Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day 2011 - Eric & Ben

This year Father's Day is a strange one for me. If you care to read what I've written in recent years on this holiday you can do so by visiting those posts for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 by clicking on those years.

I miss my father, Robert J. West, every day. He was a simple, hardworking man and I measure my actions by what I think he would think about them.


This year I want to tell you about a new father -Dr. Eric Teacher, husband of my niece, Ashley. Last August Ashley and Eric became the proud parents of Benjamin O'Brien Teacher - one of the coolest little guys you'll ever see. As the first grand child of Lawrence and Connie Cunningham, Ben's getting all the love he can handle - and is thriving because of it. This Father's Day is going to be very, very special for them all.


I'm really looking forward to young Ben's development. As you can see in this photo, he's an avid college football fan already, so he and I are going to be spending some great Saturdays in the fall of the year - rooting for our favorite teams. We just hope that once his father, Eric, finishes his residency he will remain close enough to visit us often. In the meantime, Eric - as most young fathers do - juggles the challenges of his profession and being a husband and dad, too. He's doing a great job!

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Halecrest Appreciation Picnic A Success!

I managed to spend a couple hours today at the Halecrest Community Appreciation Picnic. Although I had to leave before things wrapped up, while I was there it seemed to be a rousing success. Reports from friends who were there through the end indicate that a good time was had by all.

Although I don't know exactly how many people attended, one
report tells me that more than 400 food plates were used. Lots of hot dogs were served, as well as many other yummy dishes in this pot luck event.


Former Parks
and Recreation Chairman Mike Brumbaugh, the organizer and host for this event, did a fine job of making sure folks were having a good time. The photo shown above captured most, but not all, of the participants at the event just before 1:00 p.m. Everyone was having a great time. Thanks to Brumbaugh and his cadre of organizers for putting this very positive, uplifting event together.

While Brumbaugh asked that politics be left at the gate along with any dogs you might have dragged along, that would have been virtually impossible. When I was there a few current elected leaders were in attendance. Katrina Foley and Wendy Leece chatted up a storm. Former Mayor Sandy Genis arrived just as I left. At least two candidates for Police Chief, Les Gogerty and Tim Starn, were there, too.

Director of Public Works, Peter N
aghavi - practically the last remaining department head left on the staff - joined the crowd and, shown here with Costa Mesa Police Association President Jason Chamness, was seen making the rounds, greeting the attendees and giving pep talks.

As I departed a covey of Costa Mesa motorcycle officers arrived following their support of the Barrett-Jackson Cruise that morning. The Costa Mesa Fire Department was also well-represented.

After I left City CEO Tom Hatch arrived with his family and, I'm told, did his best to chat with most of the folks at the picnic. It's good to know that he managed to carve out some very important time on this glorious day to visit with residents and employees in a casual, comfortable setting.

I didn't see, nor did I have any reports, of any of the male members of the City Council making an appearance. I did hear, however, that their pet spy, Jim (Mr. Green) Fitzpatrick was seen skulking around, going from tree to tree, gathering information. You'll recall that he was seen doing the same thing at the first Feet To The Fire Forum last fall - hiding behind a tree, trying to hear what some members of the CMPD were saying. (You tell me - were these two guys separated at birth?)


This turned out to be an excellent event, blessed with perfect weather, good food, camaraderie and fun. Thanks to our good neighbors of the Halecrest Community for conceiving and hosting their neighbors and city employees. They, once again, demonstrated that they actually understand what the word "community" means.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Halecrest Neighbors Have A Heart

Just a little reminder of the Halecrest Picnic and Open House tomorrow, Saturday, June 18th. It sounds like a terrific event where community members can gather and give a group hug to those city employees and residents that have been laid off or ar
e being threatened with layoff. We're told it's open to EVERYONE - see you there.



Budget Workshop A Success

Tonight the City hosted a community budget workshop, designed to provide an opportunity, in a casual atmosphere, for residents and other interested parties to pick the brains of CEO Tom Hatch and other staffers on the status of our proposed municipal budget. Once again, this year it was conducted before the budget was actually approved, which means we were dealing with a work in progress.


I've attended the last several of these meetings in years past. The first few ti
mes there was two other people and me - a one-to-one ratio with staffers. Last year twelve people showed up. This year there were fifteen bodies in Conference Room 1A. This is a good trend, but a frustratingly small number considering the population of our city. The staff was ready to shift into City Council Chambers if necessary - it wasn't.

The staff was represented by Hatch, Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young, consultant and Interim Finance Director Larry Hurst and Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell. Hatch's executive assistant, Kelly Shelton, was also in attendance.

Media was represented by Chris Prevatt of The Liberal O
C blog, Brian Helvey, the gentleman who founded and runs local FM radio station, KOCI 101.5 FM.... and me.

The remainder were a mix of
residents and employees. Most of those attending are "regulars" at council meetings, including former mayor Sandra Genis, who always brings a special energy to meetings.


As we were about to begin, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer popped into Conference Room 1A
to thank us - some of us - for participating. I'm not sure he wasn't just taking a head count, since if few folks show up to these kind of events he thinks everybody else in the city supports him. He didn't stay and no other members of the city council showed up, either. That's a good thing, because their presence would have stifled conversation.

This format, with
15 people sitting around a conference table, was very comfortable. There was no specific agenda, with Hatch kicking it off with a summary of where we've been with the budget and the steps it took to get to where we are today - before next Tuesday's meeting. We spent more than 3 hours in what amounted to a "brainstorming session" - discussing the budget, strategies, future plans and offering suggestions. Although it's unlikely that any of the suggestions made last night will have any impact on this year's budget, several may be folded into plans for the future. I came away feeling that the meeting was productive.

Some pre
tty darn tough questions were tossed to, and at, Hatch. He answered those he could and dodged those he couldn't. In his defense, those of us in the room last night were looking for reasons some of the recent decisions made by the council had occurred - some sign of a logical process by which they had been made. In several cases there were none to be found - they were done because the council decided to do it - period.

When pressed on the 125 staffing number for the Police Department - which was at odds with the recommendations of both Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley and the consultants who studied the CMPD structure, Management Partners - Hatch gave us the genesis of the number. It came from a of couple council members - unnamed - who read it in the back of last year's budget book and decided to use it as gospel. Hatch didn't shrug, but he might just as well have. Neither he nor any other staffer can tell the council what to do. They can only give their best professional advice and wait.

Long time resident Tom Arnold, a former member of the Newport Beach Fire Department Command Staff, took the lead in many of the questions. He was p
ersistent in asking about the methodology used to arrive at some of the decisions made by the council. He was trying to overlay his very extensive management experience on our circumstances to see if he could understand the "why" of many of these issues. Unfortunately, in almost every case that he chose to discuss, the "why" was basically "because the council wanted to do it that way". I fear my friend, Tom, left the meeting even more frustrated than the rest of us.

One of the many
items discussed was the demise of ABLE. This, again, was an issue that defies logic. It's one thing if there was absolutely no money left with which to operate this 40 year-old force multiplier, but that's not the case. There's enough in the ABLE reserves to operate it for at least a couple of years. No, we're dissolving ABLE because Jim Righeimer says there are too many helicopters in the sky over Orange County. Some are still holding out hope that some form of regional airborne law enforcement entity might still be formed, and that ABLE could get swept into it. In the meantime, Hatch is moving forward rapidly to firm up the deal with Huntington Beach to provide helicopter support on an hourly basis - $700 per hour - hopefully in time for the July 4th holiday weekend.

One interesting bit of news was mentioned last night. When the discussion got around to communication Hatch told the group that Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell's contract had b
een extended. Hatch committed another $50,000 to Lobdell's consultancy. We don't know the precise details, but if they were the same - $3,000 per week - just extended, that means Lobdell will be in place for another 4+ months.

Personally, I th
ink this is a great idea. His contract would have ended today. While his three month gig has not been without it's dicey moments, he's become an integral part of the information stream for our city and has been the point man on the selection of a vendor for the new web page. He's been much-maligned by more than a few people - and I've been merciless teasing him about his "inflated" fee. Folks forget, though, that a year ago we had two people working for Allan Roeder doing much of what Lobdell has been charged with. I don't recall a half year in this city where information was not only made available, but offered up on a silver platter. Certainly, Lobdell frequently delivers some bad news - but so would anyone else in that job. I'm looking forward to the new web site and hope many of the new features they've hung on the old platform will be retained.

We briefly discussed the portio
n of the agenda that was set aside for future consideration last Tuesday - the "Preliminary Financial and Budget Policies". Because of the length of that meeting it was decided to shove this agenda item off to a date in July. Some very important and potentially controversial items were on that list, like a "minimum fund balance reserve", a "minimum cash balance" and "a percentage of General Fund Budget for Capital Expenditures", just to name a few. We hope the council will not decide any of these items need to be part of this year's budget, or we might be into September before they get one adopted. I jest - June 30th is the drop dead date.

On Tuesday Hatch and his team will present what they hope will be the final v
ersion of the 2011-2012 budget. While he didn't go into a lot of detail, Hatch did give us a little peek at the format of his recommendations planned for that night. He must have the staff report done today - or tomorrow at the latest - so the council has a chance to review it. During our meeting there was much serious speculation about just what else the council might pile onto the budget at the last minute - again. Hatch plans to present them with a series of documents that will aid them in making the final decision. I only hope that he's not sandbagged again, as was the case last Tuesday. The clock is ticking and if the council doesn't pass a budget on the 21st they will have less than 10 days to get it done before the statutory deadline of June 30th.

So, once again, I encourage each of you to take advantage of these meetings in the future. This one, above all, has been the most interesting because of its casual participative format. Next year get off the couch and attend...

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

2nd Pham Death Investigation Launched

As announced by Jon Cassidy in the Orange County Register today, HERE, the City of Costa Mesa has launched a second investigation into the death of employee Huy Pham on March 17th of this year - St. Patrick's Day. You will recall that his leap from the City Hall roof was the tragic exclamation point to a tough day - when more than 200 employees received 6-month layoff notices that formed the bow wave of this new administration as it sliced through the morale of the city staff, launching an outsourcing effort that could potentially affect half the city staff.


Apparently, according to Cassidy's report, the City Attorney - Tom Duarte of Jones & Mayer - decided to hire s former Secret Service age
nt named Ron Williams of an outfit called Talon Executive Services for "general litigation support". I guess we can look forward to sun-tanned guys with reflective sunglasses looking like they came straight from the cast of Men in Black wandering around City Hall. Of course, 90 days after the incident there will be not a single shred of evidence remaining at the site. I wonder if they'll be interrogating every employee on this case? Will they want to talk with anyone who observed the "crime scene"? I was there 15 minutes after Pham landed - will they want to interrogate me?


The city is virtually mum on this move. Interim Communications Director Bill Lobdell sent me the following statement today:

Statement from the City of Costa Mesa:

In order to reduce the City’s potential liability exposure, the Costa Mesa City Attorney determined it was prudent to hire, through the law firm of Jones & Mayer, Talon Executive Services for general litigation support in anticipation of litigation—a common practice. Because this concerns legal issues, the City Attorney and City have no further comment at this time.

There is no more information forthcoming. Cassidy mentions that he's asked for a copy of the co
ntract. We must assume that, since this involves potential legal action, the decision and go-ahead was made during a closed session. I know it wasn't made in open session, for sure.

In my opinion - my blog, my opinions - this reeks of that distrust CEO Tom Hatch mentioned during his meeting with the members of the CMPD last week. I've not spoken with anyone from the police department about this, but I suspect they will support this move in public, but be pretty darn steamed privately. It's a backhand to all those men and women who performed the initial investigation. It makes one wonder if this may not just be a preamble to dumping the entire CMPD and hiring a bunch of mercenaries to "police" our city - kind of like Fallujah.

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More Budget Drama

Today, Thursday, Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch and Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young will hold their annual Community Budget Workshop at 6:00 p.m. in Conference Room 1A at City Hall. In years past this meeting was held following the adoption of the budget and was meant simply as a briefing for interested residents. Last year 12 of us attended and the three previous years only had three members of the public in attendance.

This time ar
ound, though, the budget has not yet been adopted. In fact, it's my understanding that we may need to wear rain gear on Tuesday because there will be a lot of stuff hitting the fan.

I think it's important to understand what the Jim Righeimer-led City Council is trying to do. He campaigned on a platform of "pension reform", but can't do squat about it because the bargaining units contracts don't expire until after his first (and, hopefully, only) term expires. So, he's trying to do the next best thing and that's using a fabricated budget crisis to flush as many employees out of the city as possible and thereby get rid of those nasty, inconvenient pensions.

At the very end of the Study Session Tuesday, which you can watch on streaming video HERE, Righeimer again tipped his hand (I think I'd like to play poker with
this guy). If you go to the site and drag the scroll bar across to 04:03:30 you'll see him say the following: If you want to look at this 4.1 million dollars. I understand, like I said, the fire we really don't save because we have minimum manning, we can't lower the amount of people here and if we lower them they're going to end up being there. I'm not looking to fill any of these fire positions. I clearly don't want to fill any positions, especially in the fire, until we get some kind of second tier in place for new hires. I don't want to continue on this bizarre process of retiring people at 50 years of age.


From the list of 28 such positions within the city workforce totaling more that $4 million in costs, there are eight (8) approved but vacant Fire Department positions that he's going to hold hostage until the association capitulates and changes their contract to install a 2-tier pension plan for new hires. This, of course, violates the contract, but he doesn't care - they're bumping the legal budget from $600,000 this year to $1 million for the new budget in anticipation of just this kind of hi-jinks. And, of course, there's still the proposal by the Orange County Fire Autho
rity that is pending - and we don't know how Righeimer's posture on this issue will affect that potential contract.

In the Daily Pilot today, HERE, there's a good piece about the punch in the gut Righeimer delivered to Hatch at the end of the Study Session when he brushed aside Hatch's balanced budget and handed him an additional $2.9 million to come up with. This is how the council has been playing this game. They give Hatch a target and when he hits the bulls-eye they just pick up the target and move it further away and instruct him to keep on shooting.

And now comes word of the latest shoe to drop in this drama. Today the City Council an
d staff received a copy of a PowerPoint presentation, HERE, from Colin McCarthy's Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association - the fiscal megaphone of the OC GOP for Costa Mesa - that will almost certainly "blow-up" the budget process next Tuesday. We got a little hint of what's in this presentation from Righeimer last Tuesday (Again, I'd like to play poker with him) during the mini-bombshells he dropped near the end of the Study Session.

In the history of our city there has never been a budget cycle that has made more information available to more people than this one. There has also never been one filled with so much chicanery.


I fear that, with the increased fiscal demands already being handed to Hatch by Righeimer, and this added mountain of manure to be presented by CMTax, there is NO CHANCE of a balanced budget being approved on Tuesday, the 21st. That means that the council must meet again before the deadline of July 1st - probably on the 28th - to have a budget completed. This stinks!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mr. Smith And The Homeless Task Force

Columnist Steve Smith, apparently reeled back in from the bowels of the Saturday Real Estate section of the Daily Pilot for another full-run column today, provides us with his perspective of the homeless problem in Costa Mesa, HERE. His perspective comes from having been the Chairman of the Costa Mesa Homeless Task Force, a position he held for three of its four meetings until he resigned to, as he tells us, stay home with his family.

I have attende
d half of the task force's four meetings, including the most recent one this evening at the Emergency Operations Center of the Costa Mesa Police Department. Each of those meetings was enlightening.

At the first one I attended - the second of this series - Smith, as Chair, heard a repo
rt from then-Vice Chair Judi Berry about information she and her team gleaned from business owners near Lions Park. When she was finished Smith, arbitrarily and without consultation with other members of the Task Force, told her she and her team had to go back out into the community and re-canvass the businesses to gather more information. Berry resigned from the Task Force within a day or two. It was clear to me that Smith was going to have trouble building consensus with such a diverse group if he decided he was going to be the final arbiter of any of the decisions. At the next meeting Jeff Mathews was selected as Vice Chair.

This afternoon the first order of business was to select a new Chairman to replace Smith. Unfortunately, Mathews - who would have been expected to run the meeting and handle the election, was late. He finally showed up and was promptly elected Chair by the Task Force members.

I watched the presentations by members of the Task Force and heard the excellent questions posed by many members of the public in attendance. There were around 40 people in the room. After two hours the decision was made to cut-short the presentation by the legal team because there had been so many good questions that the meeting was running long. They will pick it up where they left off in July.


It became clear to me as I sat there observing the proceedings that not much progress has been made since the last meeting I attended two months ago. Certainly, with the leadership of the group in flux, it's har
d to keep a focus on the direction this group has taken. The sub-committees that had been formed appeared to have done little on their own since the previous meetings.


In his last paragraph Smith says, "... the kids are safe at Lions Park.", a peculiar
statement to make when part of his column recounted the recent event of a child being hit and injured by a homeless man who threw a ball. And, it certainly does not jibe with the comments made this evening by young mothers who have recently been accosted at Lions Park as they tried to use the facility with their children and others in attendance with their own first-person stories.

Once again, Smith demonstrates to us that he's living in some kind of alternate universe - like the one he used to write about in which his family lived in a television-free environment. Whatever the issue is that took Smith away
from the Homeless Task Force, I hope it does not involve anything serious with a family member. I do think the Task Force will be better without him.

I'm left with the feeling that this Task Force is faced with an impossible job. Based on the briefing presented by the Task Force legal team, the legal roadblocks that are in place today seem destined to hamper any serious attempt to fix this problem. And, with a diminishing police force, the chances for serious and aggressive law enforcement activities around Lions Park shrinks by the day. This will be another consequence of the decisions of the Costa Mesa City Council to gut the CMPD. I found myself thinking this probably should be called the Hopeless Task Force - that's how it seemed tonight.

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Watch Them Like A Hawk

One of the things I've learned as I've watched meetings of the Costa Mesa City Council over the past decade is that, to quote baseball legend Yogi Berra, "It ain't over till it's over". Last night those words of wisdom held true once again. More on that in a minute.


A crowd of more than 80 residents, employees and staffers gathered a
t the Study Session yesterday afternoon to hear, among other things, the recommendations the consultants and CEO Tom Hatch had for the restructuring of the Costa Mesa Police Department, and what changes had been made to the pending budget as a result of that restructuring. Heck, even Eric Bever showed up for the second meeting in a row, which might be a record this year. However, he made up for showing up by leaving early. I guess three and a half hours was all he could take because, when the meeting re-convened at 8:00 following a short break, he was nowhere to be seen.

Hatch guided the
presentation of the restructuring scheme proposed by the consultants he hired, Management Partners, and expanded on that with his own version of the restructuring. The staff report also included the April 12, 2011 report by Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, which - as was noted by at least one speaker - was not mentioned except in passing. All of those items have been mentioned here before on previous posts. Nothing changed - Hatch proposed a Police Department of 131 sworn officers, using as a starting point the mythical "125" officer number we've discussed before, plus the 5 officers to be paid for by the C.O.P.S. grant and the Lieutenant position to be added back into the mix.

Several people, including councilwoman Wendy Leece, again asked where
that 125 number came from - nobody answered that question. So much for transparency. Of course, I've told you before where it came from - two council members pulled it out of the air (or elsewhere) during a day-one coffee with Staveley. It's been the cornerstone of any restructuring plan ever since, regardless what consultants, expert in the field, have to say.

When the conversation turned to the current budget recommendations in which Hatch has managed to provide the council with a balanced budget, things got pretty interesting. You may recall when I published THIS entry, I said the following:

Again, it will be interesting to see if this city council will set aside dogma and do what is right for the city when it comes to the budget. Quite honestly, I don't think they will be satisfied with a balanced budget. I think they're going to want to throw a mountain of cash into the Reserves and will sacrifice bodies to do it. I really do expect them to direct Hatch to return on June 21st with a new, revised budget proposal that will give them at least $1 million to put in the cookie jar. That will mean, in all likelihood, another eight staffers will be lost. Since Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer is intent on having a 125 sworn member police department, that's where six of those bodies will come from.


Guess what? I was right! After most of the folks left in the auditorium - around 30 remained - Righeimer told Hatch that he's looking for nearly $3 million in additional savings in this year's budget! He figures we're over-estimating revenues by $400,000 and wants $1.5 million more in the form of the equipment replacement fund and another million in a contingency fund, all of which totals $2.9 million. You could hear the life being sucked out of the audience and the staff.


Then, as the discu
ssion turned to just how those savings might be accomplished the conversation turned to a supplemental sheet of unfilled vacancies presented to the council last night. There were 28 positions on that list with a total annual cost of just over $4.1 million. Both Mayor Gary Monahan and Righeimer speculated about how some of those positions might be canceled or delayed to help come up with Righeimer's new target. One speaker, Perry Valantine, pointed out to them that none of those positions will be filled by July 1 and probably not even by September 1, which automatically provides $1 million in contingency dollars.

Much has been made about Righeimer's position on pension reform. It formed
the platform for his council campaign last year. We've speculated that he can't really implement "pension reform" in Costa Mesa because the labor contracts run past the end of his term. Well, he gave us a very clear look at what's in his mind last night. Right at the end of the meeting, in a little re-hash of how those vacant positions might play in the budget balancing act, when referring to the Fire Department positions, he told us that he wasn't interested in filling any of the Fire positions until we've got a second tier in place for new hires. Even though the fire contracts are not up for re-negotiation for several years, Righeimer's willing to hold eight (8) currently vacant positions hostage unless the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association negotiates a new tier of pensions. This cavalier attitude dramatically negatively affects public safety in our city.

As if that was not enough, with his actions last night Monahan affirmed Hatch's statement last week that the council doesn't trust the employees who work for the city. In two breaths he asked Hatch to come back with a proposal for a computerized time-clock system for all employees - suggesting that the folks at the Corporate Yard could use laptops to clock in - AND suggested we put GPS units on all city vehicles. A pint-sized version of Big Brother is alive and well in Costa Mesa today.


At 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 16th in Conference Room 1A Hatch and the
Finance staff will hold a community budget workshop, to answer questions members of the community might have. Last year this event drew 12 people, quadruple the previous 3 years. Because this year has been extraordinary from a budget communication standpoint, I wonder about the value of this workshop. But, it's scheduled and will be held.

The actual, final budget is scheduled to be considered on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers. Based on the meeting last night, that should be a very interesting meeting. Those of us who watch this stuff closely are wondering just what kind of stuff the council will drop on Hatch at the last minute on that date.

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