Saturday, November 30, 2013

Righeimer To Codify Quashing Of Criticism

There are a lot of items on the agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting beginning at 6:00 p.m. next Tuesday, December 3, 2013, HERE, and I'll address the rest of it on another post.  Nothing, however, is more important than an item stealthily placed on the Consent Calendar than the final item, #14, titled, "Modifications To Public Comments And Consent Calendar On The City Council Agenda".  You can read that agenda item HERE.

This move, in my opinion and that of many other residents of this city who actually follow what goes on at City Hall and at these meetings, is a two-pronged attempt by Mayor Jim Righeimer to stifle opposing views.  In the nearly three years since he took office - and power - his decisions and actions have caused a large and very vocal cadre of residents to step up and speak up during the Public Comments segment of the meetings and exercise their right - using the three minutes provided - to express their opinions, offer suggestions and criticize an individual council member or members for perceived missteps.  That's the way it's supposed to work.  Got a grievance? Speak up!  See that finger up there?  Righeimer's giving us another one...

Sometimes the Public Comments section of the meeting, which has traditionally been on the agenda early in the meeting following Announcements and Presentations, can stretch for a half-hour or more, depending on the hot button issues of the day.  In the past there have been meetings where twenty or more speakers lined up to speak.  In those cases the Public Comments segment could take an hour.
The Consent Calendar typically follows reports from the individual council members and the report from the CEO - after the Public Comments segment.  As some may know, unless an item is "pulled" from the Consent Calendar for separate discussion and vote by a council member, staff member or member of the public,  the entire Consent Calendar - there are fourteen (14) items on it Tuesday - will be voted upon as one vote.  If any item is pulled - there is zero chance that Item #14 won't be pulled Tuesday - in the past the council would vote the remainder of the Consent Calendar items in one vote, then proceed to consider those items pulled in order, one at a time, with a separate discussion and vote for each.  The public could comment on any such item if they choose to do so - also with three minutes allotted for that comment.

However, everything changed at the meeting of October 1, 2013.  That's the meeting where the mayor, apparently tired of hearing speaker after speaker step up and criticize his policies and practices, unilaterally decided to change things on the agenda.  That's when he decided to limit speakers in Public Comments to the first 10, then trail any remaining speakers to the end of the meeting.  Simultaneously, he arbitrarily decided to also trail any "pulled items" from the Consent Calendar to the end of the meeting.  This effectively stifles the opportunity of residents to address grievances with the council.  In a recent meeting, for example, another five speakers remained after the initial ten had spoken.  By the time their turn rolled around it was well past 11:00 p.m. and all had long since departed.

Similarly, items "pulled" from the Consent Calendar will typically be those some residents feel require separate discussion - for whatever reason.  It might be a question about an engineering contract, or an expenditure on one of the Warrants that are usually found on the Consent Calendar.  Whatever it might be, it's important to that resident, so the council should hear the issue out before voting.  By trailing those "pulled" items Righeimer disenfranchises those residents who can't hang around City Hall until midnight.

Righeimer has run roughshod over the agenda for the past couple months with disastrous results.  So, at the last meeting, he finally conceded that they should have the item placed on the agenda for official consideration by the entire council - knowing full well he has the three votes it takes to make the changes official.  However, when the agenda was released last Wednesday afternoon - and after everyone had departed that might answer questions about it - the item showed up - as #14 on the Consent Calendar.
Now, here's the rub... This item is to theoretically codify the way Righeimer has been bending the rules to suit his own personal agenda - to have the council officially vote on it, right?  Well, what happens to the Public Comments segment that precedes it?  Will it be split again, before the vote is taken?  And, if they follow Righeimer's corruption of the agenda policy before the vote is taken, Item #14 will be "pulled" and then trailed to the end of the meeting!

And, another wrinkle to consider.  If you click on that link to the full agenda at the top of this entry, then scroll down to the section marked "PUBLIC COMMENTS" and to the second paragraph, the first sentence read as follows:  
Questions and comments made by public speakers may be addressed by the City Council during Council Comments or by the Chief Executive Officer during the CEO’s Report.
 Well, how is that going to work, exactly, since a good number of the comments would be trailed to the end of the meeting - hours AFTER the council members and CEO have made their comments?

Also, there is a larger problem with items ON the agenda which speakers want to address.  The agenda instructions says the following:
If you wish to address the City Council on a matter listed on the agenda, please complete and submit a speaker card to the City Clerk. Speaker cards will be accepted until the agenda item is called.

Well, it is NOT unusual at all for speakers to hear comments of others, then decide they have something to add to the discussion - an amplification of a statement, a different perspective or a rebuttal. This policy will foreclose that opportunity, since speaker cards will NOT be accepted once an item has been called.  We've seen this happen at recent meetings and it's a travesty.  And, it's not clear how Righeimer plans to apply that rule to the Public Comments segment.  if he is consistent with the rule, then he could forbid someone from speaking at the "trailed" section of Public Comments who had not submitted a speaker card at the beginning of the meeting.  Again, I've known speakers to jump off their couches at home while watching the meeting and dash to council chambers to address an issue when the discussion was complicated and/or contentious.


As one might expect, opinions on both sides of this issue have come hot and heavy to the local media.  Resident Susan Shaw commented in the Daily Pilot on November 27th, HERE, that, if the mayor insists in implementing this new system, then the council should do the same.  Allow one council member to speak up front and trail the rest to the end.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece published a commentary in the Daily Pilot Friday evening, HERE, that emphasized that by implementing this policy the mayor will be repressing free speech, and that the resident's views are every bit as important as those of developers sitting in the audience hoping to convince the council to approve their profit-making project.  Please read her commentary.

Predictably, Righeimer has also produced a commentary in the Daily Pilot today, too.  You can read it HERE.  He recognizes the firestorm he's ignited and is doing everything he can to douse the flames before Tuesday's meeting.  He talks about "balance" in the meetings, and the need to "do the city's business".  Well, Mr. Mayor - just what the heck to you consider the opinions of your electorate to be if not the city's business?  I guess he just doesn't like those developers sitting out there in the audience, looking at their watches and glaring at him while they wait in line for their agenda item to come up.

He has complained in the past about the length of the time it takes for speakers to fully vent their views, yet he is, by far, the worst - to use Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's new favorite term - "Time Thief" on the dais.  Time after time he will rant and rave about this issue or that, sometimes going on for fifteen or twenty minutes at a pop.  At the last meeting he chewed up a huge chunk of time telling the audience that he was "shocked and appalled" at the lack of public outcry about the alleged planting of a tracking device on Mensinger's truck.  On and on he went - venting his spleen about something that could only be considered "city business" if you realize that those two men are actually suing our police men and women for imagined infractions and alleged stress.

And, of course, the most recent pandering mouthpiece for the current power elite in Costa Mesa, Dennis Popp - the author of the most boring and incomprehensible blog you can imagine - piped up to support Righeimer in his own commentary in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  He, that renowned Constitutional Scholar, opines that there is no abridgment of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution by the mayor's scheme to quash public comments.  Certainly, his years of nursing experience prepared him to deliver that lofty legal viewpoint.  Until he began his blog I didn't think it was possible to pile manure that high.


I've watched a lot of council meetings over the past decade and a half.  I've seen councils come and go and I've seen attempts to juggle the agenda by more than one or two of them, including Gary Monahan.  Most recently Eric Bever considered proposing a similar scheme, but even he thought better of it later.

In my opinion, Righeimer is feeling a lot of heat due to the many, many missteps he and his pals have taken over the past nearly three years.  The opposition is more organized and more vocal now because his screw-ups have caused more people to begin paying attention.  And, there are simply more problems in our city today.
For starters:
  • The advent of more drug and alcohol rehabilitation homes.
  • The decline in staffing levels at the police department, already at critical levels and getting worse 
  • AB 109 prisoner releases.
  • Our inability to attract more police officers quickly enough to back fill existing and anticipated vacancies.
  • The heavy-handed negotiating tactics presently going on with the so-called "miscellaneous employees" contract.
  •  His ham-handed attempt to oust half those employees more than two years ago which resulted in a lawsuit that remains unresolved.
  • The toxic workplace he has created, amplified by the "bunker mentality" - the "us against all of them" attitude -  on the fifth floor of City Hall.
  • His stubborn unwillingness to consider paying down the Unfunded Pension Liability although he keeps bringing it up as the root of all evil in the city.
  • The creation of superfluous and unnecessary committees, filled by cronies to perform useless tasks while sucking up valuable staff time and keeping the real work of the city from being done promptly. 
  • The brewing scandal swirling around the 60th Anniversary Celebration finances.
  • His willingness to expose the city to lawsuit after lawsuit, apparently considering litigation just another "cost of doing business".
  • Controversies around the future of Fairview Park.
  • His insistence on attempting to jam yet another charter scheme down the voters throats despite his personal charter being crushed at the ballot box just a year ago.  
There are PLENTY of things the residents of this city may wish to discuss with the council in an open forum - not some "Meet the Mayor" coffee klatch in a neighborhood yard where maybe twenty friends assemble, blow him kisses and hear him pontificate.  By attempting to implement this scheme he clearly wants to mute the voices of discontent.  What he is doing, though, is bringing those people together - just as his many other gaffes have done - to speak with a unified voice against what Leece describes in her commentary as a violation of "a basic principle of human liberty: free speech."


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Friday, November 29, 2013

My Friend, Joe Bell, Died Yesterday

As some of you already know from having read Hannah Fry's article from the Daily Pilot online today, HERE, my friend and former Daily Pilot columnist, Joseph N. Bell died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 92 from the ravages of age, including the recent onset of Parkinson's Disease.

Joe Bell was a columnist for the Daily Pilot, and the Los Angeles Times before that, for more than two decades.  When he retired from the regular rotation of columnists at the Pilot almost two years ago Mike Reicher wrote about him HERE.  I wrote about his retirement HEREBill Lobdell, currently the Communications Director for the City of Costa Mesa, former editor of the Daily Pilot and, at that time, a columnist, wrote about Joe's influence on his life, HERE, and a couple of his very close friends also wrote short notes in the Mailbag, HERE.

Joe was a fascinating man.  He and I couldn't have been farther apart politically, but I grew to know him well and admire his skills as a writer and his values as a man. During his career, as mentioned in Fry's article, he wrote extensively for many national magazines and, locally, for the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Pilot.  He interviewed and wrote about stars like Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, John Wayne, Julie Andrews, Shirley Maclaine, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Bob Hope, Mary Tyler Moore, Liza Minnelli, Debbie Reynolds and many others.  He interviewed Norma McCorvy - the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade fame - and wrote about her at the beginning of that dramatic time in her life and, three decades later, when she disavowed abortion and began speaking out about it.   Before he retired a few months before his 90th birthday he was still pumping out pithy prose, skewering the rascals around us and doing it with such flare that those of us who pretend to write can only smile in awe-struck admiration.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of his long, illustrious career included a piece that he wrote that DID NOT get published.  During the Patty Hearst kidnapping , HERE, Bell was on assignment for the Hearst Corporation's "Good Housekeeping", at the Hearst family home in Hillsborough, CA when her parents learned that Patty may have been killed during a police raid on a house in South-Central Los Angeles.  Five Symbionese Liberation Army revolutionaries who had kidnapped her died in the raid, but it turned out she was not on the scene.  Bell wrote the story of her kidnapping, but Randolph Hearst killed it because it contained some information he did not want to make public.

As I've written before, I have a couple links that drew me to Joe.  He was a great friend of my ex-boss, former Newport Beach councilman Don Strauss.  I met Joe on a tennis court where he and Strauss had been soundly thumped during the Adoption Guild Tournament by a couple of whippersnappers.  He was an unhappy, but gracious loser.  And, Jill Angel - sister of his second wife, Sherry, was a dear friend of my best friend, Larry Moore.  She was a CHP officer and competitor in his "Toughest Cop Alive" competition before she moved up the ranks at the CHP.  You will also remember Jill as a traffic reporter for radio station KNX-1070.

I didn't know Joe at the time, but when we lived in Houston we journeyed to the Johnson Space Center and, along with other souvenirs, we purchased a book called, "Seven Into Space" - which was written by Joseph N. Bell!  We've still got it somewhere in our library.  That was Joe's account of the seven original Mercury astronauts and is still highly-sought as a seminal reference piece about the early stages of the United States Space Program.

Joe and I became friends as I wrote to him about columns he had written about local politicians and other issues.  His body of work includes hundreds of columns in which he took on the likes of John Moorlach, HERE; Allan Mansoor, HERE; politicians in general, HERE and HERE; and the then-new Costa Mesa City Council, HERE.

A patriotic guy, Joe Bell was born on July 4, 1921 and enjoyed celebrating his birthday along with that of his country every year.  He wrote about those celebrations frequently, HERE, for example.  A member of the "Greatest Generation", he shared many of the simple values of his peers and wrote about them, HERE.  A Midwesterner, he loved basketball and baseball.  He wrote about the former HERE and the latter HERE - and many more times, too.  He reveled in the exploits of the University of California - Irvine Anteater basketball program.  He taught at that school for two decades.  He agonized when his beloved Angels failed, year after year, but never gave up hope.

Joe loved his family and friends and wrote often about their successes in life.  He wrote a very nice piece acknowledging the publication of Bill Lobdell's book, "Losing My Religion", HERE and of his visit to the theater to see his step-son, Erik Patterson's first play performed, HERE.

Joe also wrote about transitions - the passing of dear friends and the dogs that filled his life with joy.  However, a column he wrote about the passing of his first wife, Janet Hartman Bell, HERE, truly shows you the depth of feeling this man had for those around him.

On July 3, 2011, my wife and I were invited to join a large group of Joe's family and friends to mark his 90th birthday.  That photo at the top of the page was taken at that event, showing him "in the spirit of the day".  We heard his daughters tell stories of growing up with their Dad - of the road trips and the special times in their lives.  We heard very close friends talk about the Joe they knew and loved.  There was no small amount of teasing going on that day and it was joyous to watch the love flow.
(Joe Bell and close friend, Betsy Flynn, enjoying strawberry shortcake)
It was sad to see my friend decline over these past many months.  The debilitating ailments that he had to confront gradually won the battle with his body, but his mind never gave up.  He remained sharp and concerned about events that affect us all.  I will miss him - his wisdom, wit and friendship - but I won't forget him.  According to his family, Joe will be buried in his home town of Decatur, Indiana soon and a Memorial Service will be planned locally early next year.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation, 4931 Birch Street, Suite 2, Newport Beach, CA 92660.


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Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's Thanksgiving Again...

Once again it's time for us to rock back, take it easy, surround ourselves with those we love and consider the things for which we are thankful - unless you're a turkey, that is.  In that case, well - you know...

And, as always, right at the top of things for which I am thankful is my lovely and patient wife of more than 46 years.  I know - some of you are sitting there reading this and thinking, "How does she do it?!"  Me, too.  I don't know, but she does and is the best thing that has EVER happened to me.

We are both thankful for our loving and supportive families, too.  They make our days bright and full of encouragement.

I'm thankful for a couple wonderful events in our lives this year - two weddings of young folks close to us.  Our nephew, Doug, married the amazing Kayle in Omaha the end of September and our journey to the wedding and back resulted in us being caught in a record snow storm that killed over 100,000 head of cattle and sheared off over 1,000 power poles.  We survived, and we're thankful for that.

The second wedding was more recently, when we traveled 300 miles to attend the wedding of a young man, Gavin - who grew up fifteen feet from our house - to the lovely Alicia.  Somehow that doesn't seem right, does it? ;-)  It's really no big deal when you consider that his paternal grandmother, uncle and aunt traveled from England and his maternal grandparents and aunt traveled from Washington. Both the bride and groom attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, hence the remote wedding.

Both of the weddings were fun and full of promise.  Watching those two happy couples take their vows and then celebrate their unions was uplifting, inspirational and a lot of fun.  All is well with the world with great young people like that poised to keep my Social Security checks coming.

I'm thankful again this year for the folks who provide us with the news we need - the hardworking reporters, editors and other staffers on both the Daily Pilot - our newspaper of record for more than 100 years - and the resurgent Orange County Register.  Without them and the excellent work they do you'd be left to get your "news" from crotchety old geezers like me and a couple other old fellas here in town, and THAT certainly cannot be right!

I'm thankful for the friends, old and new, I've made among those folks on both sides of the political aisle who care enough about our city to be active in identifying problems and finding solutions, even in the face of arbitrary and  vindictive opposition by some currently in power.  The hours they sacrifice away from their families to attend meetings, volunteer at events, participate on committees,  assess issues and present potential solutions is awe-inspiring.  

Finally, I'm VERY thankful to those talented, professional and loyal employees of the City of Costa Mesa for their dedication to our city and the residents and visitors to it, who have continued to provide the best service to us that is possible under the most trying of circumstances.  When I think back on what the past nearly three years have been like for them - with a council majority apparently intent on forcing every single one of them out by creating nearly unworkable situations - I sadly shake my head in disbelief.  They've endured the departure of friends; have been treated as the enemy by those in power; some have been sued by their elected leaders and all have been forced to persevere in a toxic work environment.  As this year rolls to the end there will likely be opportunities for us to interact with many of them.  I, for one, am going to do my best to let them know just how thankful I am for their continued diligence despite all the travails they face every day.

I hope all of you enjoy your holiday.  For the first time in a long, long time we will celebrate it at home and we're going to make the most of it.  Turkey, football, family and friends... here we come!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Big Changes Planned For Your Trash(Amended)***

Sigh.... here we go... ***(NOTE:  See the announcement of the scheduled Organics Recycling Meetings listed below)

Last week, on Thursday evening, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board of Directors met to discuss, among other things, the proposal from long time and current trash hauler CR&R, to make a VERY big change in the way Costa Mesa's trash is handled, from your house until it is deposited somewhere in perpetuity.  You can read the agenda item HERE, and I hope you will.

Bradley Zint, in the Daily Pilot, gave us all a heads-up, HERE, and then reported on the meeting, HERE.  We do appreciate his coverage - he apparently was the only person other than the board and staff in the room for the meeting.

As you see, the original proposal was supposed to cost $487,000 and change... the actual proposal discussed at the meeting is for over $500,000!

More than the money, this change significantly impacts every one of us who are ratepayers of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.  If implemented, it will mean that we will now be required to do a preliminary sort of our trash before it's picked up.  Right now we just throw everything - green waste, food residue, paper, plastic, metal - whatever - into the carts provided, they get picked up by CR&R once a week and we just forget about it.

In actuality, all that debris of our daily lives would then be taken to a transfer station in Stanton where it is sorted.  The recyclables get culled out, bundled and sold.  The green waste gets set aside to be used as a kind of "topper" at the landfill.  The rest of what's left gets hauled off to the landfill.

Under the new proposal, green waste and other "organics" will be placed in a special cart and the "trash" in another.  These two different carts would be picked up by two different trucks - probably on the same day - which means twice as much trash truck traffic in our neighborhoods.  Both trucks go to Stanton where the recyclables from the "trash" cans are handled the same way.  Whatever is left gets hauled to the landfill.  However, the "organics" get transferred to bigger trucks and will be hauled down to Perris where that debris will be turned into fuel using a process involving anaerobic digestion, which will fuel the trash trucks.  None of that green waste will go to landfills, which is the whole objective of the new state mandates that are driving this change.  We're supposed to do this by 2020, but CR&R wants us to implement it by 2015... and they want us to pony up a half-billion dollars more each year to do it.

Angry, disgruntled and marginally coherent ousted former Sanitary District Director Jim Fitzpatrick - back on the Costa Mesa Planning Commission acting as Chairman, again launched into one of his rants about the sanitary district contracts in a commentary in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  Joining in the fun is the parrot on his shoulder, his conjoined twin, Planning Commission Vice Chairman Rob Dickson, squawking away, echoing Jimmy Fitzy's drivel.  I suspect you'll enjoy the thread.

I'm friendly with several members of the Sanitary District Board, some closer than others.  That being said, in my view the way this was handled is pathetic.  It's my understanding that there have been nine meetings at which this was discussed and I don't recall any kind of public outreach.  I try to pay attention to this stuff, but if there was anything announced about this meeting it got past me.  Only Zint's first article alerted me to it.  While Fitzpatrick's petulant rant was predictable and Dickson's pandering echo was, as well, the Board needed to do a much better communicating with the community on this.

As I understand the issue now, this has been shoved out until after the new year and at least one - maybe more - public meetings will be held at a venue large enough to handle a sizable turnout.  The district board room is unsatisfactory for this kind of event.  At that meeting the staff and board members will explain to the public EXACTLY what is being proposed and, in layman's terms, why it is necessary and what it will cost us.  According to the reports I've read and conversations I've had with people in the know, this change is inevitable.

Fitzpatrick and Dickson included their old refrain about not putting the whole contract out to bid, stating that the contract has basically been with the same outfit, or it's successors, since WWII - a true story.  They opine that the ratepayers are somehow getting the shaft because of this arrangement.  I don't think that's the case at all.

From personal experience - I have a relative in the trash hauling business and we talk about it from time to time (No, he's not involved with CR&R and would not be a bidder for the Costa Mesa business) - I do know that long-term contracts are the norm in the trash business.  The equipment and capital infrastructure necessary to handle trash is very significant and haulers MUST have long term contracts to cover their equipment costs.  For example, every hauler recently had to covert to CNG engines - a very significant expense.

So, I'm waiting to hear about the meeting (s) the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board plans to host to inform the public BEFORE the vote is taken on this issue.  I'm trusting the collective judgment of the board to make the right decisions on this issue.  You know - those folks who reduced our trash rates twice over the past couple years.


 (click on image to enlarge it)

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

City/CMCEA $600,000 Apart

In a very brief "report out" as a result of an approximately 90-minute Special Closed Session this evening, city negotiator Richard Kreisler reported to the public that the Costa Mesa City Employees Association and The City are still approximately $600,000 apart in the "cost" of the proposed labor contract.  Only Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilwoman Wendy Leece were in attendance for this very short meeting.  I don't know if Gary Monahan and Sandy Genis attended the closed session.

Kreisler referred to the November 21, 2013 "meet and confer" meeting, which he said would be posted online today.  He also made a cryptic remark that this included only the dollar difference in the contract and did not include "language issues" that are part of the ongoing meet and confer process.

So, we know we don't have a contract yet, but once we get a peek at the notes from that November 21st meeting we may have an idea of how far the sides are apart ideologically.  When we know I'll report it to you.

Separately, Helen Nenadal - President of the CMCEA - who has proudly served this city for more than three decades has decided to call it a career.  She will retire near the end of this year.  Helen has been a steady hand, a hard-working, dependable employee and an excellent leader of the association.  Her upbeat presence will be sorely missed.

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