Thursday, August 30, 2012

Civility Reigns At Mesa Verde Community, Inc., Forum

Well, that was disappointing!  No slings... No arrows... No barbs aimed at fellow candidates.. No name-calling.  All in all, the Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forum produced by our friends from Mesa Verde Community, Inc., was a pretty darn civilized affair.  And it was well-run, to boot!  Heck, even the audience was courteous and respectful!

An audience of more than 250 souls who came out to see the first of five forums this season were treated to an informative, crisply-moderated event.  Mesa Verde Community, Inc., President Darnell Wyrick ran a tight ship.  He defined the rules in the beginning and enforced them as the evening moved forward.  In 90 minutes he managed to ask 14 questions of the candidates, each of whom were given one or two minutes to respond, depending on the question.  He avoided questions directed specifically at one person, choosing to select those that could be answered by every candidate.

 Darnell Wyrick

Permit me an observation before I get into specifics of the evening.  If a resident walked in off the street with no preconceptions about any of the candidates and only a limited knowledge of the major issues facing Costa Mesa today and into the future, I suspect that person would come away from the evening being impressed with the high quality of candidates from which he will choose in November.  With the exception of Al Melone, who clearly was not up to speed on most issues, all the others would have been assessed as smart, knowledgeable, passionate and articulate.  Even Melone came across as a likable fellow, just not very informed.  I suspect my theoretical visitor might be hard pressed to make a selection based only on his exposure to the candidates last night.

Wyrick gave each candidate a chance to introduce themselves and - setting the tone for the rest of the evening - he permitted the only woman on the panel, Sandra Genis, to go first.  She emphasized her previous tenure on the City Council - from 1988 - 1996 - and refreshed the memory of the audience about the accomplishments from that tour.  She spoke of being raised in Costa Mesa and of her background as a Land Use consultant.

 Sandra Genis

Colin McCarthy emphasized his decision to move to Costa Mesa, his municipal involvements and his family.

Al Melone
spoke of his 8 years as a Costa Mesa resident and his background as a CPA.  His areas of interest included Fireworks, which he strongly opposes.  That means at least half the population will find him unacceptable as a candidate.

Steve Mensinger mentioned he'd lived in Costa Mesa "about 30 years", that he's part of an "energized family", that he enjoys public service and - not surprisingly - was the first person to allude to the whole Righeimer DUI issue.  I had speculated that it might take one or two questions before someone found a way to fold it into a response.  Turns out I was optimistic - Mensinger didn't even let us get to the questions.

Gary Monahan
mentioned his long service on the council and other organizations, his six kids and that he's NOT seeking higher office.  He stressed what a busy life he has, with his restaurant being a 7-day-a-week job.  I found myself wondering how he will find time to govern, especially since he resigned as Mayor earlier this year, citing being too busy.

John Stephens talked of his 28 years as a Costa Mesa resident, his Little League leadership experience, his profession as a lawyer and briefly that he opposes the Charter.

Harold Weitzberg
mentioned being a 29 year resident and stressed his slogan, Unity, Safety, Prosperity.

NOTE:  I'm not going to try to give you a verbatim transcription of the answers the candidates provided.  Costa Mesa Television was taping the proceedings and that tape will be available for viewing soon.  Take the time to view it on Channel 24 or 99 (Att. U-Verse) - it will be 90 minutes well-spent.

Just after 7:30 Wyrick asked his first question.  He asked each of the candidates what they would try to do during their first six months in office.  McCarthy said expand the bike infrastructure.  Melone said he'd push for a Fireworks referendum.  Mensinger said he'd expand our ordinances and transparency.  Genis said she'd try to develop a more collaborative approach to negotiating with the employees and find a place for a new Veterans Hall.  Monahan said he'd push to finish the outsourcing.  Stephens said he'd try to resolve the lawsuit between employees and The City because we're "hemorrhaging money to Jones Day".  Weitzberg said he'd come to terms with the service organizations.

Colin McCarthy

The second question asked for their view on a second pension tier.  Basically, they all are for it.


The third question asked if we should hire private contractors.  All agreed that we should.  McCarthy would not support outsourcing public safety jobs.  Genis mentioned that the current council didn't follow the rules which caused the lawsuit and millions in legal fees.  Stephens stress doing it in a responsible way.  Weitzberg stressed doing it in an orderly fashion.

 Steve Mensinger

The fourth question asked their opinion of the recently proposed COIN program.  Weitzberg said it was a great first start, but they didn't go far enough.  It should be aimed at a broader application, not just labor relations.  Stephens agreed with it, but was worried about how the normal "back and forth" in negotiations might be affected.  He thought it would really slow the process.  Monahan said it is "history cutting", whatever that means.  Genis expressed similar views and was concerned about contract costs.  Mensinger liked it.  He should - it's his idea.  Melone said it's a long time coming.  McCarthy said it is "pretty revolutionary" and that it would get rid of "unfair negotiating".

Wyrick then asked his fifth question - he asked each candidate to provide a summary of their views on the Charter, since many of the questions he had seemed to come from the Charter.  McCarthy said he was disappointed it didn't get on the June ballot because he was sure it would have passed.  He stressed local control.  Melone supported the charter, but didn't articulate his reasons.  Mensinger said he "clearly support the charter."  He stressed local control and money savings by outsourcing.  Genis said she supported a good charter, but this is not a good charter.  She mentioned you can already outsource without a Charter.  She stressed what the Charter doesn't have and pointed to Section 103.  She said it was too open-ended and mentioned it removes all restrictions on the sale of public lands.  Monahan, in the first instance of criticism of fellow panelists, referred to some previous comments as "end of the world scenarios".  He liked the Charter and stressed local control and savings - specifically the prevailing wage clause.  Stephens is against the Charter.  He mentioned that he had, that afternoon, read EVERY charter in Orange County, and referred to section 401 and 103.  He also mentioned that one thing our Charter does not have is something EVERY other charter has - the requirement for an annual financial audit.  Weitzberg is against THIS Charter and encouraged the potential voters to forget about the current council and this panel and think about future councils and how they might abuse such an open-ended document.

 John Stephens

Wyrick then asked if any of the panelists had previously pledged not to raise taxes.  Mensinger, Monahan and McCarthy said "yes".  The others said "no".


He then asked a convoluted question which the panelists chose to interpret as whether they would shorten the notice process for development.  They all said "no".  I'm still not sure what the original question was.


Wyrick then asked if any had accepted money from political parties or PACs.  All except Monahan said "no".  He said "not yet".

 Gary Monahan

Next was a question clearly aimed at Wendy Leece's recent request for a re-hearing of an issue.  Wyrick asked how they will handle it when they are on the short end of votes.  Each generally said, "move on".


Wyrick then asked about negotiating with public safety associations when the contracts are not up for two years.  Weitzberg said it doesn't mean we shouldn't be talking with them.  He stressed the need to get away from the "climate of uncertainty."  Stephens said "a contract is a contract".  He then stressed that it's a matter of safety at stake.  Monahan emphasized the need to a 2nd tier.  Genis said we should negotiate without name-calling and insults.  Mensinger evoked chuckles from the audience when he said is "very little politics" involved, then - again - referred to the current lawyer issues.  Melone said we have no legal obligation.  McCarthy wondered why we don't have a 2nd tier already, then referred to the Private Investigator that tailed Righeimer.

Then we came to the issue of Medical Marijuana.  Each of them supported LEGAL Medical Marijuana.

 Harold Weitzberg

The final question asked the panelists what they would do as a council member to encourage parents to enroll their children in Costa Mesa schools instead of transferring to other districts or private schools.  Weitzberg said upgrade academic delivery.  Go with our strengths, citing specialized schools.  Give the kids a reason to want to go to the CM schools.  Stephens, whose children attend catholic schools, said work closely with the new superintendent, Dr. Navarro.  Monahan didn't answer the question, stressing that we have "lots of good things in our schools".  Genis stressed that she is a product of the Costa Mesa schools and suggested an academic decathlon to build pride in academic accomplishment.  Mensinger, stressing that this was near and dear to his heart, said currently about 1,000 children from his Mesa Verde neighborhood attend non-Costa Mesa schools, and mentioned Davis Magnet School as a good example of what can be done.  Melone said the parents should do what's best for their kids.  McCarthy said the city is only as good as its schools, that it's a "top down process" and praised Sonora School.

Al Melone

In their summations the candidates said the following, paraphrased:

Weitzberg - He's there to provide new leadership and return the power to the residents of Costa Mesa

Stephens - He said he's a good listener.  He wants to be the voice for the people.  He stressed "I've got your back".

Monahan - He stressed his track record, specifically mentioning his long service.  He said the City is at a crossroads and mentioned the Charter, Outsourcing, pensions, the associations and "financial availability", whatever that means.

Genis - She said she will put the residents of the City FIRST.  She stressed the need to maintain our neighborhoods to avoid what she called the "circle of blight".

Mensinger - Told us he learned about honesty in politics on the fields.  He said that government has lost its way and that he understands how to do things.  He said we need to re-prioritize.

- Said he's just not a politician and that he'd be happy to be someone's third choice.

McCarthy - He said he and his family love Costa Mesa for its arts, diversity and uniqueness.  He was sorry more time wasn't spent on Finances and encouraged folks to call him.  He said, "Come talk to me".

And that was that.  I did see a VERY interested observer in the crowd - a man who has had perhaps the most interesting week of his life over the past seven days.  Wyrick wrapped up the meeting and folks milled around for another hour, chatting with candidates and friends.  

 Jim Righeimer

Now on to the NEXT forum, on Wednesday, September 5th, when Barbara Venezia and her band of merry Feet To The Fire interrogators will likely not let the candidates off quite as easily.  I'll report on that early next week.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Controversy Erupts At Mesa Water District

A report today from the Surf City Voice, the Huntington Beach news source that focuses on that city and water issues in general, tells us of a controversy involving Mesa Consolidated Water District Director Trudy Ohlig-Hall - widow of former Costa Mesa mayor Donn Hall - and the General Manager of that organization, Paul Schoenberger

According to John Earl, operator of the Surf City Voice, there is a secret meeting being held this afternoon at the District headquarters to discuss alleged misconduct by Hall.  You can read Earl's report HERE.

I don't know any details of this situation - I received notification of the meeting after it began - but I can tell you that I don't for one second think this is a coincidence... not when Jim Righeimer's protege', Ethan Temianka, is running against Hall for her seat on the MCWD Board.


Word around town is that the Righeimer-led cabal is attempting to take over both the MCWD and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, blend them together then fold both organizations into the City, bringing with them their estimated $40 million in cash reserves.

This takes on extra meaning when you realize that the current council majority recently increased the number of members on the Costa Mesa Investment Oversight Committee, many of whom are part of Righeimer's group, including members of the MCWD Board.  It's my understanding that they have plans afoot to recommend to the council dramatic changes in the way our municipal investment pool is managed - and not necessarily for the better.

I'll discuss the races for both special districts in the near future and, perhaps, talk more about this apparent takeover of all Costa Mesa government entities.

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Recap Of Righeimer's DUI Stop

I know... you're probably as sick of this issue as I am, but it's likely that you've missed some of the drama, so your humble correspondent will attempt to capture most of it right here on the old Cauldron.    

Since Righeimer was stopped a week ago based on a tip from a discredited former Riverside police officer who has been working for the law firm employed by the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association Righeimer seems to have been omnipresent in the media.  I'm going to try to provide links to most of that for you below.  Just click on the name.

I must tell you that there have been some very interesting comments coming out of this issue - most of them from Righeimer.  For example, in one of the early stories, where Righeimer was made aware of the link between the guy who reported him as driving drunk and the law firm that represented the Costa Mesa police, he is quoted as saying, "Are you kidding me? The playbook guys?" Righeimer said of the firm. "I knew I wasn't crazy. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!"  I found myself thinking, "Not so fast, Jimbo.  Nobody said you were not crazy!"

Twice, that I heard, Righeimer referred to the law firm involved, Lackie, Dammeier and McGill, as a criminal enterprise!  Twice!  At least!  And, those words are memorialized by electronic recording.
So, the following is a roster of only some of the articles/interviews on this issue over the past week.  Take your time...
Daily Pilot - Righeimer Sobriety Test - 8/23/12

Daily Pilot - Righeimer Press Conference - 8/24/12

Orange County Register - Press Conference  - 8/24/12

Link to law firm, Lackie, Dammeier and McGill

KCAL9 video coverage of press conference, 8/24/12

Register - Accuser linked to Union law firm, 8/25/12

Daily Pilot - Jason Chamness Commentary denouncing law firm, 82712

Righeimer on John and Ken Audio Tape, 8/27/12

Daily Pilot - P.I. 'I wasn't investigating Righeimer" - 8/28/12

Righeimer on John and Ken Audio Tape - 8/28/12

KCAL9 report on Press Conference - 8/28/12

KNBC report on Press Conference
- 8/28/12

ABC7 report on Press Conference - 8/28/12

Register - Police union negotiator targeted city councilmen - 8/29/12

Righeimer on FoxBusiness Channel - 8/29/12


I'm sure there will be more to come..  This should keep you busy.  But, in case it doesn't, you can watch his five-minute rant at a recent City Council meeting that he says may have set this off in the first place.
Get Microsoft Silverlight

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Mesa Verde Community, Inc. Candidate Forum Tonight

Just a reminder that tonight our friends and neighbors from Mesa Verde Community, Inc., will host the first of several Costa Mesa City Council Candidate forums.  The event will be held at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park).  Doors open at 6:30 and the formal program is scheduled to run from 7:00 to 9:00.

This will be the first chance to hear all the candidates in one place at the same time responding to issues that are important to our city.  Here's a list of those candidates in the order in which they will appear on the ballot in November:

John Stephens
Harold Weitzberg
Sandra Genis
Colin McCarthy
Gary Monahan
Al Melone
Steve Mensinger
James Rader (Rader will NOT be at this forum and has withdrawn from the race)

See you there this evening.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Righeimer Snowball Grows(Amended)*

Today at 11:00 a.m. Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer continued his march to emasculate the public employee unions when he held yet another press conference at City Hall.  The event drew members from most of the Los Angeles-based electronic media outlets - Channels 2/9, 4, 5 and 11 were all represented with film and stand-up staff.  Radio stations of note were also in attendance, as was the local print media, The Daily Pilot and the Orange County Register. 
Righeimer brought with him a cadre of local politicians to augment his complaints against the "police unions", the guy who called 911, Chris Lanzillo,  and the law firm of Lackie, Dannmeier and McGill.  Those present were Buena Park Mayor Jim Dow, Buena Park councilman Fred Smith, Fullerton councilman Bruce Whitaker and Irvine councilman Jeffrey Lalloway.  His sidekick - and candidate for city council in November - Steve Mensinger was also in attendance - no surprise there.  Righeimer also apparently convinced his buddy, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, to attend and voice his views of the issue.  Righeimer said many other officials from throughout Southern California hoped to be there - he mentioned supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson specifically - but their schedules didn't permit it.

A sidebar... shortly before the press conference the Daily Pilot posted an article about an interview they had with Lanzillo.  You can read it HERE.  During the press conference Channel 2/9 reporter Michele Gile read most of it verbatim and asked Righeimer to comment on it.

Righeimer mentioned that a current Costa Mesa police officer, Damian Stafford, was also an employee of the law firm associated with Lanzillo and, until late last week, represented the Costa Mesa Police Officers AssociationLackie, Dammeier and McGill.  He handed out a biographical summary apparently extracted from the law firm's web site outlining Stafford's background and his association with the firm.  That document implied that he participated in negotiations that resulted in Costa Mesa Police Department being one of the highest paid police departments in Southern California.

The press conference, which lasted most of an hour, included stories from Dow and Smith that raise the hackles on the back of your neck.  Smith spoke of the harassment he's been receiving from members of HIS police department and later showed media members text messages with threats to him.


Dow, who is termed out this year after a dozen years of service on the Buena Park City Council, told the assembled throng that he was in fear for the safety of his family based on threats from his police department that he moved them all out of state.  He went on to tell us that he had his home of 32 years on the market and will join his family at a location 1,500 miles away where they can live safely.
Whitaker, whose city has had it's own police problems recently, was there to support Righeimer and to address their problems with the law firm.

Lalloway, who lives in the paradise called Irvine, is a Republican party faithful and was there to talk about Righeimer's difficulties.

Mensinger took this all-too-convenient opportunity to hype his "COIN" policy that was discussed at the last council meeting, explaining how it would resolve all the problems in the city.  He sounded VERY much like a guy on the campaign trail practicing his stump speech.  I guess we'll find out tomorrow night at the first candidate forum.

Rhorabacher, who apparently blew off the Republican National Convention to attend this important event, was a welcome participant as far as I was concerned.  Otherwise, I might have been the sloppiest dresser at the event.  Rhonda needs to take him shopping for a suit or at least a sport coat... soon.  He did make his presence felt, though, when he threatened to unleash the full power of the federal government to investigate the things discussed at the press conference.  He cited unfair labor practices
and the intimidation of elected officials as a primary concern.
This press conference will be all over the media this evening.  On the way home I heard Righeimer live with Bill Carroll on KFI radio not 30 minutes after the press conference closed. 

 *NOTE:  Righeimer was on the John and Ken Show on KFI again in the 4:00 p.m. hour.  You can hear him - and their rants - again, HERE.  Righeimer had sent them the pay schedule for all Costa Mesa employees, so John and Ken, once again, went nuts!

One interesting sidebar.  Following the press conference I wandered around, listening to real reporters ask follow-up questions of several of the speakers, trying to fill in the blanks of my knowledge.  This meandering brought me to Buena Park Mayor Jim Dow, who was standing alone, leaning on the podium, just taking things in.  So, I stopped and we chatted about his circumstances, including those that caused him to relocate his family to southern Idaho.  We joked that northern Idaho is widely known as LAPD-north.  We spoke about his dozen years in office and how things have changed.  He brought up the Brown Act, indicating that he understood why it was enacted, but he bemoaned its negative impact on city government.  He said to me, "Yeah, I miss the good old days when you could just bribe a guy and get things done."  He wasn't kidding... I smiled, because that very simple, straightforward statement provided a new, and very relevant context to the issues at hand. Very shortly thereafter he was summoned by Righeimer who, I suspect, chastised him for speaking with me.

It was also interesting to note that Kimberly Edds, former ace reporter and columnist for the Register and the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs since January, was also in the audience taking notes.  Her organization is NOT represented by the law firm at the center of this storm.  In fact, when the Register published the link to the now-infamous "Playbook" that Righeimer refers to all the time, her organization issued a scathing denouncement of those tactics and the law firm.  She was at this event to gather information.
Members of Costa Mesa For Responsible Government (CM4RG) were also in attendance, listening intently to the speeches and providing information to members of the news media.

So, the beat goes on.  Several times over the past few days I've found myself thinking that, if all is as it appears to be in this situation, Righeimer may be the luckiest guy in Costa Mesa.  He's clearly the guy you want to be standing beside in a lightning storm.  I keep thinking that there is almost no way - almost - that you could actually orchestrate such a fortuitous event.  Apparently this thing will be turned over to the District Attorney Tony Rackaukas for investigation very soon.  This cannot happen soon enough.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Righeimer On John & Ken Show Today***

This afternoon, shortly after 4:00 p.m., Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer appeared as a guest on the John and Ken Show on Los Angeles radio station KFI640AM.  His comments on that show will certainly only add fuel to the already blazing fire of controversy about his recent encounter with the CMPD.

You can follow THIS LINK to hear the audio podcast from that entire program if you choose.  Don't be frightened off by the counter that says 38 minutes.  The Righeimer segment is less than half that.

While you're listening you'll hear Righeimer reiterate that "this was a set-up. I've seen this playbook before."

During the conversation he addresses the law firm, Lackie, Dannmeier and McGill, where the man who reported him to the police, Chris Lanzillo, (See Daily Pilot article with profile of Lanzillo HERE) and describes the members of the firm depicted in the photograph from their website thus: "Look like thugs, every single one of them."  He went on to say, "In my opinion, this is a criminal operation."  "They shakedown cities for perks and benefits."

Thugs?  Really?

Righeimer provided information about Costa Mesa police pay levels - which sent the show hosts off like a rocket.  He mentioned that the base pay was $65,000, but was enhanced by over 70 kinds
of pay that could take the pay to $131,000 on average.  He said, "You gotta be dead to get base pay."

He also took the opportunity to, once again, bring up the "firefighter who made $347,000 last year and he wasn't even a chief."

I was going to provide many more quote but no longer have to since the podcast is available for you to hear on your own.

Jason Chamness, president of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association (CMPOA) has a commentary published in the Daily Pilot tonight, HERE.  The most interesting part of that commentary is the last sentence, "The association did request to meet with Mr. Righeimer, however, he denied our request."

The Daily Pilot has an interview with Chris Lanzillo posted on their site, HERE.  Sounds a little hinky to me.  What do you think?

Righeimer announced on this program that he will be holding a press conference - another one - at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow at City Hall where he and other elected officials from around Southern California will address this issue.  I'll be there...

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