Saturday, October 08, 2011

Dickson Echoes The Party Line

In a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Pilot, HERE, published in print Sunday, October 9th, Robert Dickson, an appointee of the current city council majority to a powerful position on the Planning Commission, is the most recent such appointee to chime in to support his benefactor's misguided attempts to destroy the very fabric of our municipal government by ham-handedly forcing its outsourcing scheme on our city before doing their homework or attempting to approach the bargaining units to try to work out the perceived fiscal difficulties. Only at the most recent council meeting last Tuesday did we find out that letters have finally been sent to the six associations that represent the interests of our municipal employees, inviting them to re-open their Memorandums of Understanding - a move that is six months late.

The council actions Dickson defends have
torn this city apart under the guise of probable fiscal insolvency - a fabrication by certain members of the council and their sycophants designed to frighten voters into supporting their actions. In meeting after meeting we see members of the council majority chide, vilify and otherwise treat with disdain respected members of the community who dare to speak up. In the more than a decade that I've been watching municipal activities I do not recall such displays of arrogance and abuse of power by council members. We've seen members of the council invite community input, then, with a smirk and snide comment, dismiss that input like they are swatting flies.

The actions of thi
s council have caused the departure of almost all senior city staffers, who departed with decades of exemplary, award-winning service in our city and took with them years of institutional knowledge. Perhaps the most glaring example of this problem was the abrupt departure by hand-picked interim Police Chief, Steve Staveley, last spring. He left his second tour as interim chief - he filled that void the first time while the city performed the search that resulted in Chris Shawkey being appointed Chief - when he realized what this council is doing to our city and left in his wake an unambiguous indictment of their actions in the form of a long letter to the members of the Costa Mesa Police Department. This man, who has more than four decades of law enforcement experience, was - and is - one of the most respected law enforcement leaders in the state, left no doubt about his feelings about this city council majority. In one segment of his letter, referring to this council, he said, "They lack skill, training, education, knowledge, they fail to study (or at least learn)." He later said, "They are in my opinion incompetent, unskilled and unethical."


Staveley's assessment has proven to be accurate. The council majority demanded, and received, a budget for the year for the Cost
a Mesa Police Department that provides for a police staffing level not seen for more than two decades. The council majority ignored Staveley's staffing recommendations and those of the hand-picked consultants and arbitrarily pulled a number out of the air. As council woman Leece recently pointed out, several categories of crime are now on the rise. For providing this information to the public she was chided by Eric Bever, attending one of his few meetings this year. Even worse, non-elected council member Steve Mensinger is now proposing a hiring freeze across the board, in an attempt to bully the employee associations to implement a two-tiered pension plan.

This city is presently being governed by a city council majority composed of one carpet-bagging opportunist - Jim Righeimer - with no real ties to the community, but who gives all the appearances of a man jockeying for position to higher office; one member - Eric Bever - approaching the last year of his final term who apparently can't be bothered to attend all the meetings and community events that are expected of a council member; one member - Steve Mensinger - who was NOT elected to the office by the voters of this city, but occupies his seat thanks to three votes of his pals on the dais and treats this gift of power like a frat boy at a kegger; one member - Gary Monahan - who, despite more than a dozen years on the council, seems to have lost interest in what's going on and has virtually abdicated control of issues to others and Wendy Leece, who is presently the only member in touch with the community and who is actually earning her stipend by suffering abusive behavior by the other members on the council.


The motives of the majority are clear when they venomously criticize Leece, implying that she's "in the pocket of the unions" for her votes last year on contract modifications approved by the the
n-majority in an attempt to stabilize the city's fiscal situation and yet that majority ignores the fact that Monahan also voted for those contracts. We can only speculate about why this double-standard exists and Monahan might be getting a pass on this issue.

Last Tuesday there was a whiff of corruption in the auditorium when the council majority - minus Bever, who was again absent - voted to select one of the vendors for the Monahan-proposed turn over of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex to private enterprise. During the discussions Leece - who opposed the proposal - twice asked the other three council members to tell the public of any ex parte communications they may have had with any of the three vendors who made their pitches to them that evening. She said she had NO communications with any of them. The other three members were curiously mute - not a peep. This seems strange, since having communications with those folks would not have been out of line. Now we are left to speculate about just what kind of communications - and deals - may have been struck between individual council members and the vendors.


It certainly didn't help things when - according to first-hand reports from the scene la
st Tuesday night - the representative of the vendor chosen, Big League Dreams, got into a heated argument with the President of the Mesa Del Mar Community Association in which he cursed him out. It took a Costa Mesa police officer in the chambers to stop the dust-up. There are those who were in attendance last Tuesday night, including representatives of the unsuccessful vendors, that apparently believe this deal was a fait accompli - a done-deal - months ago.

I guess I underst
and Rob Dickson's loyalty to his benefactors. He's a smart guy with whom I've exchanged opinions over the past half-dozen years. He's a recent Westside homeowner and a paralegal working for a local law firm. He knows how to do his homework and to frame a position, but he's misguided on this one. He's tied his political future to a party bandwagon that has the wheels falling off and that's too bad.

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Daily Pilot To Tighten-up Comment Screening

In case you've not already read the commentary by Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis titled, "We're going to screen online comments", HERE, our local newspaper of record has decided to follow the Orange County Register's recent announcement about changing the way comments on their articles are handled. I wrote about the Register decision HERE.


Regarding that Register move - requiring Facebook registration prior to posting a commen
t - the reaction was as predicted. The last time I looked at the comment thread on that article there were nearly 700 comments posted - and almost none were favorable. Apparently there eventually were just over 800 comments posted before the editors at the Register hit the "flush" lever and they disappeared down the tubes. There now appear a couple dozen fairly tame comments - which is probably a sign of things to come. And that's not bad, in my view.

Regarding the Daily Pilot decision to clamp down on comments - I do understand their problem. I've never understood why they exercised tight control over what appeared in print as a "letter to the editor" and virtually threw the door open for almost any kind of a comment online.

I do know it takes a lot of time to review and approve comments before publication. I go through that process with this blog and the Daily Pilot deals with much, much greater numbers. However, this step was clearly necessary. The comment threads had gotten out of hand in recent months, to the point where many were almost unreadable.

So, beginning now, the editors will actually "edit" the comments. Writers can still use their old screen names and Canalis tells us they will not edit out stupidity (my phrase, not his), but will screen out other offensive stuff. As I type this really early Saturday morning I notice that, among the offensive things they will screen for is "cheap shorts". I'm sure he meant "cheap shots", but it made me smile.


It will take longer for comments to appear now - I posted one on Canalis' article this evening and I don't expect to see it until sometime Saturday - if then. That's one of the problems w
ith editing - it can break the flow of the discussion when editors just don't have time to review every comment quickly. It's a manpower issue.


It's going to be very interesting to see how this, and the Register decision, plays out. I'm hoping for the best in both cases. And, as always, when you post comments on my blog they are subject to my review and approval before being published. Almost all comments submitted here get published. You know I will publish criticisms - I have since the beginning - but won't publish profanity and will view every comment carefully before publishing defamatory innuendo about anyone. That's the way it is, folks.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

More Adventures in CouncilMania

My sweet and patient wife and I were supposed to be out of town on a much-needed vacation this week, but the "cold gods" thought differently and I've been fighting a whopper since late last week. We canceled our plans, came home and, with lots of rest, fluids and some nifty drugs, I've got my cold in a strangle hold now, so I'm going to give the last Costa Mesa City Council meeting a little attention - finally.

I'll start by
telling you that, once again, our city council just couldn't find a way to complete its work in the same day they began. Once again this meeting ran past midnight. By the time they finished with the closed session, I doubt if many of them got home much before 2 a.m. Wednesday. This is a pitiful way to do business and certainly doesn't serve the community well. Maybe part time, part time councilman Eric Bever anticipated this long meeting and decided to stay home again rather than be bored with the whole thing. What was his phrase again? "I didn't sign up for this!" Yeah, that was it. I've used his photo here so you won't forget what he looks like.

At the request of Mayor Gary Monahan, CEO Tom Hatch and contract City Attorney Tom Duarte will begin giving their reports earlier in each meeting - immediately following the Public Comments segment. This is a good idea and will provide timely, relevant information to the audience - both in the chambers and watching at home - before they have departed or nodded off. Rather than attempt to quote Hatch verbatim from his 14 minute presentation I've provided a clip of that segment. He provides lots of good information - the schedule for some very important study sessions, for example. Without further comment, Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch:

As mentioned in an earlier post, three new RFPs were presented on the Consent Calendar. Those were 1) Animal Control Services; 2) Street and Storm Drain Maintenance Services and 3) Graffiti Abatement Services. Each was pulled for separate discussion and each was passed on a 3-1 vote, with Wendy Leece voting NO. Responses will be due back in a month and the staff will then evaluate them to determine whether the responses are more cost effective than continuing to perform these critical services by city staff. It is interesting to note, once again, that "pricing" is so heavily weighted - 50% - that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone but the lowest bidder being selected. This is what happens when "money" replaces "service" as a priority on our city council.

The "Granny Units" ordinance and the change to the "Sign" ordinance both received second readings and passed, 4-0.

Then the BIG item on the agenda, the future of the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex, was heard. I confess that I DID NOT watch all of the presentations from the three competing vendors - I'd already sat through those presentations at an earlier Parks and Recreation Commission meeting. As it was, the presentations and conversations stretched this issue more than three hours, late into the night. It came of absolutely no surprise to me that Big League Dreams, USA was named as the vendor chosen to work with the task force authorized that evening to flesh out community and user groups concerns. This, of course, gives them a HUGE leg up if, and when, this scheme finally is placed out to bid.

Although I've been feeling poorly, a loyal reader has done some research for us on Big League Dreams, USA. Without further editorial comment I (we) provide to you the following links to articles on several of their facilities/proposals for your own interpretation. Just click on the city name:

Oxnard, CA - Chandler, AZ - League City, TX - Chino, CA - El Paso, TX - Fresno, CA

As mentioned by several speakers and councilwoman Wendy Leece, this whole process stinks. The whim of Monahan rapidly evolved into a full-blown series of presentations BEFORE members of the community had a chance to provide ANY input. It's putting the cart before the horse. No determination has been yet made by the city that it even wants such a complex to exist at TeWinkle Park. Certainly, there has been NO public outreach, nor have comments been solicited, on this issue. Sadly, this is now typical of our current city council. Led by opportunistic Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and the arrogant and ever-impatient councilman Steve Mensinger, they continue to show blatant disregard for public input and for the need to follow the rules established long ago for the conduct of city business. Tuesday night we heard from several members of the contiguous community, including Jeff Wilcox, President of the Mesa Del Mar Community Association and Lisa Reedy, a past president of that group. They, and the other speakers from that community, expressed concern about this latest overture. Noise, parking, trash, vandalism, public urination and lights were all mentioned as existing major concerns. All were opposed to ANY further development of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex that will exacerbate those problems.

Among the many speakers addressing this issue was former member of the City Attorney's office and long-time Westside activist Eleanor Egan, a woman who has served this community with distinction for decades, both as an employee and a resident. She cautioned the council to be certain about deed restrictions BEFORE moving forward. Here's her brief cautionary comment to the council:

Clearly, this train is moving down the track - a "fast track" to use a phrase uttered by one speaker. In my opinion, it's very important that the public get out in front of this thing before it becomes a fait acommpli. The public needs to make its views known to every council member and attend meetings of the task force as they occur to monitor the proceedings and provide input when solicited. I find myself wondering just who has what to gain in this process? One might be curious about any gain Monahan might receive in this little adventure. Will his pub, for example, become the conduit through which the alcoholic beverages that will be served at the new complex flow? Just wondering...

At the end of the meeting, just as they were about to head for the Closed Session, in a move that is unprecedented in my memory, Hatch told the public specifics about issues that were going to be discussed in that closed session. In all the years I've watched these meetings I can never recall ANY discussion of closed session items, and particularly not labor negotiation issues, outside those walls. Because of the nature of this disclosure I've provided a clip of Hatch's comments here:

Before we close this one, and to provide more fodder for the cannons of some of the anonymous yappers whose mindless drivel I continue to permit to appear in comments on this blog, I feel it's important to address how some members of this city council treat members of the public who take the time to speak before them. As I suspect is the case in most municipalities, there is a cadre of folks in Costa Mesa who take the time out of their otherwise busy lives to address the council with their concerns on a variety of issues in our city. Some speak on most issues, offering their perspective on the subjects. Others show up when a favorite subject is going to be discussed - the outsourcing, for example. These folks are not whacked-out street people, living out of carts in the weeds of Talbot Park. Most are solid citizens by anyone's definition.

Among the regular speakers are a couple former elected council members - former Mayor Sandra Genis and former Vice Mayor Jay Humphrey - each of whom "did their time" on the dais and are still involved in community activities. Others include Tom and Eleanor Egan - Westside residents and activists who have devoted decades of their private time to try to help make this city an even better place to live. Eleanor, as mentioned above, is a former member of the City Attorney's office. Robin Leffler and Cindy Brenneman, both residents of Mesa Verde and officers in their community association, each devote hundreds of hours a year on community issues. Beth Refakes, an Eastside resident who adjusts her work schedule so she can observe and participate in almost every public meeting in the city, presents clear, thoughtful commentaries to the council and commissions on many issues. This year former employee Perry Valantine - a key member of the Planning Department for three decades - and long-time resident of the city, has found himself distressed about the way this city is headed and has taken his intellect, institutional knowledge and wit to the speaker's podium to address many important issues. Similarly, soft-spoken and courteous teacher Tamar Goldmann has become so frustrated with the way things have been going that she now frequently quietly steps to the microphone to instruct the council.


Each of those speakers, and many more who speak with less frequency but I've neglected here, are not some schmucks who are pushing shopping carts around town. They are concerned citizens who are using the opportunities guaranteed to them to address grievances before the folks that make decisions that affect their lives and those of their neighbors. And, for their trouble, from their seats on the dais some members of this council chide, belittle, criticize and dismiss them as though they are swatting flies. The greatest offender, of course, is our non-elected councilman, Steve Mensinger. As I've said before, perhaps if he actually had to RUN for office instead of landing his seat of power by receiving only 3 votes, he might consider the views of the public a little differently. The arrogance and condescension with which he addresses these folks and others is unacceptable, boorish behavior. It needs to stop.


Speaking of Mensinger, he dropped a bombshell at the end of the meeting just at the stroke of midnight. He asked Hatch to bring back at the next meeting a proposal for "a hiring freeze across the board until we have a second tier in place for new employees". I could almost hear the necks of the staff left in the audience snap as he uttered those words. At press time this afternoon no information was available about how many current vacancies are actually actively being recruited, but this raises some interesting questions. And, I wonder if he might have violated state laws about labor negotiations with that request? Is he holding a gun to the employee associations heads?

For example, does the freeze include the new positions authorized that appear to be ear-marked for Dan Joyce and Bill Lobdell? What about that Park Ranger Mensinger bullied Police Chief Tom Gazsi about at the last meeting? What about the Community Service Specialists approved in a recent meeting? What about the 5 police positions to be filled by a Grant? How will this affect all those "interim" positions at City Hall? Peter Naghavi is Interim Assistant CEO now. Ernesto Munoz is Interim Public Services Director, replacing Naghavi.... and on and on. What about Joyce's and Lobdell's current jobs? This is yet another example of Mensinger's shoot-from-the-hip style - that old "Ready - Fire - Aim!" approach to doing business.

On a positive note. I'm really enjoying the daily video Costa Mesa Minute presentations. I hope you've signed up to view them each morning. They give you timely information about good stuff going on in the city, and good news is pretty hard to come by these days. Congrats to Dane Bora and Brad Long for putting these gems together and to Christine Cordon of the City Clerk's office for her recent cameo appearance.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

County To Pay $1.3 Million In Legal Fees

In a press release today the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) announced today that they have reached a mediated settlement with the County of Orange regarding reimbursement of legal fees they expended defending themselves against the County's recently failed lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of their "3% at 50" retirement benefit that was negotiated in 2001.

You may recall that County Supervisor John Moorlach - a Costa Mesa resident and strong advocate for the current path the Costa Mesa City Council is taking to shed city government of public employees by outsourcing - was the prime mover of this ill-fated legal adventure. The County will pay AOCDS $1.3 million in settlement of the legal costs and fees expended by the Association in defense of the lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2008. The settlement agreement was mediated by the Honorable Howard B. Wiener, a retired Justice of the California Court of Appeal.

In February of 2009, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Helen Bendix dismissed the County's lawsuit, ruling that their arguments lacked merit to warrant a trial. The County of Orange appealed that decision to the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal, which unanimously affirmed the lower court's decision. The County was also unsuccessful in its effort to appeal to the California Supreme Court, which unanimously denied the County's petition for review.

Quoted in the press release, AOCDS President Tom Dominguez, although satisfied
with the agreement, stated, "No one is ever completely satisfied with the final outcome in such matters. The courts have ruled, however, and with this agreement, we consider the matter officially closed. It is now time for the AOCDS and the County of Orange to move forward and direct our time, resources, and energy to doing what we do best: providing the most efficient and highest quality public safety services possible for the residents of Orange County."

I find myself wondering if our "union-busting" city council will learn anything from this situation. I'm guessing not, especially since they've turned the spending of legal fees into an art form. No, I think they will probably just keep on spending our tax dollars at stratospheric rates to some of the most expensive lawyers available to try to pound the employee associations into submission.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

OC Register To Require Facebook ID For Commenters

Today the editor of the Orange County Register, Ken Brusic, announced that, as of this Thursday, folks attempting to post comments on Register articles will be required to have a Facebook identity. You can read Brusic's piece HERE.

In my opinion, this is a HU
GE step for the Register to take. I've commented from time to time that the comment threads on Register articles became almost unreadable because of the nature of way, way too many of those comments. They ranged from relevant, well-composed thoughtful pieces to the rantings from the lunatic fringe. Before the editors assigned folks to monitor them full time there had been threats, foul language - you name it - none of which contributed to the expansion of the discussion of important issues.

I had, long ago, given up attempting to read the Register comment threads for the reasons stated above. It just wasn't worth my time to try to sift through all the crap that was posted to find the pearls of wisdom that certainly existed. This situation is the result of permitting more lax standards for publishing comments on line than are permitted in letters to the editor.

As you regular - and irregular - readers know, my preference is for you to post using
your own name. Most of you refuse to do so, choosing, instead, a creative pen name - or pen names. I've refused to permit the use of the name "Anonymous" - to avoid a comment thread with several people using that name and creating confusion to those who actually try to make sense of the threads here. And, as will apparently always be the case, some of you attempt to find ways to abuse this system.


monitor and personally decide which comments will be posted. I cannot "modify" the comments or otherwise edit them. I can only decide "yes" or "no". So, if you present a wonderful, cogent comment for others to consider here and find it necessary to top it off with a foul comment the whole thing will be rejected. That's the way it is.

I know that many of you don't agree with the opinions I present for your c
onsideration. That's fine. I will present opposing viewpoints unless they violate my rules. Those who have been here awhile know that to be a fact. I do the best I can to present both sides of an issue, and will continue to do so.

So, let's try to move forward by maintaining civility and present your best "facts" and your best argument to support them. But please do not try to treat this venue like a locker room - leave your excremental expostulations elsewhere. Most of you are way, way too smart to need to use foul language to make your points. Those that simply can't meet that minimal standard will simply have to find somewhere else to post.

So, what's your opinion about the Orange County Register's decision? Do you think it will do significant harm to their operations? Do you think it will improve the comment threads? I'm interested in your views...

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Monday, October 03, 2011

More Tuesday Night Fun Ahead

By the time most of you read this it will already be Tuesday and we'll all be looking forward to the next installment "As The Worms Turn", or whatever we're calling this soap opera that the governance of Costa Mesa has become. Will Steve Mensinger text to his pals from the dais and get called on it? Will he bark back at critics and interrupt Wendy Leece because he disagrees with her? Will Jim Righeimer lose his cool again? Will Eric Bever actually show up again? What kind of bombshells will be dropped during Council Member Comments at the very end of the meeting? These are things that make it all worth watching.


The agenda for the council meeting Tuesday night - 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers - p
romises some interesting discussions. One just never knows how long these things will take anymore.


And, as has been the case lately, the Consent Calendar - normally near the front end of the meetings, but not guaranteed, since Mayor Gary Monahan seems to like to exercise what little power he has left by juggling the agenda items in recent weeks - provides us with some interesting reading. (See below) The first two items, the Warrants, numbers 2388, HERE, and 2389, HERE, show us how the city is spending more than $3.1 million of our tax dollars. Thanks to the staff in the City Clerk's office for turning those spreadsheets sideways so we can actually read them without laying on our sides.

Items number 9, 10 and 11 are three more Requests For Proposals recommended by the staff to be released to the public for bidding. #9 is the RFP for Animal Control Services, HERE; #10 is for Street and Storm Drain Maintenance Services, HERE and #11 of for Graffiti Abatement Services, HERE. Unless a member of the council or the public asks for separate discussion of these items they will simply be approved along with the remainder of the Consent Calendar.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Consent Calendar is Item #
12, HERE, in which Monahan has formally suggested that CEO Tom Hatch provide his comments immediately following the Public Comments section in the agenda, instead of having them fall at the end of the meeting. Such a change requires a vote by the council. Personally, I don't think it's a bad idea, especially since in the past few months there has been a lot of palaver during Public Comments, where council members and Hatch have addressed speaker's concerns immediately. Heck, sometimes council members interrupt speakers because they don't agree with what they say. So, if this gets the meeting back under control - and those interloping council members will follow the rules - then I think this is a good idea. A better idea might be to have Hatch give his comments following the Consent Calendar, since that segment of the agenda has generated many comments from the public in the recent past.


Since there are no Public Hearings scheduled for this meeting there seems to be no GOOD reason to further juggle the schedule - but one just never knows these days.

The two Old Business items are second readings of two new ordinances. The first re-defines "granny units", HERE, and just may generate some discussion. The second amends our sign ordinance, HERE, and probably will not generate much controversy... we'll see.


Just when you thought we might see a short meeting, it's time to guess again. The only item under New Business titled, "Selection of a Qualified Firm For The Upgrade, Operation and Maintenance of the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex", HERE. You'll recall I mentioned that the Parks and Recreation Commission already considered this issue and heard from th
ree respondents to the request for Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) at a special meeting in August.


At its meeting in September the Parks and Recreation Commission voted to recommend to the City Council the formation of a Task Force - 9 members - to assess this situation and to perform public outreach. It is my understanding that this recommendation will be part of the discussions Tuesday night. If, in fact, the title of this agenda is correct, it seems very premature to actually "select" a vendor when no public outreach has been conducted and no public comments have been heard. In my opinion, the selection of a vendor - if we indeed decided to outsource the management of this facility - should only be made once public outreach is conducted and the preferences of the public, including the neighboring communities, is known. And, since the recommendation for the task force includes members of the public, some kind of a recruitment must take place for those positions. It will NOT surprise me if this council has decided to move ahead without public input. And, such haste makes me curious... why is it necessary? What's the rush?


So, all you folks from Mesa del Mar and College Park - if you're interested i
n this issue and how it will affect your neighborhoods - attendance at this meetings seems to be essential. For example, proposals made to the Parks and Recreation Commission earlier included the sale of alcoholic beverages at the site. It seems to me that element may make a very significant change to the character of the facility and may have a very significant negative impact on the adjoining neighborhoods. Each of the three vendors will apparently be in the house Tuesday to make their pitch all over again - or to answer questions.

This meeting has the potential to be an early evening - unless lots of people decide to show up to speak on items of interest to them. Since the RFPs in question potentially represent the loss of dozens of Costa Mesa employee jobs, I suspect there may be a few employees present. I guess we'll see.

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