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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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fair Board Greets New Members

Today I attended the monthly meeting of the 32nd District Agriculture Association Board of Directors - the Fair Board - to see how things functioned with two new members. This was the first meeting by Governor Jerry Browns most recent appointees, lawyer Ashleigh Aitken and retired businessman Stan Tkaczyk. I wrote about their appointments in my earlier post.


In that post I speculated about the potential electricity between Tkaczyk and fellow board member Dave Ellis. Well, that will have to wait because Ellis and Kristina Dodge were absent from the meeting. It is "ski week" in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, after all, and they both have kids. So, that fun will have to wait.


Both new members jumped right in, with Tkaczyk taking a major role in several of the discussions. It's clear that he's not going to be a passive board member. Aitken also made her presence known.


The issue that got the most discussion, and has attr
acted the most "real media" attention was during the discussion of the possible extension of the legal services contract with the private law firm, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, who has been providing all legal services for the Fair Board ever since the State Attorney General - then Jerry Brown - tossed them aside because there might have been a situation where the AG's office would have to prosecute members of the Board for their part in the bogus scheme to buy the fairgrounds three years ago. Soon-to-be-retired CEO Dr. Steve Beazley recommended that that private contract be continued. Tkaczyk and others chimed in and suggested that a letter be sent to the new Attorney General requesting that they resume providing legal services to the Fair Board - a state agency - and, in the interim, negotiate a flexible short-term contract with the current firm.


A significant amount of time was spent reviewing the current parking situation for the Fairgrounds. The Fair has grown dramatically in recent years and, as a result, so has the demand for parking spaces. The Board directed staff to contact the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to see what kind of an arrangement might be made for the use of nearby school parking during peak events.


It was an interesting meeting - one of the few I've attended in the midd
le of the day. It looked to me like the new additions to the board will both be a positive influence on discussions and decisions that are made by that body. Let's hope so. We've had enough drama with the old board to last a long, long time. And, of course, it's always fun watching Tkaczyk's wife, Barbara Venezia, working the crowd, as she was here with fellow Orange County Register reporters Jon Cassidy and Frank Mickadeit.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fair Board Changes Guarantees Entertainment

Over the past twenty-four hours the local media - print and electronic - have boiled over with the report that Governor Jerry Brown has made two new appointments to the 32nd Agricultural Association Board of Directors, commonly known in these parts as the Orange County Fair Board.


The two new members are attorney Ashleigh Aitken, a 36-year-old Democrat from Anaheim and businessman Stan Tkaczyk, a 66-year-old Republican from Newport Beach. Aitken has a solid background in her profession and is the daughter of Uber-attorney Wylie Aitken. Tkaczyk is a retired president of Rainbow Disposal Company and is the husband of the irrepressible Orange County Register columnist, Barbara Venezia. I don't know Ms. Aitken, but Stan and Barbara are friends.


As I mentioned, local
media outlets covered this story like a blanket. You can read Lauren Williams' Daily Pilot article HERE and Jon Cassidy's Orange County Register coverage HERE. In addition, you can read Vern Nelson's Orange Juice Blog almost apoplectic coverage HERE and Norberto Santana, Jr.'s coverage in the Voice of OC HERE. A note: Stan Tkaczyk is a member of the Voice of OC Board of Directors.

I, perhaps to a lesser extent than Nelson, almost salivate at the idea of Stan Tkaczyk sitting side-by-side with Dave Ellis on the Fair Board. I suspect the sparks between them might resemble some of those high school physics experiments some of us performed that shot sparks several inches and made us jump. Some will recall that Ellis, while the political advisor to current Assembly candidate Leslie Daigle in her Newport Beach City Council campaign against Venezia in the last decade, went beyond propriety and attacked Tkaczyk's business, which had been sold to its employees. Rather than subject those innocent workers to harassment, Venezia dropped out of the race. Memories of that event linger.

Personally, I think these two appointments will go a long way to producing solid, balanced decisions by this Fair Board. You can read the current roster HERE. The one-sidedness of the previous board led to mischief, much of which has been flogged at length by opponents of the bogus plan to sell-off the Fairgrounds that raised the community blood pressure for a couple years. I hope, however, that as other Fair Board terms expire, the governor will not permit the political pendulum to swing clear to the other side and only appoint liberals. The community is not well-served by a Fair Board that tilts extremely to either side.


Congratulations to both Ashleigh Aitken and Stan Tkaczyk on their appointment to the Fair Board. They will be officially welcomed to the Fair Board at its meeting Thursday, February 23rd at 10:00 at the Fair headquarters building. Tkaczyk got the jump today when he was sworn in by Judge Steve Bromberg - a former mayor of Newport Beach - in his court room. Barbara Venezia, in her own special way, was there to record the event as one of her "Barbara's Bits", and has permitted me to share that video clip with you.

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Cha, cha, cha, changin'...

I've neglected some pretty darn important personnel announcements in the past few days, so I'll try to catch up in this entry.


Tuesday, just before the scheduled council meeting, Costa Mesa Director of Communications, Bill Lobdell, sent out a press rel
ease announcing the promotion of Ernesto Munoz as Director of Public Services, locking up the job he's held on an interim basis for the past five months.

Regarding Munoz, Lobdell quotes City CEO Tom Hatch, "As he's done throughout his career with the City, Ernesto has performed well in his new assignment. His expertise, institutional knowledge and professional manner made him an easy choice to lead our Public Services Department in the coming years."

According to the press release, "Munoz heads a department with 163 employees, an annual operating budget of $17.3 million and m
ore than $400 million in City assets under its care. he replaced Peter Naghavi, who was recently promoted to a new position focusing on the City's economic development efforts."

Personally, I've always found Ernesto Munoz to be extremely responsive and highly professional. The City is very fortunate to have him in this position as we move forward in troubled times.


Police Chief Tom Gazsi recently announced some organizations changes in the Costa Mesa Police Department to strengthen the organization at a time when it is being asked to do more with less.


Lieutenant Allen Huggins, a 25 year veteran of the CMPD and formerly the head of the Professional Standards Bureau, was promoted to Captain and now heads up Field Operations, replacing Captain Les Gogerty, who now heads up the Support Services Division.

Lieutenant Tim Schennum replaces Huggins as the head of the Professional Standards Bureau and is also now the CMPD Public Information Officer (PIO), replacing long-time PIO Lieutenant Bryan Glass, who now heads up the Telecommunications Bureau.

With the promotion and re-assignment of these veteran CMPD leaders, the recent extension of CMPD lobby hours to include Saturdays and the conversion to a 4/10 -3/12 hour shift configuration, Chief Gazsi has shown that he's ready, willing and able to make major organizational changes in order to meet the demands of policing our city with fewer resources.

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Hallelujah! An Early Council Meeting!

Holy Cow! Last night's Costa Mesa City Council meeting was one of the earliest in my feeble memory! It started almost on time and finished shortly after 8 p.m.!

As mentioned in my earlier post, the highlight for me was the
presentation of long-service awards to several members of the City staff. Several of the awards were presented to members of the Costa Mesa Police Department, which explained the fact that more than a dozen proud members of the CMPD were in the auditorium. I've never felt safer!


As you can see, 30 Year recipient Billy Folsom captured the spirit of the moment by wearing an
appropriate T-shirt for the occasion. Congratulations and thanks to all who have given more than a quarter-century of their lives in service to our city. They've all seen some good times and, over the past couple years, seen some pretty bleak times, too. Congratulations and kudos to them all.

Willa Bowens-Killeen, Principal Planner
Michael Delgadillo, Senior Police Officer

Billy Folsom, Equipment Mechanic III
Antonio Macias, Maintenance Worker
Helen Nenadal, Facilities Maintenance Technician

Tom Banks, Senior Engineer
Chris Brimhall, Fire Captai
Paul Dondero, Police Lieutenant
Jane Duenweg, Graphics Designer
Allen Huggins, Police Capta
Rich Merritt, Fire Fighter
Mahar Nawar, Assistant Engineer
Jeff Peters, Fire Captain

Cherie Pittington, Senior Communication Supervisor
Lou Steiner, Fire Fighter

Public Com
ments included presentations by many of the same concerned residents who have, for months, stood before the City Council and suggested alternatives to Jim Righeimer's Charter. As usual, most of those comments were only given lip service by Righeimer and others on the dais. You can read the final draft of the Charter on the City web site HERE. It will receive a final massage - nothing else can be added now, only removed or polished for language and context - on March 6th and then the council will vote on whether to place it on the June ballot or not. Nobody is betting against it being placed on the ballot, but whether it passes or not is an entirely different issue.


Righeimer did take the opportunity, several times, to chide critics as being unwilling to see the city move forward, suggesting that they just didn't
get it. Well, we suggest it is Righeimer who doesn't "get it". He seemed flummoxed by the fact that folks didn't want his charter after saying they were not against a charter per se. He just doesn't get the fact that those folks who make those statements just don't trust him. After all, they've had more than a year of observing him on the dais on which to base that kind of an assessment. I certainly understand - I don't trust him, either. As I've said MANY times before, I think he's just a carpetbagger - a manipulative political opportunist, trying to show his pals in the OC GOP hierarchy that he's got what it takes for higher office. Well, if it takes conniving, manipulation, fabrication of crises and creation of "facts" to suit his agenda, then, yes, Jim Righeimer is their guy.

Since I know he reads this blog, let's see if I can help him understand. Jimbo, WE DON'T TRUST YOU! Got it? You've demonstrated that you will do or say anything to get what you want, so WE DON'T TRUST YOU!

Once again resident and retired City employee Perry Valantine gave the council something to think about. During his three minutes at the speaker's podium he patiently pounded home that, despite the fact that Righeimer con
tinues to portray his Charter as the solution to all the City's problems. As Valantine said last night, speaking of the Charter:

"...It seem
s to be framed in the minds and words of some council people and some other people in the community as a way to solve all the city's problems. We have exorbitant public salaries, exorbitant public employee pensions, unfunded pension liabilities and we need this charter. The disconnect is, the charter won't do anything to fix any of those things. It won't, and can't and doesn't propose to do anything with unfunded liabilities, to make any changes in the pension program. And, in fact, you can do that now, and did two weeks ago or three weeks ago, however long it was, to adopt that second tier. Obviously, it can be done without a charter. Salaries can be done and negotiations can be handled without a charter. So, it just seems a little disingenuous to me the way it's being presented in terms of a solution to all the city's problems when, in fact, it doesn't, can't and doesn't propose to address most of those issues..."

As usual, Valantine is right on the money with his observations. And, also as usual, Righeimer and the council chose to igno
re them.

So, now we mark time for another couple weeks, taking the time to offer suggestions for deletions from this bogus document knowing full well that the pet points that Righeimer is trying to jam down the residents throats will remain no matter the outcry. We'll cover some of those as we head toward the election in June.


As a sidebar, at 5:00, when the agenda for the Closed Session was read into the record by City Cl
erk Julie Folcik, Mayor Gary Monahan asked for public comment. Resident Robin Leffler - a frequent speaker before the council for years - stepped up and asked them to seriously consider changing their tactics with the employee organizations - to offer to sit down with them and see what can be worked out without the animosity that currently exists. Since this segment was not taped there is no visual record of it, unfortunately. After she finished her three minute passionate request the council adjourned to the closed session. As they left Eric Bever - who actually has made it to several meetings in a row now - spoke out to Ms. Leffler, suggesting to her that in her role as "labor negotiator" she should go to her constituents - the bargaining units - and tell them to open their contracts because that's the only way it's going to happen. It's amazing that these guys just can't take comments from their constituents without feeling the need to counter-punch. Bever, Righeimer and Steve Mensinger - the biggest offender - just have to have the final word. It's like watching a bunch of petulant 3rd-graders on a playground. It's very sad.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Long-Service Awards Tonight

One of the highlights of what may be a short and relatively benign Costa Mesa City Council meeting tonight will be the recognition of those employees who have reached major milestones in their respective careers with The City.

While all employees who reach 5-year increment
milestones will be recognized in a ceremony on February 29th, tonight those folks who have reached 25 and 30 years levels will receive special recognition. Among those being recognized tonight will be Helen Nenadal and Billy Folsom, two dedicated employees who have been the tip of the spear in the battle against the dismantling of our city structure through the bogus outsourcing scheme conjured up by Mayor Gary Monahan and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer in their private meetings last year.

Thanks to Helen and Billy - and all the rest of the loyal, hard-working city employees who have kept their collective noses to the grindstone during the past twelve months - for their unwavering service to the residents of this city in very, very troubling times. They deserve our gratitude for soldiering-on even though many were asked to create documents (RFPs) that may be used to cost them their jobs. Kudos to them all as they consistently go above and beyond the call of duty while being demonized, vilified and chided by some of the elected leaders of our city.

The meeting, which begins at 6:00, will be preceded by a Closed Session at 5:00 in
which The City and the recently created Housing Authority will go through a cross-dressing exercise of some sort to discuss trying to salvage the Redevelopment Agency dollars. Then they will also convene in open session and go through a similar exercise to pass a resolution dealing with the Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (TOPS) of the former Redevelopment Agency, which was dissolved as of February 1st. We're trying to keep as much of the money owed by the RDA as possible.


As always, at the end of the meeting council members will have their opportunity to make comments and recommendations. It is at this part of the meeting - when most observers have departed - that interesting things historically happen. So, regardless whether the meeting ends at a 8:00 or 1:00 a.m., we'll be there to observe and report.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Imported Opinions

At the risk of being accused of beating a dead horse to a pulp, let us revisit last weeks Special City Council meeting - the final public hearing on Jim Righeimer's Charter - to provide a little more clarity.

A tip of the hat to all of you who posted comments on my previous entries... diversity of opinion is welcome here. I'm always grateful for the thoughtful, researched comments presented by some of you. And, those of you who choose to just flame other commenters are also welcome - those kind of comments make a point, too. Now to business...


At the me
eting last week it became clear to me early on that it was going to be very special. There were folks arriving to grab seats more than an hour before the 7:00 start time and most were unfamiliar faces. They arrived in little knots - twos, threes and fours - and sat in these little clusters throughout the auditorium. I expected there to be folks representing organized labor because Jim Righeimer's Charter, if passed as proposed, is a huge threat to them. Silly me, though, because I didn't expect the "other side" - Righeimer's side - to be represented by similar little groups. Wrong!

We've written about Kevin Dayton's pre
sentation and provided you with his little video clip - 9:11 - for your viewing pleasure. I'm not linking to it again - twice is plenty - but you can go back and view if on the previous links if you wish. Reader Terry Koken - the gent who crooned to the city council at the meeting - took the time to transcribe Dayton's presentation and sent it to me for publication if I chose to do so. Well, as much as I appreciated that effort, it's just too darn long. Not his fault - it's over nine minutes of dialogue. Unless there is popular demand I won't publish it. Thanks, anyhow, Terry.

Dayton submitted a Community Commentary to the Daily Pilot which was published last week, HERE. In the comment thread there is high praise from Eric Christen, who was also a speaker that night. I began to wonder about these guys and found that they travel around the country like two guys joined in a 3-legged race to spread the word about the evils of the Prevailing Wage contracts. You can view Christen's 3:11 comment before the council below. An interesting sidebar is that Righeimer apparently didn't turn on the timer when Christen spoke because the one-minute warning light never went on. I guess he was ready to let Christen stretch out as long as he wanted - a preamble to Dayton's long rant which came about 5 minutes later.

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So, I did some digging about Eric Christen. Here's an excerpt from his personal web site, HERE:

"After graduating from college Eric taught in public schools for four years in Oregon. In 1996 he was asked to help run the campaign of a local congressional candidate in Oregon's 1st Congressional District and has been involved in politics ever since. In 1998 Eric was the state field director for Proposition 226 (Paycheck Protection) which would have compelled unions to get permission from their members before money was taken out of their paychecks and used for political purposes. It narrowly lost after being outspent more than 5 to 1. In 1999 Eric was put in charge of the signature gathering process for Proposition 22 (Defense of Marriage Act) which was overwhelmingly passed by the voters of California. In 1999 Eric was hired as the Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction ( and since then has been working to see that the rights of all California contractors, and their workers, are protected from discriminatory and unfair Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Since joining CFEC Eric has grown the group from 50 companies to over 300. Eric has helped to create 7 regional coalitions to more effectively fight PLAs at the grassroots level. Successes to date include the formation of these local groups and the over $3 million they have raised for various candidates and elected officials. Eric was instrumental in helping to pass a first-of-its-kind ordinance banning PLAs in the City of Fresno and in defeating over three dozen PLAs throughout the state since being hired. In 2002 Eric was named as one of the �40 under 40� by the East Bay Business Times, a recognition given to young professionals making an impact in California. In 2003 Eric was elected to the largest school district in Colorado Springs, CO. where he led the school district to a number of reforms in an effort to turn around that poorly performing district. In 2000 Eric raised over $25,000 for President George W. Bush and in the most recent election cycle has already raised over $100,000 for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Please note the section highlighted in red. If that rings a bell with you, please recall that Proposition 226, the Paycheck Protection Act, was Jim Righeimer's baby. "Ah, ha!", he says, as the light goes on....

Then please go to Christen's biography on the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) website. He's the Executive Director of that organization. You can read his bio HERE.

A little more digging into his background turns up his activism while living in Colorado Springs. Two excerpts from articles in the Colorado Springs Independent turn up some interesting quotes and gives us a little clue about the man who traveled from Sacramento last week to praise Jim Righeimer's Charter scheme.

For example, in an article from February 19, 2004 titled "Excitable boy - Eric Christens path to public office", HERE, you'll find this quote: " one else has rubbed as many people th wrong way as has board member Eric Christen." Or HERE, from an entry in 2005, you'll find this quote about Christen: "D-11 board member Eric Christen is well-known for his bombastic flame-throwing at fellow board members, administrators and even teachers during televised meetings. Thanks in large part to Christen, board meetings often have degenerated into a theater of the absurd."

In 2006 Eric Christen was recalled by the voters and removed from his elected seat on the Colorado Springs District 11 (D11) School Board.


I guess I understand Righeimer's tactics. He imports shills from advocacy groups to bolster his position, just as organized labor imports folks to step up and speak on the other side of the issue. In a perfect world - where a Charter for our city is created by the collaborative efforts of an elected commission as is prescribed for in state law - such diverse viewpoints would certainly be heard, probably in a Town Hall kind of setting. Instead, when Righeimer personally writes the Charter with his personal agenda clearly in mind, these views are presented at the last possible moment - and given extended time to do so. Only AFTER the outcry and turmoil following Dayton's presentation - and the break called last Monday night to restore order in the auditorium - did Righeimer offer extended time to other speakers. And, then, he ONLY offered it to those representing organized labor, not the residents who have the most to lose if his Charter is passed. It is this uneven application of the rules that scares many residents of Costa Mesa. With Righeimer being able to write HIS OWN RULES, there is no end to the corruption that is possible once HIS Charter is adopted.


So, now we wait until March 6th, to see what Jim Righeimer's Charter looks like in final form. The voters will make a choice that will set the tone for the way our city is governed for the foreseeable future.

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