Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why You Can't Trust Righeimer With His Charter

OK, it's time to talk seriously about Jim Righeimer's Charter.  Make that "more seriously", because many of us who oppose his scheme to take over Costa Mesa government completely by trying to convince a typically disengaged electorate that his bogus plan will solve every single problem in the city by providing "local control" HAVE been taking it VERY seriously for most of the past year.  Righeimer is, essentially, promising us a Lexus and has delivered a Yugo.

From the very beginning, when Righeimer first proposed his plan in November of 2011, his motives were suspect.  He told us it was time to join the "big boys" - the 25% of California cities that have a Charter form of government.  He avoided mentioning that 75% of the cities in this state remain General Law cities and benefit from the protections from corruption that a Charter makes so possible.

Righeimer shrugged off suggestions that Bell was a Charter city and it became the poster child for corruption around the country.  He blamed the Bell fiasco on one person, Robert Rizzo, but neglected to mention that a disengaged electorate permitted the conversion to a Charter city with a vote of only 450 voters in a special election.

For nine months - that's been the gestation period of Jim Righeimer's Charter so far since he first hatched the scheme in November, 2011 - he has attempted to frighten the voters with the specter of financial ruin, when, in fact, things were getting better through the cooperative efforts of the staff and the fiscal management of the previous administration began to have an effect.  Along the way he conveniently ignored the fact that nearly all of the California cities that have recently declared bankruptcy are Charter cities.

In fact, Phil Morello, president of the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly and one of the most visible supporters of Jim Righeimer's Charter, may have actually let the cat out of the bag recently.  At the July 31st council meeting, when the council took the vote to place it on the agenda, Morello casually mentioned that one acceptable way out of our financial difficulties would be municipal bankruptcy!  More than a few of us who pay attention to these issues wondered if he might not have been telegraphing the plan if the Charter is adopted in November.  That would be the ONLY way Righeimer can get rid of the employee association contracts.

I've said it before and will say it again - and again and again, if necessary - I am NOT necessarily against Costa Mesa becoming a Charter City.  The problem is THIS Charter, and the lack of safeguards included to head-off a Bell-type situation.  It was clear from the outset when Righeimer first charged contract City Attorney Tom Duarte to return with the details in writing of what it would take to convert our city from a General Law city to a Charter city, that he had an agenda.  Then he, himself, did all the work by cutting and pasting snippets from other city's charters in a patchwork that blended his own, personal political agenda and the lack of controls mentioned earlier.

From the first day Righeimer became part of the government of our city - when he was appointed to the Planning Commission by then-mayor Allan Mansoor despite the fact that he had failed to meet the application deadline and after having lived in our city for only a few months - it was obvious that he didn't like all those nasty rules that he had to follow.  When Mansoor appointed him in what certainly looked like an act of political patronage for the help Righeimer and his buddy, Dana Rohrabacher, gave to him during his re-election campaign in 2006, the handwriting - graffiti, actually - was on the wall.  The Orange County Republican Party, skippered by Scott Baugh, was ready to take over our city and had massaged the dim and gullible Mansoor as the preamble to that effort.

Righeimer ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2008 and when he was finally elected to the City Council in 2010 - the first time he was actually elected to something in his political life - his frustration with the rules became even more apparent.  After he facilitated the appointment of his pal, Steve Mensinger, to the City Council he apparently thought he had all he needed to take over - a 4-person majority on the council.  He was wrong, of course, because even a super-majority has to follow the rules.

When he and Gary Monahan hatched (no offense to our City CEO, Tom Hatch) their outsourcing scheme at Monahan's pub and launched it prematurely by issuing layoff notices to more than 200 municipal employees on St. Patrick's Day, 2011 they made a major gaffe - several, actually - that has resulted in millions of dollars in litigation costs and has done immeasurable damage to the reputation of our city.  And Huy Pham jumped from the roof of City Hall.  And then-mayor Monahan chose to continue to pour beer for his customers rather than see to the needs of the employees of our city.

All this because Righeimer has a long-standing hatred of unions and has spent much of his political life trying to crush their influence.  In his haste to start tossing municipal employees out the door he and his pals forgot to follow the rules.  This has become a familiar theme.  The great irony of that outsourcing fiasco is that, if they had actually just followed the rules last year, it is possible that a big chunk of their outsourcing scheme might have been consummated by now.  Instead we, the taxpayers and voters of this city, are paying one of the most expensive law firms around, Jones Day, nearly $500 per hour with NO CAP on it.  In the fiscal year that ended June 30th we had paid them nearly $1 million and that tally isn't complete yet.

So strong is his union hatred that it has virtually rendered Righeimer incapable of considering any kind of serious negotiation with the employee associations in our city.  NOTE:  They are NOT unions - they don't have the right to stage job actions, for example.  Even though both the police and fire departments are seriously understaffed, the Righeimer-led council refuses to permit hiring replacements or to fill the pipeline with new folks to cover anticipated retirements.  They demand a second pension tier be established BEFORE replacements will be approved, yet have refused to consider serious offers made by both bargaining units.  And, they've spent over $40,000 on a labor negotiator in just a few months to facilitate their plans.  As a result, every resident, visitor to our city and business within our borders are at much greater risk.  He is not only willing, but apparently eager, to place our public safety at risk to further his political future.

There are many, many examples of his attempts to abuse the power of his office, but the last time the council met - in a hastily-called "emergency" meeting to "clean up some administrative issues" - we saw just how dangerous he will be if HIS charter passes in November.  That meeting - covered on this blog and in the local media - demonstrated the lengths to which Righeimer and his pals on this council will go to hide the truth from the voters of this city.  It was called with only hours left before the deadline to submit the paperwork to the Registrar of Voters and at a time that left NO time for the opposition to re-frame its argument against the charter - their deadline had passed.  By approving the elimination of a reference to "no-bid contracts" in the Ballot Descriptions, Summary and Enumerations of Powers section that is required by law to be included in a charter proposal, Righeimer and the council demonstrated their disdain for the voters - even more than they've been showing in recent months.  They know that the voters will NOT, in all likelihood, read the entire text of the charter.  They'll depend on that summary to tell them what they need to know - and it doesn't do that now.

We now have 13 weeks until the election.  During that time there will be, so far, five (5) candidate forums at which Jim Righeimer's Charter might be discussed.  One of the meetings, on September 5th, is dedicated specifically to that subject.  I fully expect to see the proponents of the charter attempt to manipulate the facts and, perhaps, flat-out lie to the public about this issue.  They will almost certainly demonize those opposing it.  I encourage each of you to pay attention, attend as many of those events as you can or watch the taped version on CMTV - each will be covered.  This issue is too important to just casually stroll into the voting booth and flip a coin.  It is the second-most important decision the voters of this city will make - the vote to incorporate nearly 60 years ago being the first.  We'll try to help you understand the issues and the candidates as the campaign season move along. 

As Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan and former city executive and frequent council critic Perry Valantine have reminded us in recent weeks, this is really a matter of trust. So far, Jim Righeimer has failed that test.  Remember, he promises us a Lexus and has delivered a Yugo - with him at the wheel.  Vote NO on Jim Righeimer's Charter.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Nine Is The Magic Number!

Shortly after 5:00 p.m. today, Friday, August 10th, the Costa Mesa City Clerk's office released the names of the candidates who completed and submitted the necessary paperwork by the deadline to run for a seat on the Costa Mesa City Council in November.

There are nine (9) candidates who completed the paperwork and three of those are still having the necessary signatures required for this process being certified by the Registrar of Voters.

Here is the list of those souls who are running for one of the three seats available on the Costa Mesa City Council in November:

Sandra L. "Sandy" Genis
Tom Hopkins
Colin McCarthy
Al Melone
Steve Mensinger
Gary Monahan
James Rader
John Stephens
Harold Weitzberg

As of this writing just after 6:00 p.m. the certification of the signatures for Genis, Hopkins and Rader is pending.

The only surprises are Tom Hopkins and James Rader - names that are unfamiliar to many who follow local politics.  I've placed calls to both men to chat with them about their reasons for filing to run for city council.  I'll report more when I know it.

Mr. Rader is an electronics salesman who lives on the Westside of town.
Mr. Hopkins is an "international broker", working for MONEX and lives in the north part of town.

I have no idea what their views are on any of the major issues in town.  Hopefully, a conversation will enlighten us.  In the meantime they're all off and running...

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For Your Viewing "Pleasure"

Just a short note to help you with your weekend viewing.

The replay of the Special Emergency City Council meeting on August 9th, described in my previous post, is available for viewing.

As is usually the case, you can watch it be streaming video HERE.

And, if you wish to watch it tonight and over the weekend you can view it on Costa Mesa Television, Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable or Channel 99 on ATT U-Verse.  The schedule for this weekend beginning tonight follows:

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Sue Lester Withdraws

Late this afternoon council candidate Sue Lester announced that she's dropping out of the race.  Her complete statement appears on the Daily Pilot as a commentary, HERE.  I've known that she was considering dropping out for some time, but promised to keep it under my hat until she actually made her announcement.


I've read her explanation - she didn't REALLY owe one to anybody - and think she hit the nail on the head.  Her assessment of the current state of Costa Mesa politics is frighteningly accurate.

When she arrived in town a few years ago she was a one-trick pony - medical marijuana was her issue.  She's gone through a lot dealing with the turmoil around that issue, including being forced to close her business.  And yet, through all that she remained very positive and tried to work beyond that narrow focus to make our city better.  Her voice at the speaker's podium was always respectful and her opinions were well-thought out.


I believe she made the right decision for the right reasons and I'm glad she's part of the activist infrastructure of our city and hope she continues to find ways to make a positive impact.

The filing deadline is 5:00 p.m. Friday, August 10th.  At the end of business we should know just who has actually decided to run for city council.  It is widely assumed that there will be at least six candidates, maybe more.  We'll see.  Once we know we'll begin to present our further views of them.


Council "Fixes" A Mistake To Fool Voters

 In a short, but heated, emergency meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council this afternoon, the council approved changes to Exhibit A, Ballot Descriptions, Summary and Enumerations of PowersThe result has been called a cover-up by some.  They are probably correct.  The proceedings generated a lot of heat but not much light.  Read on..
Former contract City Attorney and current contract Special Council Kimberly Hall Barlow guided the council through the discussion, beginning with a lengthy apology to the council and public for having to be there in the first place.  She acknowledged that confusion between her office and the City Clerk caused this problem.  This process has been cursed from the beginning, when a "clerical error" - later defined as a "significant professional failure" - and another "clerical error"
(with a little help from yours truly) on the noticing requirements on an end-run they tried kept Jim Righeimer's Charter from the June ballot.

Before Public Comments councilwoman Wendy Leece wondered, since the changes are to a document already submitted to the Registrar of Voters, would the folks who oppose the Jim Righeimer's Charter and who authored the argument against it be afforded the opportunity to modify their presentation?  The answer from Barlow was, no, because the deadline for that document was August 7th.  Conveniently, the deadline for the document in question is on the 10th.

During Public Comments council candidate and lawyer John Stephens and an author of the argument against Jim Righeimer's Charter, led off with a clear, crisp presentation of just what the main modification being proposed does - hides the truth from the voters who will make their decision in November based in great part on what they read in that document.  Even though the entire charter will be provided to the voters, few will take the time to read it - they'll read the summary.  Stephens and others suggested that the major change - it deletes reference to no-bid contracts and thereby misleads the voters - may have been a direct result of proponents of the charter reading their opposing document, then modifying the Summary to attempt to neutralize part of their discussion.  He wrapped up his presentation with the following statement:

"So, what we have here is a situation, I think, where the council read our argument and did not want, in the ballot summary and enumeration, the term 'no-bid contract' because it tracks our argument.  So, essentially what's happening here, what I think, and you know - and I'm not speculating on what you think - is you want to take that language out so the voters don't know about it.  And what you're voting on is to cover up a 'bad fact'.  The bad fact is no-bid contracts.  When my opponent in a case tries to cover up a bad fact, I like that.  I like it for two reasons.  It highlights that the opponent has recognized that the fact is bad.  That is, that the charter allows for no-bid contracts under 401(c).  And it also undermines the credibility of my opponent.  So, I'm asking you today,  please vote in favor of these changes because I think it substantially helps the anti-charter movement because it gives us a great argument on the substance and the credibility of the pro-charter movement."


Another half-dozen residents rose to speak against this maneuver - there were NO speakers in favor of it - most of whom expressed significant concern about this move.
The real fireworks happened when former councilwoman Katrina Foley interrupted Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer as he questioned Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz about no-bid contracts - clearly reading word-for-word from the argument against the charter that had been submitted earlier in the week and filed with the Registrar of Voters.  She, in requesting a point of order, said the following:

"Member Righeimer is taking the ballot argument against the charter and asking questions regarding the ballot argument against the charter and asking the staff to give opinions about the ballot statement against the charter.  It's not appropriate."

Righeimer ignored her and went on with his train of thought, continuing to interrogate Munoz about no-bid contracts.  When he completed his interrogation and yielded the floor, Foley, again, stepped to the speaker's podium and said the following:

"Mr. Mayor, I'd like to ask the City Attorney and the City Manager if the public is going to be allowed to provide their opportunity to question staff in a public hearing regarding the statement in favor of the ballot?  As Mr. Righeimer has used guise of an emergency meeting to correct some grammar and fix some statements to the ballot argument in order to ask questions of staff in a public meeting on the record and use it as an opportunity to attack the statement against the charter.  It's improper and illegal."

All the while Mayor Eric Bever, obviously peeved at Foley, tried to get her to be quiet.  He talked over her - or tried to - called the Sergeant-at-arms and threatened to have her removed from the chambers if she interrupted again.  High drama, indeed.

It was VERY clear to the 35 people in the audience what was going on.  Righeimer was using his position of authority to stifle dissent of his Charter and to deceive the voters, once again.  I doubt if anyone in the audience this afternoon actually believed Barlow's protestation that she didn't know a thing about the arguments.  With the exception of the subterfuge to hide the reference to no-bid contracts, the other changes could have been as an administrative modification without the need for a council meeting.

I believe what the folks viewing the tape of this meeting will take away from observing this proceeding is that we're just seeing a little taste of what will be in store for us if Jim Righeimer's Charter is passed and he and his cronies remain in power.  They already have demonstrated over and over again an unwillingness to follow the rules that protect us from abuse.  If this charter is passed - with it's woefully inadequate safeguards from abuse - Righeimer and his pals will just make up the rules as they go along.  Based on their performance over the past 18 months or so, I certainly don't believe those rules will benefit the residents of this city.

So, now the fun begins.  We have five candidate forums ahead of us over the next couple months at which the voters will be able to form their own judgments of the candidates for city council and the wisdom, or lack thereof, of voting in Jim Righeimer's Charter.  It's going to be a very messy fall.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Emergency Charter Meeting Tomorrow *(Amended)

Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte has requested an Emergency City Council meeting, tomorrow, Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 3:30 in City Council Chambers to make what is described as "minor changes in ballot description enumeration of powers document.

You can read the staff report for the July 31st meeting at which the vote was taken to place Jim Righeimer's Charter on the November 6th ballot HERE.

You can read Exhibit A, Ballot Description, Summary and Enumeration of Powers, HERE.  This is the section that apparently will receive "minor clean up changes".

You can read the actual staff report, issued late this afternoon, which shows the modifications, HERE.  This is a HUGE problem, since the arguments for and against this bogus scheme have already been submitted.  The deadline for their submission to the Registrar of Voters is the same time listed below.  That means the opponents of Jim Righeimer's Charter may not have enough time to evaluate and, if necessary, modify their argument opposing this thing.

The drop dead date for submission of all Charter- related documents is Friday, August 10th at 5:00.  The City has already submitted the necessary paperwork, but will have to include the modifications as a result of this meeting promptly.

I'm VERY curious about this "emergency" meeting.  I wonder what sleight of hand may be at play here, after all the arguements have been submitted?  Will these changes result in material changes that will affect the arguments as presented?  How sad, indeed, that this council has made us so distrustful of their actions that I even think about that!

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Short Meeting - No Surprises

An a very short Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday evening - it only ran a little over two hours - there were no surprises, unless you count those folks who arrived expecting to do battle for Wendy Leece on her request for a re-hearing of the Banning Ranch Traffic Mitigation payoff.  That item was pulled from the agenda earlier in the day - I reported it in my earlier entry.  Even so, several people stood and offered their views on the subject - none in support of the council action.

The remaining "big" item on the agenda, the appointment of a replacement for Jim Fitzpatrick on the Planning Commission offered no surprises.  Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jeff R. Mathews was appointed on a 4-1 vote - Wendy Leece voted no - and will serve out the remainder of Fitzpatrick's term which ends in January, 2015.  Unless, that is, he is runs and is elected to a seat on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.  Then he would face exactly the same situation that Fitzpatrick faced - the incompatibility of the two positions.  In Joe Serna's coverage of the meeting, HERE, Mathews is quoted as saying he would resign if elected to the Sanitary District Board.

Serna also raises the question of Mathews campaign contribution to Steve Mensinger in June.  This will require a little more research tomorrow, but if Mathews DID contribute $250 or more to Mensinger in June, then Mensinger should have disqualified himself from the vote.  Also in question is whether Mathews contributed to Colin McCarthy's campaign, too.  If so, that also creates a problem with his appointment because McCarthy, as the Chairman of the Planning Commission, was the biggest proponent of Mathews for this position and led the vote that recommended him to the City Council.

The council also passed the Bicycle Ordinance, although not without some controversy.  In fact, Mayor Eric Bever voted against it, stating that it penalized residents just to address a problem with homeless people.  Staff members indicated that, although this ordinance would become law in 30 days, it would NOT be enforced until sufficient bike racks are in place in public spaces - probably not until the first of the year.

During council member comments Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer expressed, in very aggressive terms, concern for the issue of the proposed turnover of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex to Big League Dreams.  The task force formed to study this issue had many unanswered questions when it was disbanded - much to the consternation to many of the members.  Righeimer mentioned several, including parking, alcohol being sold too close to a school - both of which are issues that need to be resolved with the Newport Mesa Unified School District.  I chuckled when he mentioned that some of the problems might be resolved "now that we have a professional Recreation Manager, Bob Knapp".  Well, as great a guy as Knapp may be, and as "professional" as his background is, he is NOT an experienced municipal Recreation Manager.  Personally, I hope the experience he DOES bring to the job he was just handed helps make our municipal recreation programs stronger, especially since this council seemed determined to gut them only a year ago.

And, in an another stream-of-conscienceness rant, Righeimer fantasized about folding Fairview Park, Talbert Park and part of Banning Ranch into one grand, 1,000 acre Santa Ana River Park - that would belong to Costa Mesa and would provide trails to the sea.  Where the heck is that coming from?  Does he know something about Banning Ranch that he's not telling us?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Re-hearing Request Of Banning Ranch Deal Yanked From Agenda


Late this afternoon the request by councilwoman Wendy Leece to have a re-hearing on the controversial Traffic Mitigation agreement between the proposed developers of the Banning Ranch and the City has been removed from the agenda of the council meeting this evening.

It's my understanding that representatives from Newport Banning Ranch requested that it be withdrawn until they had a chance to review the council's modifications of the original agreement.

It was also exacerbated by the complication of the request of the State Fair Political Practices Commission by Leece to review the case for any possible conflict of interest she might have in this matter.  That review will not be completed several weeks.  So, she also requested the item to be withdrawn.


So, the issue is OFF the agenda and anyone wishing to address it will have to do so during the Public Comments section of the meeting.

It appears to me that this might have been an end-run around the system.  If NBR officials review what the council approved and sign it, then there is NO reason for it to come back to the council for any action.  It will be a done deal before Leece or anyone else can request a re-hearing downstream.  We'll see.

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