Saturday, September 15, 2012

Response To Cancellation of Costa Mesa United Forum

This afternoon, following the announcement by Gordon Bowley, President of Costa Mesa United, of their board's decision to cancel the candidate forum scheduled for next Thursday, September 20th, I received communication from three of the four remaining candidates that Bowley and his team apparently would suffer a disadvantage at their forum because Steve Mensinger and Colin McCarthy would potentially have the inside track.

Candidate Harold Weitzberg's campaign issued a press release to announce that Weitzberg had emailed Bowley requesting that they reconsider the cancellation of the forum.  Here is part of his press release:

" I received a copy of the today's release from CMU about cancelling the event and I would like them to reconsider. As one of the candidates for this political office I feel it is extremely important for all of Costa Mesa citizens to see and hear from all of the candidates on all issues possible. The areas of interest covered under the auspices of CMU are important to all of us and I feel it is important for the citizens to hear from all of the candidates on these issues. "

Weitzberg goes on to say that, "I am not at all concerned about a perceived advantage for Steve and Colin. I also have absolutely no concern that the CMU board would act in any way except in the highest professional manner. The fact that the board feels Steve and Colin are more knowledgeable about this area and how its future should be conducted is exactly the reason this forum is important."

He concluded, " I am prepared to be there on Thursday and I ask that they reverse their decision and put the forum back on schedule."
His communication with Bowley said, in part:  

"As a candidate for City Council in Costa Mesa I feel it is very important for our citizens to participate in open and frank dialogue on all city issues and to have every opportunity to hear the candidates for this office. I feel that the planned CMU Forum would provide this opportunity for the areas of interest that come under your purview.

I do not feel that CMU would act in any way that would be an unfair influence to one candidate or another. I think it is more important that the residents of Costa Mesa get to hear and see the candidates running for office in a wide range of forums.

Please reinstate Thursday's event."

I subsequently had conversations with both Sandra Genis and John Stephens about the cancellation.  Both were very disappointed because they each felt their knowledge and experience in the areas that the folks at Costa Mesa United planned to cover - academics, athletics and activities - was strong enough to hold their own with Mensinger and McCarthy.

Genis, for example, felt that her accomplishments while previously a member of the city council, including a term as mayor, prepared her for the discussions that might be planned.  She cited the fact that she was instrumental in the Parks and Recreation Commission being established, the Farm Sports Complex being purchased and the creation of the original Joint Use Agreement with the Newport Mesa School District.
Stephens felt confident his more than two decades of involvement and leadership in youth sports activities had prepared him for the discussions.  He told me that, since he had cleared his calendar to participate, if the forum remains cancelled that he just might take a cooler of soft drinks down to the Neighborhood Community Center Thursday evening and be prepared to discuss his views on the issues with anyone who cares to show up.  Of course, I teased him about holding court among the homeless who inhabit the area.. we both chuckled..  We'll see how that works out.

So, the ball is back in the court of Costa Mesa United.  I admire their willingness to step away from what they apparently thought was not a level playing field, but the three candidates have taken them off the hook.  There is a body of thought that this forum was cancelled to protect Mensinger and McCarthy from further embarassment like that they experienced at the Feet To The Fire Forum.  We'll see how they respond to the request to reinstate the forum.
And, in case you're worried about it - NO, I did not contact Gary Monahan for his views on this issue.  I didn't want to bother him on a very busy work night.  We all know how testy when events interfere with the chance to make a buck.   Hot weather brings out a lot of folks seeking a cool beverage - or a dozen - for relief.  Besides, as poorly as he did at the recent Feet To The Fire Forum, I suspect he might have breathed a big sigh of relief when this one was cancelled.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Costa Mesa United Forum Cancelled!

Around noon today, September 15, 2012, the leadership of Costa Mesa United announced that the candidate forum they had scheduled for next Thursday, September 20th, has been cancelled.

Here is the text of their press release:

The Board of Directors of Costa Mesa United has decided to cancel their political forum scheduled for Thursday, September 20 at the Neighborhood Community Center in Costa Mesa.

“When reviewing the potential questions, we realized that two of the candidates, Colin McCarthy and Steve Mensinger, both who presently serve on the CMU board, could have a distinct advantage,” said CMU President Gordon Bowley.

“The last thing we want to do is give the impression that Costa Mesa United would somehow be seen as influencing the election,” continued Bowley.

“What we’d like to do is invite all candidates to discuss the importance of the more than 10,000 local youth sport participants, their fields, equipment and financial needs, and post their views on our website,” said Bowley.

The CMU website is

Originally, the forum was scheduled to include not only city council candidates, but also those also running for school board posts. That all changed when no one stepped up to challenge the existing school board trustees and they were automatically returned to office for another term.

While many of us were looking forward to a lively discussion of issues on their agenda - Academics, Athletics and Activities - I cannot criticize them for this move.  Almost certainly Steve Mensinger and Colin McCarthy would have had a leg up at this forum.  The other four candidates invited - Gary Monahan, Sandy Genis, John Stephens and Harold Weitzberg - while knowledgeable on these issues, might have been playing catch-up.  So, this seems like a fair move.

I thought the third paragraph was a little unusual, since my impression of ALL the forums is that, through the vetting of issues and having questions answered by candidates, they would certainly "influence the election".
So, the next event on the campaign schedule will be the Feet To The Fire Charter debate between its sperm doner, Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and former council woman and current Newport Mesa Unified School District Trustee Katrina Foley on October 15, 2012.  More on that later.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hatch "Clarifies" His Memo

Shortly after lunch today Costa Mesa City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch sent out the following message to all employees:

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 1:19 PM
Subject: Speaking at City Council Meetings

Recently, I sent a memo to employees concerning state legal guidelines for involvement in elections/campaigns by City staff.  An employee had a question about whether it is legal to speak at City Council Meetings.  The clear answer is yes but the employee must be off duty and not be in a City uniform.  The intent with not speaking at an “official City meeting” relative to elections/campaigns was intended to address personnel participation while on duty, on paid City time including breaks and/or in uniform.  This point was not intended to be while on one’s own personal time. 

I don’t apologize for sending the memo, however I apologize for any confusion it may have caused.  The upcoming election will likely be very difficult and our role, while on duty, is to professionally and fairly facilitate the process and not be engaged in the process.  Everyone will be watching what employees are doing but even if they weren’t, the right thing to do is to follow the law and not put our professional credibility at risk.  

So, I guess that means that employees MAY stand before the council at meetings and ask political questions, but not in uniform and not while on duty.  That means Helen Nenadal, President of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, will have to change her work shirt with city logo if she plans to address the council on "political issues".

Hatch has still not replied to my memo to him on the 11th in which I asked him several questions, including the one he just answered.  Remaining unanswered are:

1) What is the penalty if an employee refuses to sign the form?
2) What is the penalty if an employee is observed violating the guidelines?
3) As "guidelines", does he believe his memo has the power of "rules"?
4) Was answered above
5) Does the list of "guidelines" apply to council members, too, since they are city employees?
6) How does he plan to enforce the "guidelines".  For example, his prohibition on the use of the City's wireless network.  How will that work?  Will he have a cadre of roving monitors prowling the corridors of City Hall, peeking over partitions and through windows to observe employee activities?
7) How will he enforce his prohibition on employees speaking to each other during work hours?  Will he use that same cadre of monitors?
8) How does he square his prohibition on employees expressing views on, for example, Jim Righeimer's Charter - which he cites as a misuse of  public funds (the staff time) - when VERY significant resources have been spent, and are being spent, to promote it?

I don't really expect to hear from him on these issues, which is pretty disappointing.  I'm a 39-year resident and taxpayer - one of the few who actually pays attention to what's going on in the city - so I kind of thought he might respond.  I guess not.  Perhaps, if he did so he would be actually violating his own rules.  He is, after all, an employee and my memo to him had a very definite "political element" to it.  If that's the case, I guess we can't expect him to discuss anything about Jim Righeimer's Charter or anything else political until after the election, right?

Also unknown is the reaction to Hatch's "clarification" from the Orange County Employees Association.  We do know they were NOT happy with the original memo.  I guess we'll hear about that soon enough.

Labels: , , , ,

Tomorrow is "Say Thank You To A Police Officer" Day

Tomorrow has been designated as "Say Thank You To A Police Officer Day", so I hope you will join me in doing just that - seek out a police officer and say "Thank You" to them for all they do.

Over the years I've gotten to know many of the brave and beleaguered members of the Costa Mesa Police Department and admire their ability to continue to provide such a high level of service to our community.  I especially admire them because they do this while being vilified by some elected leaders in this community as greedy slackers who are trying to ruin our city with their exorbitant salaries and pensions.

Personally, I want to thank Chief Tom Gazsi and all the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department for their tireless dedication to our community.  They work overtime to provide coverage to the city knowing full well that some elected leaders will paint them as greedy for doing so.  And yet, they stay out there, placing their lives on the line for us all.  They continue to serve despite having the resouces - both human and equipment-wise - necessary to the do the job well, eliminated.

I readily acknowledge a pro-police bias.  My best friend since we were five years old was a career member of the Los Angeles Police Department.  Through him I've know many police officers and their families.  I understand better than many just what it's like for those families to watch their loved one head out to work and never know when, or if, he or she will return.  I understand that apprehension.  I also understand the pride that most police officers have in their chosen profession and the shared goal of keeping their communities safe.  I understand that...

So, join me in finding a way to say thank you to a police officer tomorrow.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Buffoon Duet In The Daily Pilot

I thought I might be able to ease into the upcoming weekend by only writing about the events next week - easy stuff to address - but NO, it was not to be.

Tonight two of the "3 M's" that are running for Costa Mesa City Council, Colin McCarthy and Steve Mensinger, have written commentaries in the Daily Pilot that, I think, may appear in print Friday morning.  You can read Mensinger's campaign piece HERE and McCarthy's hit piece HERE.  Let me take them one at a time.

Mensinger lists for us what amounts to his campaign stump speech in ten (10) stanzas.  I'm not going to attempt to duplicate them here - you can read his commentary at the link above -  but will provide to you my response to each of them as I presented in a "comment" appended to the commentary.

OK, Steve, I'll play your game.

1) You held public safety hostage while bullying employee organizations into submission.

2) And yet you refuse to create the same openness in negotiations with developers and others trying to get their claws into the city.  You refuse to make your contacts with potential vendors known.  Talk about a double standard!

3) Envision all you want.  Until we have a SAFE city all the rest is just fluff.

4) Before you took office as an appointed (3 votes) councilman we HAD a safe city, one in which most residents were very proud.  You describe our police force as "top-quality", and I agree with you.  Those officers who remain are among the best to be found anywhere.  However, you and your pals have gutted the department with irrational, politically-motivated cuts in the staffing levels that cannot possibly do the job necessary, even with the excessive, onerous overtime such staffing levels demand.  Even the best police officers can only do so much.  Shame on you for this hypocritical political posturing at the cost of every residents and visitors public safety!

5) Now that you've beaten the firefighters into submission Chief Arnold can hire the necessary staff to implement HIS plan - it is HIS plan, not yours.  Whether you're elected or not, it's going to be implemented as soon as the staff is in place and the necessary equipment is acquired.

6) You've facilitated the facade of transparency, but the real decisions are made out of sight.

7) You and your pals would have actually accomplished much of your outsourcing scheme if you had just followed the rules.  But, no, you jumped the gun, issued layoff notices to over 40% of the city staff and mired our city in a lawsuit that has cost $2 million - so far.  There are undoubtedly some savings to be made via outsourcing, but every misstep you've taken has cost us municipal wealth in the form of exorbitant legal fees - with a law firm charging $495 per hour without a cap!  Sounds like fiscal irresponsibility to me.

8) About that partnership with the school district.. we saw how much you care about that when you and your pals demanded the School Resource Officers be removed from campus and take up regular patrol duties.  The value of the SRO program is undeniable as a tool to head off gang involvement.  When you poll your Mesa Verde neighbors about WHY they move their children to other schools I suspect one of the first things mentioned is safety.  Removing the SRO's was a BAD idea.

9) You've long criticized previous councils for "blowing through reserves" without giving them the credit they deserve for accumulating those reserves to be used in times of emergency - like the past four years.  The real heroes in this drama are the employees of this city - at least, the ones who remain.  We're down more than 25% and municipal services suffer for it.  But you don't care - you're happy to thump your chest and say, "See what I did!"  You didn't do squat!  What you have done is completely demoralize the staff by your heavy-handedness and micromanaging.

10) I'll tell you, Steve, I had a good belly-laugh when I read your final item.  You crow about "listening" to people with your now-infamous "coffees".  The only problem is that, while you may listen, you don't hear what the people are saying.  During your tour as a political appointee on the council - again, 3 votes - thousands of people have stood before you to air grievances, ask questions, provide guidance and ask for your help.  In exchange, many of those people have endured your smug smirks, belittling remarks and disrespectful comments.  When you were sworn-in you said you REALLY wanted to be a coach.  Well, I think that's a GREAT idea.  In that job you can be the dictator you've demonstrated to us that you really are.

Then, to address Colin McCarthy's hit piece on retired Costa Mesa Police Lieutenant Clay Epperson, I wrote the following as a comment.  You can read Colin's letter at the link above.

What a surprise that Colin McCarthy chooses to use valuable column inches to denigrate a highly respected former member of the Costa Mesa Police Department - Clay Epperson - and fabricates "facts" to do it!

McCarthy tells us that his father-in-law retired after 50 years as a union iron worker at age 70 and only receives a fraction of Epperson's retirement income.  He says, "Something isn't right."  It's this kind of attempt at class warfare that makes McCarthy such a bad choice for a seat on the Costa Mesa City Council.  His glib, smarmy attempts to paint every retiree as greedy slackers is despicable.  Maybe his father-in-law should have chosen a different profession a half-century ago - but he didn't.  He picked his career and the benefits that went along with it.  To now have his son-in-law demonstrate the worst kind of class envy on his behalf is very unseemly, but not unexpected.

McCarthy says, "the police unions spend hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars to elect who they want...", which is a bold-faced lie.  Yes, Colin McCarthy is a liar!  Whatever dollars the members of employee associations might spend on political activities are THEIR DOLLARS, not yours or mine.  They earned those dollars and, just as you do, have the right to spend them ANY WAY THEY CHOOSE!

He fabricates a theory that employee pay increases are somehow illegal and should cause them to end up in jail is so preposterous on its face that words almost fail me - almost.  Yet another case of class envy by an under-achiever.  He should be ashamed of himself!

He also fabricates the position the police association has taken, all to further his bogus theories.

Near the end he says, "We are tired of the lies."  Well, Colin, so are we.  You're going to find out just HOW tired on November 6th.  Just keep those lies coming...

It's very clear that, since the Feet To The Fire Forum earlier this month, both Mensinger and McCarthy - who each performed marginally, are beginning to scramble.  Certainly, Mensinger didn't like being boo'd by the audience several times and is now attempting to perform damage control with this commentary.  He misses that mark.

McCarthy has apparently decided to crank up his anti-police mode and doesn't seem bothered at all that he must lie to do it.  There's a very clear message to the voters in both of those essays, but especially so in McCarthy's.  That message is that he doesn't care what he has to say to sway the voters and will lie if required to do so.  The scary part is that he does it so easily...

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Employee Free Speech Challenged?

Tuesday I wrote an entry, HERE, that in part questioned a recent letter sent by Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch to all city employees defining "guidelines" for them related to political activities.  I wondered in that entry what penalties there might be for non-compliance and whether the City Council will be required to sign that memo.

I also wrote to Hatch that day asking him for answers to eight (8) specific questions related to his memo dealing with the penalties and many other concerns I have, including the apparent prohibition for employees to speak before the City Council on political issues - like Jim Righeimer's Charter.  Other questions referred to the "guidelines" application to the City Council, since they, too, are employees; how he plans to monitor the use of the City's wireless network; how he plans to monitor employee conversations and how he squares the prohibitions on using "public funds" when the city has, for example, spent lots of public funds to promote the Charter.  In my last sentence to him I speculated that, if he followed his own rules, he might not be able to reply to me since there was a political element in my correspondence to him. 
To date I've received no reply.

Today the Lauren Williams wrote about this issue in the Daily Pilot, HERE, and included copies of Hatch's memo to the staff, HERE, and Costa Mesa City Employees Association President Helen Nenadal's response, HERE.

In Williams article she quotes Communication Director Bill Lobdell - who earlier said former City Manager Allan Roeder established a custom of this kind of correspondence - as stating, "CEO Hatch's memo followed in that tradition - a preventative action to avoid violations of state law during what promises to be a closely watched city election."  She then quoted Nenadal as saying that, in her 30 years with the city, she's never received a similar memo.  That leaves one wondering what the truth is...

In case you're interested, you can find the section of the California Government Code relevant to this issue HERE.

This situation reeks of certain desperate politicians attempting to discourage opposing views from major stakeholders in this process - the employees/residents who have a very large vested interest in this election.  We know, from having observed this council very closely for over eighteen months, that none of the majority handle criticism very well.  Steve Mensinger, for example,  just couldn't believe that actual residents of this city could possibly disagree with him, much less boo him so heartily at the recent Feet To The Fire Forum.  Get over it, Steve. Some people just are not buying what you're selling.

There are knowledgeable folks in the community who feel Hatch's memo may create major legal issues for the city.  This seems to be precisely the kind of issue our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) like to get their teeth into - remember Benito Acosta?  I hope they are wrong.  This current municipal administration has already spent way, way too much money on legal fees with their ham-handed attempts to bust the associations - unions, in their parlance.  I guess we'll see soon enough.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Costa Mesa Forum Replay Schedules

Since it's kind of a slow week here in Costa Mesa I thought it might be a good time to provide you with opportunities to view, or re-view, the videos from the first two Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forums.  They are provided to you by our friends at CMTV, Dane Bora and Brad Long, on both streaming video and programmed into the play lists on CMTV - Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on ATT U-verse.

The first forum, hosted by Mesa Verde Community, Inc., and moderated by their president, Darnell Wyrick, was held on August 29th.  You can view it on streaming video HERE or watch it on television on the schedule shown below.

The second forum, the Feet To The Fire Forum, moderated by the ever-vivacious Barbara Venezia, was held on September 5th and can be viewed on streaming video HERE or on television on the schedule shown below.  You also might be interested in Barbara's assessment of the candidates at her event, HERE.

The next forum will be held on Thursday, September 20th, also at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park) and is hosted by Costa Mesa United.  Their program begins with a "meet and greet" opportunity from 6-7 and the actual program runs from 7-9.  The emphasis will be on Academics, Athletics and Activities and will be moderated by their president, Gordon Bowley.  Originally they expected to have council candidates as well as candidates for school board seats.  That fell apart when the school board candidates had no opposition.  So, only council candidates will be involved in this one.  I'll remind you about it again early next week.

The final two events in the run to the election will be the Feet To The Fire debate of Jim Righeimer's Charter featuring its sperm donor, Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, versus former City Council member and current Newport Mesa Unified School District Trustee Katrina Foley.  That will be held at the Neighborhood Community Center on October 15th beginning at 6:30 and should be a lively event.


The final forum will be hosted by the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group and will be held at the same venue on October 18th, also beginning at 6:30.  In the last election cycle their event was the best, so we have high expectations this time around.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Paradox - Defending Freedom And Stifling Dissent

On a humid, overcast morning fewer than 100 residents and city staffers met on the City Hall lawn this morning for a brief remembrance of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce coordinated this remembrance, which included a brief speech by him, recognition of a flag that had flown at the World Trade Center site and a moment of silence.

A fire truck and crew were on-hand, as was Deputy Fire Chief Fred Seguin, to help with this remembrance.  

Police Chief Tom Gazsi and members of his command staff were also in attendance.

City Council candidates Harold Weitzberg and John Stephens attended and signed the banner that will be shipped to New York City.  The only current elected official I saw at the event was Jim Righeimer.

The members of the city staff and from the community paid their respects.

It was a great irony that, as this group gathered to recognize the threat to our freedoms that occurred eleven years ago, some city employees are having some of their freedoms abridged.

In a two-page memo to employees, City CEO Tom Hatch, shown here contemplating the 91101 event, provided them with "Guidelines for City Employee Involvement in Political Campaigns", a list of five things employees may do and eleven things they should not do regarding political activities.

Among the things that are prohibited is this statement, "Don't make public statements or press appearances in favor of or against a candidate or ballot measure during normal work hours, during official city meetings or break times."  That emphasis is mine.  The way I interpret this prohibition, City employees will be forbidden to speak out at City Council meetings on, for example, Jim Righeimer's Charter.  I suspect this is a violation of their protections under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

I also wonder what the penalties are for NOT signing the forms and for violation of the "guidelines"?  Nothing in the memo indicates the penalty for transgression.


I also wonder how this applies to City Council members who are, after all, employees of the city, receiving a salary and benefits for the performance of their jobs?  Who will enforce these "guidelines" with members of the City Council?

In my opinion, this is just one more example of the current government of this city attempting to stifle dissent.  The City Council majority does it on a regular basis by chiding speakers before them and disparaging their views.  Now they are trying to silence opposing views from within the city operations, too.  This is just one more example of why Jim Righeimer's Charter is a terrible idea.  It will provide the structure for the installation of a dictatorship - the signs are clear as crystal.

Labels: , , , , ,