Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Will The Real Tom Johnson Please Stand Up?

STUCK ON THE HORNS...Tonight I find myself on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. Tonight I'm going to write about someone I've grown to consider a friend, but I'm afraid I'm not going to write about him in very friendly terms.

Way, way back in the dark ages - shortly after the turn of the century - I wrote my very first "Letter to the Editor" to the Daily Pilot in response to something then-columnist Byron De Arakal had written about the Costa Mesa City Council. It struck a chord with me, so I fired off a little note and, much to my surprise, it was published. Tom Johnson was the publisher of the Daily Pilot at the time and he, along with his pal, Bill Lobdell, had managed to salvage our local newspaper of record from dire times.

I had lived in Costa Mesa for almost three decades at the time and, like most of us, paid very little attention to local political issues. I just trusted the elected officials to do the right thing, keep our city safe and clean and do so with a minimum of fuss. Like most of us, I had been busy making a living. But, with my then-recent retirement I began to pay attention and, knowing just a little bit about management, didn't much like what I saw evolving. Those were the days when Chris Steel finally got elected after being rejected by wiser electorates nine times before. This was the beginning of the politicizing of Costa Mesa politics.
A month later something else
provoked me, so I wrote another "letter" and it, too, was published. That relationship grew and, at one point, the Daily Pilot was publishing my submissions three times a week. That's how all this began, so Tom gets some of the credit/blame.

Over the years Tom and/or his lieutenants and successors have offered me a chance to write a weekly column in that fine newspaper eleven times. While extremely grateful for those opportunities, each time I politely rejected the offer. I can't write on someone else's deadline, nor can I write "on assignment". I write what I write, when I write it because I'm moved to do so. And, as the years passed, I continued to submit commentaries - most of them much too long - and each successive editorial team has chosen to publish most of them. I was, and am, very grateful for that. I've always been grateful for the opportunity to present my views to my neighbors, both in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

Tom and I shared a mutual disgust for the rantings of one local writer - a man of international infamy as a voice of intolerance. Tom coined the nickname "Mensa Marty" for this fellow - you know who I mean.
When Tom departed the Daily Pilot in a huff a few years ago after the leadership of the Los Angeles Times and the Tribune Companies - the owners of the Times Community Newspapers, of which the Daily Pilot is a large part - began to have major difficulties, he and Lobdell teamed up to create what they envisioned to be the probable future of local news - a homogenization of news delivery with online first and print in a secondary role. They asked me to be part of their advisory board - a role I happily accepted. I was excited and energized by this new concept and hoped it would succeed.

That publication, The Daily Voice, had modest success. Lobdell departed to go work with the infamous Barry Minkow and Tom eventually folded the operation into what is now the Newport Beach Independent. He left that organization last year after disagreeing with the direction the owners were taking.


Quite frankly, Tom Johnson's departure from the Daily Pilot left a void that was never filled. Oh, yes, there have been some excellent newsmen who have become editors, including John Canalis - but Tom's presence as publisher was very special. He was involved in the community at a level not matched by anyone since his departure. Tom was everywhere, on boards of this and that and was the real face of the Daily Pilot. If someone needed to reach a mover and shaker locally, Tom could find a way to make that happen.

I was overjoyed that Tom recent
ly surfaced again as the General Manager of the struggling local supplement to the Orange County Register, The Current. He immediately changed the "look" of the paper and seemed to have some great ideas for it downstream. And, it was great to see him involved in community events again. At the recent Feet To The Fire Forum, at which he was one of the interrogators on the panel, he seemed very engaged in the issues. And, following the program, I saw him doing his "newsman" thing, schmoozing with folks like Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger. That's just what you'd expect him to be doing as the head guy of a local news outlet.

ER OFFER, AGAIN GRATEFULLY DECLINEDAt a recent Costa Mesa City Council meeting which also Johnson attended we had a nice chat and he offered me a column in The Current. Again, I politely declined, citing the same reasons I had declined his previous offers with the Daily Pilot. We departed from that meeting completely satisfied with how it went - or so I thought.

Last Monday, April 16th, out of the blue Tom sent me a short, cryptic note. Here's what he wrote:

"I find it interesting that you haven't referenced Frank Mickadeit's column on the firefighters. Is this just an oversight or something you disagree with?
TJ" You can read Mickadeit's column HERE.

I wrote back to him that I was just one guy with a lot of territory to cover and that I'd seen Mickadeit's column and hadn't decided whether to write about it or not. However, his little prod forced me to set aside some other stuff I was working on and write about it. You read it HERE. I sent Tom the link to my blog entry the next morning and heard nothing from him since then.

Today he penned (can we actually use that term any more?) this scathing piece about me in The Current, HERE. I was surprised and, quite frankly - after a day of jury duty and running on fumes from 3 hours sleep following the publication of my blog entry after Tuesday night's Council Meeting - left a little dismayed.

Tom is clearly very critical of what I wrote and how I wrote it, but he had just offered me a job to do that very thing for him two weeks earlier. This quantum shift made me more than a little curious and, since I hold him in such high esteem, got my juices flowing.

Certainly, it's possible for Tom to disagree with my views of the local situation. After all, I actually live in Costa Mesa and have a perspective one can only achieve by having a dog in the hunt. That being said, Tom Johnson has been so fully-immersed in Newport-Mesa affairs for decades that his voice is one that should be heard. Considering our decade-long relationship, I guess I expected to hear from him directly first.

As you read through Tom's column you'll find that he quotes extensively from my blog entry about Frank Mickadeit. He, apparently, is unhappy that I've chosen to criticize another Register writer for only presenting one side of the issue. Then, again, Mickadeit is a columnist, where his opinion is presented prevalently - that's the way it should be.

Tom criticizes me for presenting MY opinion on MY blog where the objective is clearly stated in the masthead. I present the readers with my views, based on the facts as I understand them, along with my opinions. Those who might be offended by my characterizations or the images I choose to use to emphasize a point can simply not read them - it's pretty simple.

Near the end of his piece Tom says: "I don't look at journalism as a way to fan the fire. I'm proud of the fact that my newspapers in the past have been community watchdogs, forums for equal discussion, reservoirs of information and most importantly, community cheerleaders." OK, I agree with his characterization of his former publications and accept that, but "fanning the fire" is EXACTLY what he did during his participation in the Feet To The Fire Forum. Watch the tape, HERE. That's a pretty mixed message, don't you think?

Early in his piece Tom calls me a bully, and yet he uses his "bully pulpit" - yes, I know the definition of that phrase - to bully me! His distribution reaches tens of thousands of readers each week - a claim I only wish I could make. He refers to what I write as "editorializing at its best" - which I fully accept as an accurate description of what I do here. However, I think he meant it as a criticism, not a compliment.

A more cynical guy - yeah, I admit to being cynical - might find it curious that Tom's incendiary criticism of me occurs just about the time that Will Swaim got a real journalism job again and has, apparently, stopped lobbing literary grenades into my backyard from his cozy home in Irvine. I'm sure that's just a coincidence, but...


With great power comes great responsibility. As the General Manager of a significant local news source, Tom has great power at his fingertips. Back when he used to write the occasional column as the publisher of the Daily Pilot I would tease him when mistakes were made - asking him "who edits the editor?" We would chuckle about that at the time. Well, the question remains today. Does he plan to use the power of his position to pillory folks with opposing viewpoints or those who criticizes his friends? If so, is that REALLY an appropriate use of the power of his position?

Some readers may throw that back at me, but it's not the same thing at all. This blog is not part of a major regional newspaper organization, nor does it sell advertising and subscriptions. The facts I present represent the best information I have available to me and the views here are mine. Most visitors to this site understand that and also understand they are free to read and comment or simply not click on the link and move on.

I'm not sure where we go from here, but I suspect I've had my last job offer from Tom Johnson.

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A Long Night With Few Surprises

OK, folks, this will be a short report even though the council meeting last night went until 11:55 p.m.! Yeah, we got out of there by midnight, but just barely. Actually, we'd have made it with plenty of time to spare if Jim Righeimer didn't love to hear himself talk so much. More on that later.

First, just to let you kno
w how influential Colin McCarthy is within his Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association, last night only three people that might have been members - one very nice gentleman did identify himself - stepped up to speak in favor of the council. Another man, who didn't identify himself and since Mayor Eric Bever no longer requires folks to speak their names nor does he require speaker cards, I have no clue who he was, was clearly uncomfortable speaking before the crowd. His comments were barely understandable, but he did say he supported the council.

The third was chief butt-kisser Jim Fitzpatrick. He never ceases to amaze me! This time he griped about unkind things said about him on a "local blog" - that would be me - and suggested to the council that the City Staff should be prohibited from speaking with me in the future. There were lots of chuckles around the auditorium with that one. That's right - little Jimmy Fitzy apparently thinks I need a time out and is trying to put me in the corner for awhile. Good luck with that, Jimbo.

Now to the agenda...

We breezed through the Co
nsent Calendar. The two items dealing with the contracts with the Fair Board for traffic management services for the Fair and other special events were approved but with some conversation about being sure that the council knows how to segregate those reimbursed costs when evaluating the Employee Compensation Report.


No big to-do was made about the contract with law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore. The council agreed to pay more money to outside legal firms, so that old meter just keeps on spinning.

One grumpy old fella who apparently considers himself a source of all
racial information you'll ever need since that's what his pathetic blog has become - racism-central for his few readers - rose to complain about improvements on Baker Street near his home. He wants speed bumps installed to slow traffic down on that major thoroughfare. Yep, reality is beginning to leave the poor fella.


Nobody mentioned the $120,000 we paid Jones and Mayer on the Warrants this time around. I guess bills exceeding the budget by double are no big deal any longer.

The most lengthy item on the agenda was Public Hearing #1, the appeal of t
he Planning Commission's recent decision to permit Target to remain open until 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. as required by their conditional use permit. Nearly three dozen red-clad Target employees sat patiently - and not-so-patiently - as the presentations were made. Several stood to speak in support of the new hours. Several residents, including major protagonist Al Morelli, stood to complain about the new hours - a couple of whom told the council that a "deal is a deal" - this is what Target signed up for.

It all fell on deaf
ears. In fact, Jim Righeimer couldn't get rid of this item fast enough. He told the crowd that he never wants to hear about this again. Think about that when you vote on his Charter in November and basically anoint him as emperor of Costa Mesa. Surprisingly, the vote to uphold the Planning Commission decision only passed on a 3-2 vote, with Wendy Leece and Steve Mensinger voting NO. Ah, maybe that tells us that Mensinger is beginning to count votes for his run for City Council in the fall.

Mayor Eric Bever called a break and when they returned he shifted the agenda and move
d New Business Number 1, the Sex Offender Ordinance, to the head of the line. It seems that we had an honored guest - Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas - waiting to speak to this issue. He'd been hovering outside on the porch for more than an hour while the Target issue was debated, so they gave him a professional (political) courtesy. This actually is an excellent ordinance, which mirrors the county ordinance, with plenty of teeth in it to dissuade sex offenders from entering our parks and athletic facilities. It, of course, passed.

Then we heard Public Hearing #2, the latest plan for what used to be called 1901 Newport Plaza - a condo development on the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Bernard Street. After much hassle this project was finally approved many years ago but the developer crashed with the economy with only a third of it finished. The new owner plans to complete the build-out, but is building condo-spec apartments, and fewer than were originally anticipated. After all was said and done, this looks like a good end to a very bad deal. There was some major concern by residents about parking, but that was brushed away by the council when they approved it.

The council then approved Mensinger's scheme for a "performance audit" program. So, we'll be looking for even MORE consultants to come into City Hall and scrutinize every aspect of some of the jobs performed therein. According to Mensinger, Righeimer and presenter Rick Francis, we should really improve efficiency - that usually means fewer people doing the same jobs. Oops, more jobs in jeopardy... what a surprise that is.


Finally, around 11p.m., we got to the rescission of all Fire Department layoff notices. This could have been a nice, short and sweet presentation and action by the council. However, Righeimer just loves to pontificate, so he went on and on with his slide show - "I did this myself" - that attempted to show savings from reorganization of the department. One got the impression that this may have been the source of Frank Mickadeit's information for his column yesterday in the Orange County Register. Frank wasn't in the auditorium last night. On and on Righeimer went. Finally, a few speakers addressed the issue. Perry Valantine was in unusually good form when he suggested that the council just let Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold make his presentation at a study session in the near future - it's going to be May 8th - and quit trying to steal his thunder with numbers of questionable value. I smiled at that one.

So, that was that. According to CEO Tom Hatch, we're in the middle of "budget season" and he outlined dates for several budget-related meetings in the near future. There are four (4) budget meetings scheduled for May so far, with more in June. I'll cover that later.

Speaking of "later", I've been snagged for Jury Duty beginning in a couple hours so any comments you have will be delayed by my required presence in Santa Ana. I'll do my very best to post them as quickly as possible, but there's no predicting how possible that might be. Thanks for your patience.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Next Round Of Superintendent Search Meetings

Laura Boss, Communications Director for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, has sent out a message late this morning which lists the next round of meetings dealing with the search for a replacement for Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard. This is short notice for a couple of them, but here is her message in total:


The photo summaries of the meeting notes from the superintendent search community input meetings held at Davis Magnet School and Costa Mesa High School have been posted online at the following link:

You can also find summaries of previous meetings at the above link or go directly to the dedicated webpage:

As a reminder, the following community input meetings remain. All members of the public are welcome to attend any of the meetings.

Wednesday, April 18, 10:00-11:00 a.m. Newport Harbor High School

Thursday, April 19, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Newport Coast Elementary School

Thursday, April 19, 7:00-8:00 p.m. DELAC (District English Learners Advisory Committee) meeting at Lindbergh site

Monday, April 23, 9:00-10:00 a.m. District-wide meeting –Education Center, Board Room

If you are unable to attend a meeting, we welcome your comments on our online survey. The survey is quick and uses the same formatted questions being asked at the community meetings. Go to:

Your time and input is greatly appreciated.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Mickadeit Misses The Mark

This evening Orange County Register columnist, law student and good old boy Frank Mickadeit published a column titled, "Costa Mesa keeps its Fire Department", HERE. Now, old Frank is an interesting guy who writes some pretty good stuff and this one is OK as far as it goes, but he only tells part of the story. And it raises some interesting questions, too.

The moti
vation for this column, apparently, is the final agenda item for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday, April 17th. You can read it HERE. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, the council apparently plans to rescind all the bogus layoff notices issued more than a year ago to the entire Costa Mesa Fire Department, sworn and non-sworn.

He says, "The City Council is poised to rescind the notice of possible layoffs it had sent to 87 Fire Department employees. It has determined that keeping the jobs in-house will ultimately save money and provide more local control." Well, it LOOKS like the council is ready to rescind the layoffs based on the staff report, but how does Mickadeit know "that keeping the jobs in-house will ultimately save money and provide more local control."?

There have been NO public pronouncements to that effect. We do know that Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold has been working hard on a plan that has not yet been presented to the City Council - certainly not in a public forum of any kind - that MIGHT accomplish some of those goals. How does Mickadeit know? Has someone inside City Hall leaked this still-private and confidential information to him before the entire council has heard it? If so, who? And what laws does this violate, if any?

Mickadeit mentions the Orange County Fire Authority proposal(s) - there were two of them - presented to the City Council last year as a result of a request by the Costa Mesa Firefighter's Association. Although each of the several permutations of the OCFA proposal theoretically would have saved The City money and the firefighters were in favor of the shift, the City Council majority stiff-armed the OCFA - twice.

The OCFA could have affected cost savings - according to Mickadeit, $6.6 million - by closing one fire station and providing coverage from other OCFA stations nearby. Mickadeit quotes the city as assuming it could save more than double what he presents the OCFA proposal saved - $15 million a year - by having the firefighters agree to reduce contractually obligated minimum manning staff level. This reeks of Jim Righeimer's hand - he's been complaining about the minimum manning aspect of the current contract and his shills posting here have been yapping about it too. And what would the cost be in response times?

Not only that, but in recent weeks Righeimer has tried to characterize the OCFA as a marauding hoard, intent on taking over every fire department in the county. He lied about the recent contract signed by the City of Santa Ana with the OCFA - a fabrication which he must have felt served his political purposes because any rational man would know that people would see right through the falsehood.

Mickadeit asks, "
Doesn't the council's behavior regarding the largest department on the potential chopping block indicate that it will act similarly sanely when it comes to evaluating the other city services?", to which I answer "Not only NO, but HELL NO!" His assumption that this council has acted "sanely" in the matter of the fire department is, well, insane! If they'd have gotten away with violating their own rules half the city staff might have been laid-off by the end of last year, for goodness sake.

Not only has this council NOT acted rationally with the OCFA proposal, they have been capricious and irresponsible throughout this whole "outsourcing" calamity. They DID NOT generate the proposal - the firefighters did. They rejected the OCFA not once, but twice and left the Fire Department dangling, short-handed because Righeimer had one of his hissy fits and refused to authorize hiring any more firefighters until a second pension tier was in place.

The department has been operating with at least nine (9) fewer staffers than required for months. So, that forced the firefighters and their leadership to rack up thousands of hours of overtime - for which Righeimer and his sycophants roundly criticized them. It's been clear from the beginning - with the irresponsible reduction of Police Department staffing levels far below the minimum recommended by their own consultants and former chief Steve Staveley, HERE, and their ham-handed handling of the Fire Department situation - that political posturing is much more important to a few of the council members than is the safety of the public in this city.

I fear that Mickadeit has been spending too much time leaning against the bar of a certain local gin mill, having his ear bent by members of our city council. While his column is his opinion and what information he includes is his prerogative, he doesn't serve his readers well by presenting only a portion of the facts. I guess I expect better from him.

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NMUSD Superintendent Search Meetings Tonight

This morning Laura Boss, Director of Communications for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, fired off this message:


The N-MUSD Superintendent search timeline has been crafted to meet the Board's desire for a process that provides numerous opportunities for input from all.  We will be reaching out to all Newport-Mesa stakeholders throughout the entire search process in a variety of ways in English/Spanish, online, in print, surveys, website, school meetings, and community forums.    

Please join us TONIGHT, Monday, April 16, 2012 for the following community meetings Scheduled at:

6:30 -7:30 p.m. DAVIS Magnet School
7:00-8:00 p.m. Costa Mesa Middle/High School

All Meetings are open to any members of the public. For more information and additional community input meeting dates and locations, please visit:


For those residents who care about the process of selecting a new Superintendent for the NMUSD replacing the discredited felon, Jeffrey Hubbard, the district is providing plenty of opportunities to participate. Tonight's meetings are right in the heart of Costa Mesa at times that should be convenient for most folks. Attend and learn about this very important process. At the very least, visit the web site at the link Boss provided. It's full of excellent information about the search.

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