24—Dane Bora and Brad Long—for all their hard work and dedication to Costa Mesa.”

The City-run television channel has now received 13 first place STAR Awards since 1997, including 10 in the past six years. Additionally, CMTV 24 has earned numerous second and third place honors in a variety of categories over the years.

The STAR Awards recognize excellence in government programming by facilities serving California and Nevada communities. Entries are judged on the basis of creativity in achieving stated objectives, technical proficiency and diversity of programming.

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City Council Agenda Posted

The agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting next Tuesday, June 7th, has been released and, while some staff reports are still pending, it looks like this thing could get wrapped up by 9 p.m. The meeting starts at 6:00 in the City Council chambers.

Since the council decided to make available all the inform
ation regarding the Warrants in the Consent Calendar it's become a kind of fun practice to scroll down through them to see what little tidbits of interesting information we might find. This time was no exception.

In Warrant 2370 we find all kinds of consulting fees having been paid on 5/13/11.
Michael Ballet was paid $3,27
2.50 for professional services
Management Partners was paid $4,682.00 for management consulting
Command Strategies Consultants was paid $7,333.36 for "legal advice, CM investigation" Wonder what that's all about?
Civil Source was paid a whopping $13,270.00, with no explanation
AAA Animal Hospital was paid $8710.00 for "tranquilizer drugs". What did we tranquilize - a herd of elephants?
And Jones & Mayer w
as paid $106,266.29 for their legal services. Yikes!

You may recall that the City is tentatively budgeting $703,000 for legal services in the upcoming budget year, but as was pointed out at the recent Study Session by vigilant community budget watchdog Judi Berry, we're spending over $100,000 per month. I think, based on recent closed session agendas - including Tuesday's - that we may be prudent to budget a larger number for legal fees rather than be surprised in February when we've run out of budget dollars for that line item.


In Warra
nt 2371, which generated checks on 5/20/11, there were more interesting items.
Management P
artners was cut another check - this one for $5,637.40. That's over $10,000 in two weeks.
GrowthPort Partners received $12,500.00 for "E
mployment Support Services". Hmmm, I didn't realize we were doing that much "employment" these days.

There were two REA
LLY interesting entries on this Warrant. Back-to-back we cut checks to the U.S. Marshalls Service in the amounts of $300,000.00 and $428,730.00 for "money seized NARC". I sure would like to know that's all about.

In Warrant 2372, with checks being cut on 5/27/11, we find even more fun.
Peter Merritt
was paid $11,850.00 for professional construction inspection services
Management Partners was, again, cut a check. This time for $11,423.20, for organizational review for the police department and interim management assistance. So, on three checks in three consecutive weeks, we've paid them almost $22,000.00.
Intelligent Products was paid $4,760.00 for the "Dog Waste Bag Program". Come again?
Four Boys New Media (Bill Lobdell) was paid $9,000.00 for three weeks work - 4/22 to 5/12.
Enterprise Rent A Car was paid $7,745.47 for 8 undercover police cars.
California Forensic Phlebotomy was paid $4,936.20 for Blood Tests.
Carl Warre
n & Co was paid $3,627.41 for professional services.

I can't do this every time the warrants appear - makes my head hurt - but it gives you something to contemplate over the weekend.

Under Public Hearings - which is not supposed to start until 7:00 p.m. - the council will address the allocation of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and funding priorities for the CDBG and Home Investment Partnership Program.

it's on the agenda, staff is recommending "continuing until 6/21/11" the establishment of rates, fees and charges for services provided by the Costa Mesa Police Department for special/community events.

And, the Business Improvement Area (BIA) will have its assessment of 3% for certain hotels and motels re-authorized for the new
fiscal year.

Under Old
Business, CEO Tom Hatch will provide an update on the Budget and how the RFP process for outsourcing is progressing. That should be very interesting and will likely generate some inquiries from the audience.


Under New Business we will apparently hear alternatives for the operation of the ABLE helicopter law enforcement program.

And, apparently the Working Groups will be discontinued. No surprise there, since only one actually met - the Budget and Capital Improvements group - and they did that in secret, or so it seems. Wendy Leece has been asking for minutes, notes, records of any kind dealing with those deliberatio
ns. I doubt we'll ever hear anything about those meetings between Jim Righeimer and Gary Monahan - the cocktail napkins were probably too soggy to place in a file somewhere.

Don't forget the Fish Fry this weekend. The weather is supposed to be perfect, the rides will be fun, the fish will be yummy as usual and on Sunday between 2 and 3 you'll see some of the most beautiful babies anywhere! Join my friend Mike Scheafer and his Lions Club pals and have a fun time and help the Costa Mesa Newport Harbor Lions Club raise money for many worthy community causes.

I'm going to be in a wedding this weekend, so the Cauldron will go dark tonight. No comments will be posted until I return and it's unlikely that any new entries will be posted until very late Sunday, if then. The Pot Stirrer actually does have a real life and this event is going to be a very special part of it. I might tell you about it later, so be patient. You can send your comments in if you wish, but they are likely to ferment for a couple days until I approve them for posting.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Budget Meeting Schedule Released


Late this afternoon Interim Communications Director Bill Lobdell issued a Press Release with the following information related to future budget-related meetings scheduled this month. The following is that schedule, plus my observations.

Six meetings in June scheduled to address City’s 2011-2012 budget

This month, the City of Costa Mesa will hold five public meetings and a question-and-answer session with City employees that will focus on the proposed budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The City has already held several meetings in May that focused on various aspects of the 2011-2012 budget. Citizens can view the presentations on the city’s website.

The meeting schedule for June is below. Unless otherwise indicated, all meetings will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall and will broadcast live on CMTV and the Internet. The meetings can also be watched via streaming video anytime on the city website.

* June 7, 2011, City Council meeting, 6 p.m. City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch will provide an update on the 2011-2012 budget along with any other relevant information. Although not directly related to the 2011-2012 budget process, an update on the Request for Proposal (RFP), or outsourcing, process will be provided.

* June 14, 2011, City Council study session, 4:30 p.m. City directors will give an overview of their department’s goals for 2011-2012 and be available for questions. City CEO Tom Hatch will present an organizational restructuring plan for the Costa Mesa Police Department. He also will make his final recommendations for the 2011-2012 budget.

* June 16, 2011, budget question-and-answer session with City employees, time and place to be determined. CEO Hatch and Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young will provide a budget overview and answer budget questions from City employees. The meeting is expected to last 90 minutes.

* June 16, 2011, budget question-and-answer session with the public, 6 p.m. City Hall conference room 1A. In an informal setting, CEO Tom Hatch and finance staff will answer budget questions from the public. The meeting is expected to last two hours.

* June 21, 2011, City Council meeting, 6 p.m. This date is reserved for resolving any outstanding issues arising from the two months of public meetings about the budget. The City Council may vote to adopt the 2011-2012 budget.

* June 28, 2011, special City Council meeting, 6 p.m. (if necessary) This date is reserved for resolving any final issues. The City Council may vote to adopt the 2011-2012 budget.


I must observe that this series of meetings, combined with those in May, are unprecedented in the history of this city. In years past only a very few residents took the time to attend the few study sessions that were held and even fewer attended the public question and answer session. Last year 12 attended, but in the immediate three previous years only three or four of us took advantage of the opportunity.

In my view, this has been a mixed blessing because, while all the previous meetings this cycle have been well-attended, it has been because so many jobs are on the line. In some ways this is like watching a train wreck occur before your eyes. You don't want to watch the carnage, but can't take your eyes off it.

Personally, I'm continuing to hope that the four men on the city council will push political dogma aside and do what is really right for the future of this city. I continue to hope that they, and the bargaining units, will find a way to come together and resolve what is clearly a disaster unfolding. I hope, knowing just how unlikely this is to happen, particularly in light of the comments made by Jim Righeimer at Tuesday's Study Session. When he called for the staff to just give him the head count so we can get on with it - meaning how many bodies must we sacrifice so he can pretend he's solving the "pension crisis" in our city - it made me shudder.

In two weeks we will know if this council will approve a balanced budget without the use of Fund Balance, as assured by CEO Tom Hatch. As I type this the budget is just under $1 million short of making that goal. I'm not quite sure what kind of a rabbit Hatch intends to pull out of his hat, but I fear it might be in the form of a dozen employees. That would be a real shame.

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It's Fish Fry Time Again

Well, it's that time of the year again. This weekend, June 4th and 5th, is the 64th annual Costa Mesa Newport Harbor Lions Club Fish Fry. The carnival rides open on Friday, June 3rd, from 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. The Fish Fry opens on Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. For more information visit the web site HERE.

The Baby Contest will be held from 2 p.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday. Rules for entry can be found HERE.

Have fun!

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Expenditures And Real Objectives Revealed

Things became a little clearer Tuesday evening as the Costa Mesa City Council continued to discuss the Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget. Following a thorough discussion of the Revenue side of the ledger last Tuesday, tonight they were prepared to dive into the Expenditures - how we actually spend the money we take in.

Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young again guided the
discussion, using a PowerPoint presentation to present highlights and other bits of relevant information - he did not try to go over the Preliminary Budget line by line... we' be there until next Friday if that was the case.

CEO Tom Hatch provided a memo that was, literally, hot off the presses this afternoon that outlined additional cuts in the budget not reflected in the original document, which had projected the need to use $3.3 million of Fund Balance to produce a balanced budget. This new letter reflected an additional $2.4 million in savings, leaving a balance of $900,000 to be found to end up with a balanced budget without the use of the Fund Balance - something that has not happened in years.


Among those items Hatch included in that memo was a $1.9 million reduction in the amount charged to "Internal Rent - Replacement" charges. He also reduced from $500,000 to $300,000 for consulting support for a General Plan update. Part of the assumption here was that this process will be a long one, so the remainder could be budgeted in the next fiscal year.

He also re
duced the allocation for a new computer-aided dispatch system by $283,000 by planning to use funds from the Narcotic Asset Forfeiture fund instead of General Fund dollars.

He also cut almost $40,000 from the Aquatics programming for the winter months, primarily impacting lap swim hours an
d swim lessons. Combined with the loss of revenue from the pool of around $10,000 the savings is right at $30,000.

A few things ca
me into sharper focus last night as the four council members - Gary Monahan was a no-show, but Eric Bever finally showed up after having been AWOL the past two meetings - discussed this segment of the budget. For one thing, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer tipped his hand when, during the discussion of equipment replacement costs, he impatiently instructed the staff to "come up with the head count reductions and let's get on with this". Near the end of the meeting he said, "I will never vote for anything that will increase crime.", and yet he's already done that by voting to dissolve the ABLE helicopter program and creating the atmosphere that is chasing highly skilled and trained police officers to other cities like they were running out of a burning building.

Several speakers, once a
gain, made excellent points and asked some tough questions. Budget watchdog Judi Berry asked why the budget for legal costs was $703,000 when we are presently being billed at the rate of over $100,000 per month? Hatch replied that they were looking into it and that he hoped we wouldn't see those kind of charges into the next fiscal year - even though he already added $100,000 to the budget beyond their original estimate. This was an interesting counterpoint to the memo released last week that told us we were saving tons of money by using a contract City Attorney.

Perry Valantine wondered about the reasoning for refusing to use the $1.4 million in Redevelopment Agency Funds and also brought up the Business License Fees. He also asked just what the head count was for the city staff today. Young replied that we currently have 30 vacancies, 9 of which will not be in the new budget, leaving 21. The authorized head count in the proposed budget is 486, so that means we've got only 465 staff members at this moment in time.

Speaker Sue Lester, former council candidate and a medical marijuana dispe
nsary operator, asked if the City had considered some kind of a tax on the sales of her product as a revenue source. The answer was no, but that staff would look into it. She also mentioned increasing the Business License Fees and suggested that a comparison of Nordstrom's Costa Mesa license costs to other stores in the chain might be enlightening. She implied that she might have access to that information and would provide it to the council.

Robin Leffler wondered why it was necessary to dissolve ABLE when it apparently has enough cash on hand to operate for two years. She also brought up the need to consider an increase in the Business License Fees. Later Steve Mensinger pointed out that Nordstrom's and Nordstrom Rack combined are number 5 in sales tax revenue in the city, and that we shouldn't be hasty in trying to increase their Business License fees and risk the sales tax revenue. Does he really think Nordstrom's would pull out of the city if their Business License cost them $1,000 instead of $200? C'mon, Steve!

In his comments at the end Mensinger heaped praise on Young and the staff
for the work they've been doing on the budget. I had to smile because just in the course of this brief meeting he continued to pile more demands on them, causing shifting priorities while the staff is attempting to produce a balanced budget within the next 30 days. Hard as it may be to imagine, but he just keeps throwing "little" assignments at them like he was instructing Pop Warner footballers to run some wind sprints. He actually seems to be oblivious to the demands he's putting on the staff. Heck, maybe he just doesn't care...

Another interesting development occurred while I was at the meeting. The Los Angeles Times, via reporter Catherine Saillant, published an article that will appear in print Wednesday titled, "Republicans promote Costa Mesa as a pension-slashing leader", which you can read HERE. It's an especially interesting piece when you consider that the ONLY way the focus of the article, Jim Righeimer, can actually affect pensions in Costa Mesa is by firing many of those who will eventually receive them. His frustration about that fact was evident at the meeting tonight.

Saillant quotes Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh as
saying, "Costa Mesa is ground zero for cities." That observation is not new to those of us following things here in our city, but Baugh uses it in the much broader context of national and state difficulties with pensions. Our city is the tip of the lance in the national pension battle, even though nothing of substance can be accomplished during Righeimer's tenure on the council. All he can do is throw folks out the door and pound his chest. He cannot affect pension reform unless the bargaining units agree to sit down and discuss it. So far, he doesn't seem interested.

Hatch announced the schedule for the remainder of this fiscal year - June - for the budget. It is anticipated that the council will have a balanced budget ready for a vote on June 21st, with the 28th as a backup, drop dead date. There will be scheduled meetings every Tuesday from now until the 21st.

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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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