Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Charter Idea Not New To Costa Mesa

This afternoon Joe Serna, writing in the Daily Pilot, has an excellent piece describing Costa Mesa's first pass at considering shifting from a General Law city to a Charter city - way, way, way back in 1971. You can read Serna's article HERE.

In his piece Serna q
uotes some of the very senior citizens who were involved in this process, including former City Manager Fred Sorsabal - the man who hired and trained recently-retired City Manager, Allan Roeder - and long-time Costa Mesa resident and educator, Hank Panian.

The Pilot is also running a letter Panian wrote to them back in January about this first effort, HERE. In case you're wondering why we should care about what Hank Panian thinks on this issue, you can read more about him HERE, in a piece published by Orange Coast College a few years ago, and HERE, in a piece Daily Pilot columnist Jim Carnett wrote about him a little over a year ago. He's a man who has spent virtually all his adult life as an educator and community activist in Costa Mesa trying to make this town a better place to live.

What I take away from this article and Panian's letter is that this process should not be
done in haste. It requires more careful deliberation than it's being given right now. The ONLY reason to rush this process is because it suits Jim Righeimer's agenda - fewer voters vote in the Primary Elections and, since only the Republican Presidential ticket will be contested in June, he has a much better chance of a voter pool that leans toward his way of thinking.

The views of these highly respected men should carry some weight with the voters of this community. Jim Righeimer's hasty, politically-opportunistic Charter should be rejected in June.

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Wendy Leece Hosts A Town Hall Tonight

In what turns out to be the best kept secret in town this week, I just learned that Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Wendy Leece is holding another in her series of Town Hall meetings tonight!


This meeting is gea
red to issues within the College Park neighborhood. As was the case in her meeting at Pomona School, the focus will be public safety. Members of the CMPD will be present to discuss traffic and other public safety-related topics. The CERT team will also be present to discuss that valuable program.


The meeting will be held at College Park Elementary School, 2380 Notre Dame Road and is scheduled to run from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. I've provided you with a map of that location, below.


I plan to attend and hear what concerns our College Park neighbors have about safety in their neighborhood - and other issues, too. See you there.

(click on the image to make it larger)

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Homeless And Budget Discussed

Early or late, almost any meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council these days proves to be entertaining. The Special Study Session held in council chambers beginning at 4:30 ended precisely at 7:00 and was, indeed, entertaining. It was also very frustrating at times.

First, Eric Bever failed to show up. I guess, in
his words, he "didn't sign up for this". Then Mayor Gary Monahan bailed out at 6:00 p.m. for some more important engagement following the first segment, the Homeless Task Force report, leaving barely a quorum. Then, a half hour later, the sometimes very obtuse Steve Mensinger - perhaps influenced by the recent visit of our Australian exchange students - went on a walkabout. He just got up and wandered out of the auditorium without saying a word, leaving Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young frozen in the middle of a word because Mensinger's absence eliminated the quorum. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer called for a short break, leaving those of us left in the audience to chuckle among ourselves. "Clueless" was among the words that popped into my mind. The meeting re-convened five minutes later after Mensinger returned from making his telephone call or his bathroom break - whatever took him out of the room. Hmmm... I guess the world REALLY does revolve around him, after all.

The report of by the Homeless Task Force, led by Jeff Mathews and Muriel Ullman, was crisp and excellent. You can read the staff report HERE and the 137 page foundational document HERE. I won't try to re-hash the entire presentation, but will observe that much progress has been made in the year since this Task Force was constituted. Goal have been established and plans to reach them have been formulated. Many new ordinances would have to be created to cover some of those steps.


However, while the council members in attendance were grateful for all the hard work put in by the members and their leadership, one had the impression that they were no
t fully on-board with some of the things that needed to be accomplished. Perhaps that might have had to do with the lingering problem - after the homeless folks in our city have been sorted out and those who fit the definition created by the task force as "Costa Mesa Homeless" - those for whom support services will be provided - what happens to the remaining homeless people who don't fit the definition, but remain "homeless in Costa Mesa"? There were no good answers to that question, but bus tickets out of town were seriously mentioned.

CEO Tom Hatch also expressed s
ome concern that, in the process of implementing the plans, we might might end up only making things worse. The services that would be made available might attract even more homeless folks to our city. It was acknowledged that the weather, proximity to the ocean and services already in place ARE, to use a Mensingerism, "attractants". I agree with that apprehension. It seems entirely logical that if you create even more services and an infrastructure to manage this issue more homeless folks will descend upon our city. This, I fear, is going to be the crack in the foundation of this program that simply must be solved FIRST.

Mensinger, during the discussion of the homeless problem, said one of the str
angest things - of many - that I've ever heard him say. He said, "... I really don't think it should be the responsibility of our police department to go solve problems on private property - that's a function of the property owners." You could hear jaws dropping all over the auditorium! I wonder just what his definition of "public safety" actually is? His vision is, apparently, a hoard of private security officers hired by property owners to protect their individual investments. He went on to complain about having to "walk two miles" during a recent police department ride-along, looking for homeless people around businesses.


Before we get too far along here and I completely lose my sense of humor, let me give you a smile or two. As you may recall, Mensinger had anointed himself the "test case" for using electronic devices to replace the costly paper staff reports. He uses his own, personal Ipad instead of a pile of paper. I'm sure we all can see the possible upside of this - saving trees, etc. - but there's a huge downside, too. In Mensinger's case, it's the inability to follow along with the proceedings as he surfs the web and answers emails on the dais. Several of us in the audience heard his incoming email alert - a little "ping" - while he was attempting to follow along. And, at least a couple times, he asked such irrelevant questions that it was clear he had NOT been paying attention. I'm sorry this photo is a little blurry, but I just couldn't resist showing it to you because it shows the reflection of his Ipad in his glasses - a perfect representation of the problem. And, when he wasn't wandering off physically or mentally, he was taking jabs at Wendy Leece. The guy is a real schmuck! (Definition: an obnoxious or contemptible person)


Bobby Young provided a fairly pos
itive report on our Mid-year financial performance. You can read his staff report HERE. He told us that he is cautiously optimistic about the Sales Tax revenues that seem to be bouncing back from the dreary fiscal years of 08/09 and 09/10. The quarter that included last Christmas was up nearly 12% from the same period the previous year. He's projecting "only" just over 5% for the final two quarters of this year - an acknowledged conservative approach, but safe.

The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is also trending upward on a similar track as the Sales Tax revenues are showing. He is projecting just over 2% increase for the final two quarters - again, a very conservative number. He didn't provide an analysis of Property Tax revenues because it seems to be flat and consistent with the budgeted numbers.

Young will be recommending revenue adjustments netting just over $340,000, with five areas adjusted upward and two down. Increases will be recommended for the TOT ($250,000); Cable TV Franchise Fee ($100,000); Solid Waste Hauler Franchise Fees ($250,000); Paramedic Fees - Advanced ($50,000) and Other Miscellaneous Revenues ($41,225). The two downward adjustments, Vehicle Code Violations (-$200,000) and Parking Citations (-$150,000), are directly related to the staff reductions in the Costa Mesa Police Department.

When the budget was approved last June there was a $970,000 "contingency fund" created from which CEO Hatch could pluck handfuls of dollars for un-budgeted items as they occurred. After a short discussion about one significant item that appeared to be mis-applied to this account, it looks like the City has spent a little more than half of this amount - $545,273 - in the first half of the fiscal year.

Righeimer went off on a mini-tirade about overtime costs. It seems the Employee Compensation Report was just made available, HERE, and he was, once again, ranting about the greedy public safety folks and their darn budget-busting overtime costs. He pointed out that "a couple of them earned over $100,000 in overtime". Well, I've gone over that report a couple times and I only see one. You can take a look yourself...

The problem here is that it is the policies of this council that caused this overtime to be
worked! They've refused to let the Fire Department hire any new employees unless they agree to re-open their contract and accept a second tier for their retirement. So, in order to provide for public safety, firefighters and their commanders MUST work overtime to cover the shifts.

In the case of the Police Department, Righeimer conveniently ignores that fact that they've refused to allow proper staffing, limiting it to 131 sworn officers (including 5 paid for with grant funding for 5 years) when all credible sources that they've contracted with for their expertise tells us that there should be AT LEAST another dozen officers for MINIMUM staffing. He also conveniently ignored that much of the overtime they show on their compensation report is money reimbursed to the city by events like the Orange County Fair, the Barrett-Jackson auction, etc. Nah, they won't talk about that because it doesn't fit their personal agenda. Instead, Righeimer portrays the public safety staff as a bunch of selfish, greedy laggards, interested only in retiring.


The area of greatest concern to me - and a few members in the audience - was th
e planned request to nearly double the amount in the Self Insurance Fund, from $932,008 to $1,832,008. This fund is where dollars are plucked from to pay litigation expenses. As most know, we've been blowing through that fund like proverbial drunken sailors now that the pricey law firm, Jones Day, is on board trying to quash the lawsuit filed by the employees to stop the outsourcing scheme.


Wendy Leece wondered where the January numbers were for Jones Day, since it seems their charges for January don't show up anywhere. Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told her that he had the bills for review and approval and that they would be processed for payment shortly. You can read the legal bills paid so far this year HERE.

The requests for budget adjustments will be presented to the council for action at the sec
ond meeting in March, according to Young.

As an aside, I finally got a copy of the 5-year Forecast spreadsheet that was the
result of the exercise a few weeks ago when Righeimer and others simply plucked numbers out of the air instead of doing any kind of even rudimentary analysis and plugged those fabrications in five years out. The way things work with these guys, those numbers will soon be cast in concrete and be the working "bible" for all municipal financial activities even though a chimpanzee could have come up with something just as valid. That form is NOT available online yet, but I'll give you the link when it is.

Maybe, if you're a marginally skilled developer, you can get away with that kind of capricious fiscal management because, theoretically, you can just raise your prices if you have a shortfall. In municipal fiscal management, where a balanced budget is critical, your options are limited and usually involve cutting costs. "Costs" means people because that's where the bulk of the dollar are spent. I guarantee you that, if this crew stays on the council and based on what they've conjured up for the next five years, Righeimer's outsourcing scheme is only the beginning. It's going to be a bloodbath! The T-shirt Billy Folsom wore to the council meeting last week for the recognition of his 30 years with the city was right on the money. It read, "Ready, Fire, Aim" - an acknowledgment of the way these guys operate. It's a heck of a way to run a city.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sanitary District Board Votes To Oust Fitzpatrick*(Amended)

The short version of what happened at the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Special Meeting this morning is... after approximately 30 minutes of deliberation in a Closed Session, the Board - back in open session - voted 3-2 to move forward and request the law firm of Meyers Nave to proceed with what is called a quo warrento proceeding. They will forward a request to State Attorney General Kamala Harris immediately for her opinion. If she concurs, legal action will be initiated to remove Director Jim Fitzpatrick from his seat on the Sanitary District Board. Fitzpatrick and Board President Bob Ooten voted against the motion. I tried to reach Ooten for a comment but he's not responded by the time I needed to publish this entry. I may post an amendment to this entry with his response later. I had also hoped to be able to link to Joe Serna's Daily Pilot article because he WAS there, but it's not ready at press time. I'll link to it later, so check back this evening. In the meantime, you can read his preamble coverage HERE. *11:00 p.m. You can read Joe Serna's excellent piece covering the meeting HERE. The accompanying photo by Scott Smeltzer shows Fitzy looking like he needs a Tums.

All this turmoil was created when Fitzpatrick ignored the original advice by Dist
rict Counsel Alan Burns that holding seats on both the Sanitary District Board and the Costa Mesa Planning Commission simultaneously was incompatible as defined by state law.

According to reports from the scene, only two people rose to speak to this issue in the Public Comments segment before the closed session. One was a representative of a waste hauler, who didn't speak for Fitzpatrick, he spoke in favor of open bidding for the trash hauling contract. The remaining person who spoke was Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commissioner and Jim Righeimer sycophant Ethan Temianka. According to those at the meeting, Temianka presented views straight from Fitzpatrick's playbook - his email blast sent to "friends" yesterday encouraging support. Temianka recently announced that he will challenge Trudy Ohlig Hall for her seat on the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board next fall - another tenticle on the OC GOP takeover of the Newport-Mesa area.

Incidentally, sources tell me that approximately a dozen emails were received since Fitzpatrick's frantic appeal yesterday and most of those were supporting his posit
ion. I've not seen them so can't give you any idea of the breakdown or the specifics of what they said. I know they were NOT unanimous supporting Fitzpatrick because they included my message. Considering the intensity of his appeal, this seems like pretty weak support to me.


Because the meeting took nearly three hours, and because Fitzpatrick makes long-winded pontifications on almost every issue that is discussed, the Sanitary District Board did not complete their agenda. Some words used to describe his behavior at the meeting were: Egotistical; Self-centered; Know-it-all; Condescending and Bully. So, many of the more interesting issues - like a review of committee assignments - will occur at the regular meeting in March. Assuming that Fitzpatrick is still on the Board at that time, expect more fireworks at that one.


Now we wait for a response from the Attorney General and begin to watch t
he legal fees tally up until this issue is resolved. It is estimated that it could cost around $50,000. It could be easily resolved if Fitzpatrick chooses to resign from either of the "incompatible" seats he holds. Based on his reaction to this situation, few think that will happen. He will probably let this legal challenge play out - forcing the Sanitary District to pay legal costs to move forward - to the point where he must, personally, begin paying legal bills.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Jimmy Fitzy In A Frenzy

Costa Mesa Sanitary District Director Jim Fitzpatrick - who also holds a seat on the Costa Mesa Planning Commission - apparently is in a major panic about the possibility of losing his seat on the Sanitary District Board. Today he fired off an email blast to who-knows-how-many friends and acquaintances, begging for their intervention in this matter. He asked them to attend the meeting to speak in his support and to send notes of support to Sanitary District General Manager Scott Carroll.


His correspondence is a disjointed, inaccurate call for action and attempts to deflect the fact that two legal opinions have determined that there is "incompatibility" between the two seats he currently
holds by attempting to make it seem that the majority on the Sanitary District Board are trying to dump him because he disagrees with opinions about contracts.

He also misstates the situation that existed with Mayor Gary Monahan. He says in his frenetic rant th
at Monahan held a position on the City Council AND the Sanitary District Board simultaneously for four (4) years. That's not true. Monahan was termed out of his council seat, so ran for a seat on the Sanitary District Board and won. Two years later, once he was again eligible to run for City Council, he ran and won a seat and then held both seats simultaneously for two (2) years. However, it is completely irrelevant, since the legal opinions the Board has in front of them clearly spell out that different rules apply to council positions than planning commissions.

Fitzpatrick a
lso included an attachment to his email - a confusing array of slides that look like they might have been done in a junior high school class - that perpetuate the falsehoods of his correspondence and his attempts to deflect the issue from him to others. Among those images is a copy of comments made on the recent Daily Pilot article about this issue by fellow planning commissioner, Rob Dickson, who makes his living as a paralegal for a big local law firm. Now, Dickson is a nice guy and pretty smart, but he's NOT a lawyer, so his opinion should be taken in the proper context.

Clearly, Fitzpatrick is in a panic and is flailing around like a guy in quicksand. Sadly, the more he fla
ils, the deeper he sinks.

Today, after reading Fitzpatrick's diatribe, I did as he suggested to his friends. I wrote to Scott Carroll,, and suggested to him that the Sanitary District Board review all the facts and legal opinions available to them and any precedents that might apply as they deliberate on this issue in their Closed Session tomorrow. I suggested that, if they determine that Fitzpatrick holds two positions that are "incompatible", they should ask him to resign. If he refuses and chooses, instead, to force the Board to take legal action to remove him, then that decision is on HIM, not the Board. Based on the facts of the issue available to me, including a review of the report from the law firm they hired to analyze and report on this situation, it is clear that Fitzpatrick's positions are "incompatible", and he should step down from his Sanitary District Seat.

I don't plan to attend the Sanitary District Board meeting tomorrow. The confine
s are just too cozy for me and there's no telling how long they will be in Closed Session. However, once they finish that part of their agenda they will report out the result and move on to the remainder of their Open Session agenda, HERE. It might be fun to be a mouse in the corner in the Sanitary District Conference Room tomorrow, don't you think?

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Important Meetings On Tuesday Ahead

Next Tuesday, February 28th, is going to be an interesting day in Costa Mesa.


As mentioned in my last post, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board will meet for a Closed Session at 9:00 a.m. at the Sanitary District Headquarters to discuss the "compatibility" issue involving Jim Fitzpatrick. You can read about that agenda HERE. We could speculate all day about what MIGHT happen, but won't know until they come out of that Closed Session and report. It's possible that it could get nasty, but we'll just have to wait and see.


Tuesday afternoon the Costa M
esa City Council will hold a Special Study Session at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers instead of one of the conference rooms. Note the time... It is anticipated that there may be a big turnout for this meeting. A reminder - unless they change the rules, there will be a maximum of 15 minutes TOTAL for public comments in study sessions. I don't know if Mayor Gary Monahan will adjust that if there is a large turnout hoping to speak on these two issues or not.

There are two items on the agenda - the final report from the Costa Mesa Homeless
Task Force. You can read the staff report HERE. The attachment included is the draft of their actual final report - 137 pages - which you can read HERE. The task force has spent a year working on this issue and have made some progress. However, ultimately the larger solution is going to require the expenditure of significant dollars to find ways to provide homes for the homeless. I suspect the conversation on this issue is going to be very interesting Tuesday.


The second item on the agenda is the Mid-year Budget Review for Fiscal year 2011-2012. You can read the staff report by Bobby Young, Finance and Information Technology Director, HERE.


Sales Tax revenues are up over 5% from the same time last year. Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenues are up over 4% and Property Tax revenues are up only 0.13%

General Fund Expenditures appear to be about what was anticipated. Young tells us that no request for increases in appropriations is anticipated for the remainder of this fiscal year. He also tells us that a reconciliation of the contingency fund will be presented at the study session.

However, it sho
uld be no surprise to learn that the Self Insurance Fund Expenditures are up - way up. This is where the dollars for litigation-related expenses come from. We have not seen current numbers from Jones Day - the high-priced legal firm handling the OCEA lawsuit - for a month or so, but they've been conducting depositions recently and that activity will have the meter spinning. Young tells us that they will be requesting an additional appropriation from available fund balance to cover these costs for the remainder of the year, but he doesn't say how much. I'm really going to be interested in how this particular discussion plays out Tuesday.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Is Jimmy Fitzy Out At The Sanitary District?

As anticipated, based on a review of previous meeting minutes, the regular monthly meeting of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District found itself, figuratively, knee-deep in effluent Thursday night.

The issue that
prompts my characterization is the presentation of a legal opinion - the second such opinion - that District Board Member Jim Fitzpatrick's position on the Board has been determined to be "incompatible" with his position as a Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner.


Although I was no
t present, reports from the scene indicate that the discussion on this issue was, to put it mildly, animated. Apparently Fitzpatrick is not happy with this decision because it could cause him to lose his position on the Sanitary District Board. I'm told that, at one point, Director Art Perry asked Fitzpatrick if he was going to resign. Fitzpatrick did not respond.


Next Tuesday, February 28, 2012, at 9:00 a.m. the Sanitary District Board will meet in a Special Meeting - read the agenda HERE - at which, following public comments, they will immediately adjourn to a Closed Session to "discuss initiation of litigation (Quo Warranto to determine if Director Fitzpatrick's appointment to the Costa Mesa Planning Commission caused a vacation of his office as Director as being incompatible/conflict of interest) (Gov. Code 54956.9)"

It is my understanding that such litigation could cost upwards of $40,000 and could take months to resolve. I also understand that it is possible to request an opinion directly from the State Attorney General on the issue of incompatibility.

This is not a new issu
e. It actually began last summer and has dragged on until the present time, coming to a full boil within the past three months. The issue was also addressed when Fitzpatrick, then a first-term Planning Commissioner, decided to run for a seat on the Sanitary District Board. Mayor Gary Monahan, in a city council meeting during open session, gave his view that Fitzpatrick holding both seats was not "incompatible" because he, as a sitting council member, also recently held a seat on the Sanitary District Board.

However, it is my understanding that the prohibition that applies to Fitzpatrick would NOT apply to a council member, based on a section of the State Health and Safety Code which exempted Monahan from that prohibition.


So, Tuesday's meeting
will be very interesting. Will the Sanitary District Board choose to move forward with the litigation? Will Fitzpatrick fight that decision and force the expenditure of time and treasure to enforce two legal opinions? Will the Board, following the Closed Session, use item III on the agenda - Reconsider Committee and Other Assignments of Directors - to strip Fitzpatrick of any committee assignments and, de facto, render his participation on the board moot until the legal issue is resolved? Will Fitzpatrick resign from the Sanitary District Board? Or, will he resign from his Planning Commission seat? There certainly is plenty to think about over this weekend, and that doesn't even consider the council meeting on Tuesday evening that will deal with the Homeless Task Force Report and the Mid-year Budget Review. Yikes!


Daily Pilot Ace Reporter Joe Serna was present and will have a long story on this meeting, and the meeting Tuesday, early in the week. I look forward to his first-person account of the "festivities".

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