Saturday, November 16, 2013

OK, About Those Claims...

 (Photo Courtesy of Kevin Chang, Daily Pilot)
Well, I suppose it's time to address the issue of the sparsely-attended news conference Thursday at the Newport Beach Superior Court held by John Manly - lawyer for Mayor Jim Righeimer, his wife and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger in their bogus lawsuit against, among others, the members of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association (CMPOA).  You can read the Daily Pilot article about the news conference HERE.  You can also read an earlier article about the revelation that a GPS tracking device had been attached to Mensinger's truck last year HERE.

The thrust of that news conference was to (1) renew their expression of outrage that a GPS tracking device was apparently attached to the truck driven by Mensinger over a year ago, during his campaign to retain his council seat and, (2) to express new outrage that the CMPOA has asked for their legal costs to be paid by The City.

You'll find the comment threads on both articles to be enlightening.  Both are lengthy and include caustic comments on both sides of the issues.  I was particularly amused by the complaint of Bootlicker-in-Chief - Planning Commission Chair and President of the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association (the OC GOP shill organization in Costa Mesa) - Jim Fitzpatrick against the editors of the Daily Pilot for (1) chosing the headline for the latest article and (2) chosing the photograph used to illustrate the event.  In actuality, both perfectly suited the coverage of the event.  I'm afraid Fitzy may be worried that someone might confuse the photo of Manly in mid-rant with him.

In a Closed Session at the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 19th beginning at 4:30 p.m., the council will consider a claim by the CMPOA to pay the fees involved in defending themselves in the lawsuit.  It's my view that neither Righeimer nor Mensinger should be permitted to participate in the discussions or vote on that issue since they clearly have a conflict of interest and potential personal gain involved.  Neither should they be permitted to be involved in the discussions and/or vote on Consent Calendar Item #14, a decision on pay rates that involve members of the CMPOA.

I have no idea how this will all shake out, but if it is PROVEN in a court of law that any member of the Costa Mesa Police Department was complicit in the original bogus DUI call and/or the alleged placement of the GPS device on Mensinger's vehicle, the full force of the law should be imposed on that person or persons.  As far as I know, nobody has presented proof of ANY association with Chris Lanzillo - the PI who made the Righeimer DUI call - and the CMPD.  And, as far as I know, nobody has presented evidence that anyone within the CMPD was in any way involved in the alleged GPS event.

Until then, express all the outrage you wish, but wait for PROOF before attempting to condemn the women and men of the CMPD.  Yeah, yeah - you'll say we're not condemning the rank and file cops, only their "union".  Well, the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department ARE the association!  There are no professional "union bosses", lurking in some smoke-filled room strategizing their next move.  When you sue the association you're suing every single member of the CMPD rank and file staff.
(Click on image to enlarge photo)

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sharing The Good Stories

This evening Diane Hill - shown where with her husband, Paul, who passed away a year ago - who publishes the United Neighbors newsletter in Costa Mesa and does so many other volunteer activities in town, sent out a special issue with a very, very special idea that I felt should be shared with those of you who read this blog.

I've presented an image of her message below.  If you're having trouble reading it just click on the image.  I think this is a terrific idea.  Thanks to Diane for proposing this idea - a way to say thanks to the diminishing number of loyal Costa Mesa employees.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Charter Committee Slogs On...

The Costa Mesa Charter Committee, in their quest to create a document that will not only pass City Council muster but also can be "marketed" to the voters, continued that journey last night in a meeting that, once again, found them without a full team in attendance.  Members Bill Fancher and Mary Ann O'Connell were unavailable and Brett Eckles sprinted into the room an hour late.
As is usually the case, this was very much like watching folks try to swim the backstroke through a tub of molasses.  The conversations were lively, yet courteous - they've figured out how to deal with each other in a civil manner - and some progress was made.  Facilitators Kirk Bauermeister and Mike Decker guided their conversations and attorney Yolanda Summerhill provided technical expertise.
For example, during the discussion of whether city council members should be eligible for a pension the conversation ranged wide and far and here's the language they finally tentatively decided upon:
 Those that have them, keep them.  Newbies don't get any pension.

And, when they discussed City Council compensation again they were all over the place.  Some  committee members opined that the council should happily serve for no compensation at all.  Others said it should just be left alone as is.  As part of that discussion member Kerry McCarthy opined that four of the current council members were employed - she ticked off each one by name and their perceived jobs - indicating that only Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger needed this job right now.  I smiled.

Here's the final work product on that issue:
Yep, they just want to give them a flat stipend and not include them in the employee medical plans.  The feeling was that they could just take the cash and do what they want with it.

They thrashed the issue of employee union participation for quite awhile.  Some members wanted to simply lift the language from the soundly-defeated Measure V from a year ago, so the language they ended up with was this:
 An attempt to fold-in Jim Righeimer's Paycheck Protection scheme didn't gain any traction... yet.

Unfortunately, member Hank Panian was unable to present his views on Property Tax Inequity, even though he was on the agenda.  He was not a happy camper, since he spent a lot of time researching and preparing for this evening.  His presentation was pushed out until the next meeting on December 11th.  His controversial idea, in a nutshell, is to provide greater Property Tax equity among all property owners by having the City phase out over 20 years the cessation of collection of Property Taxes!  Since this represents slightly more than 20% of the revenue received by the city, I'm going to be VERY interested to see how Hank sells this idea to the committee.

The committee received a new work schedule through April of next year, shown below.  Some feel this is optimistic, but we'll see. (click image to enlarge)

Additionally, Summerhill provided a tentative timeline to be met if there is a Charter to submit to the City Council that they would then wish to place on the November 4, 2014 ballot.  That is shown below. (click image to enlarge)
With one more meeting to go this year, on December 11th, then only a few more early next year before the committee hopes to meet their schedule, it seems likely that the pace will have to pick up.  We'll see how that goes.  Again last night a sparse crowd attended the meeting.  Among those in the peanut gallery were a journalist, two old bloggers (looking very much like two pudgy Q-Tips), an occasional guest columnist for the Register, a labor observer and a couple real, honest-to-goodness residents.  The public is missing its only opportunity to provide real time input to the committee by not attending and speaking to them in the time provided.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mensinger Claims He Was Electronically Tracked

The BIG news tonight is the claim by Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger that he was tracked by representatives of the now-defunct law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir using a GPS device attached to his personal vehicle.

You can read the local news reports from Gustavo Arellano in the OC Weekly, HERE, Tony Saavedra in the Orange County Register, HERE and Jeremiah Dobruck the Daily Pilot, HERE.

If this claim is proven to be true it is an unacceptable and chilling event and those responsible should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  According to the news reports, the FBI is now involved in this case with rumors of racketeering charges being floated around.

Apparently a news conference is scheduled for some time Thursday to more fully expand on this story.  That should be interesting.  Stay tuned.

Labels: , , ,

Of Spending, Not Saving

The SECOND study session of the afternoon yesterday, Tuesday, was also held in Conference Room 1A, but played to a much smaller crowd than the earlier training session.  Funny, because this one had some very important issues to be discussed by the 60% of the council present - Mayor Jim Righeimer and councilman Gary Monahan were also absent from this one.  Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger chaired this meeting and, although it began at 4:55 p.m. instead of 4:30 as scheduled, he observed that "we're right on time" - and he wasn't kidding.  Geez!

In my earlier report on this meeting I provided links to the staff report, HERE, and three attachments to it.   
Fiscal Year 2012/2013 Surplus Analysis HERE 
Recommended Uses of the FY 2012/13 Surplus HERE 
Unfunded Priority List for Capital Improvement Projects HERE  
Appendix A, the Fiscal Year Capital Improvement Program Budget HERE.


During Public Comments Jeff Arthur, Chairman of the Pension Oversight Committee, spoke to advise the council and other participants and observers that a representative from CalPERS will be speaking to his group at their meeting on Wednesday, November 20th.  These meetings are usually held in Conference Room 1A, too.  That meeting begins early - at 2:00 - an hour that almost guarantees a small turnout of those who might otherwise be able to make it.  I'll be there.

The purpose of this particular meeting was to discuss the current Capital Improvement Program and also to get a sense of how to manage the $7.1 million budget surplus carried over from the last fiscal year.

CEO Tom Hatch led off this meeting by mentioning that there is $500,000 in the budget surplus earmarked to pay toward Unfunded Pension Liabilities, plus $50,000 available for Unfunded Medical Liabilities AND similar amounts earmarked in the 2013/2014 approved budget.  Wendy Leece wondered why these funds had not been disbursed, since the council approved the budget.  Mention was made that the Pension Oversight Committee was to report to the council on this issue.  We all remember that the mayor, in one of his little rants from the dais, said he's not going to send one extra dollar to Sacramento, period!

As I've said before, if that is true, and IF it is also true that our Unfunded Pension Liability is so large as to cause the city serious financial distress, perhaps that's exactly what Righeimer wants - for the city to be placed in the position to declare bankruptcy so he can bust the associations.  And, perhaps that's why he continues to throw money at so-called hard assets instead of providing adequate staffing for public safety and, now, in other areas that are in need of more staff time to provide expected services on a timely basis.

Hatch spoke of the Capital Improvement Budget and mentioned how unusual it is for a meeting of this type to occur at this time of the year.  In years past similar presentations were held during the Mid-Year Budget Review in January or February.

Speaking of staffing levels, Hatch told us that the city has gone from 611 employees in the recent past to only 410 on the payroll today.  The current authorized staffing level is 450, with 40 approved vacancies.  At a recent council meeting he reminded the council that, in order to meet their demands it would be necessary to fill positions in many areas across the board.

Hatch told us he would be recommending that, beginning with the next budget cycle, the council earmark 5% of the budget for capital improvements and 1% to begin replenishing our reserves, which he told us were at around $70 million before the economy tanked and we began tapping them to stay in business.  Hatch told us that the reserves are now down to around $33 million. Mensinger indicated that number included our "$16 million emergency fund", which I believe is actually $14.125 million, but what's almost $2 million between friends, right?

As a sidebar here, although it was not discussed at this meeting, It's my understanding that the Costa Mesa Police Department staffing level of sworn personnel now hovers at 105, well short of the meager authorized level of 125 and far, far from the levels recommended by consultants two years ago.  It is also my understanding that, if retirements occur as anticipated and considering the officers currently out due to on-the-job injuries, it is VERY likely that we will soon - maybe as early as January - fewer than 100 officers available for duty.  On Veterans Day there were only five (5) officers on patrol for our city of over 110,000 souls.

In recent months I've seen what appears to be a drop off in response times by some city departments.  This certainly is due to the demands made upon them by the council and the public and press, as well.  With demands for public records taxing many departments and investigations ongoing, it doesn't surprise me at all if performance slips.  You can thank your council majority for creating such a toxic work environment that employees leave and we continue to have problems attracting replacements.

It's going to be a very interesting remainder of this fiscal year.  Expect legal fees to continue to spin the meter as the men in charge treat operating this city like they would operate a business - where litigation is just another cost of doing business.  It's disgusting!  And, did we mention that Jones Day, our nearly $500 per hour lawyers, is the firm navigating the City of Detroit into bankruptcy?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Costa Mesa Management Training Session

Yesterday afternoon 3/5ths of the Costa Mesa City Council and most of the city government department heads met in Conference Room 1A for a training session conducted by lawyer Laura Kalty of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore billed as "Effective Communications in Local Government".  Councilman Gary Monahan and Mayor Jim Righeimer were absent.

The meeting was run by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and took about an hour.  Kalty moved through her PowerPoint presentation crisply and with authority.  For most officials in the room this was not new information.  It's too bad that Righeimer, in particular, was absent because - based on the subject matter presented - he needed this information more than the rest.  I'm not going to attempt a verbatim transcript here - the video of the meeting will be placed online for viewing, hopefully today.  Go HERE and select the meeting from the roster when it's available.  I will, however, give you my impressions of the presentation and the reactions to it.

Kalty spoke of the council's role, proper city conduct and also discussed liability issues.  She clearly delineated the roles of each "branch" of city government: Council, CEO/City Manager and Staff.   The council is responsible to carry out the city's mission.  The CEO/City Manager is responsible to the council for overseeing the day to day operations of the city.  The Staff is responsible to the CEO/City Manager for carrying out the day to day duties.

As she discussed the City Council's role, one phrase on a slide caught my eye.  It said: The mission is achieved by providing good customer service to City constituents using best and highest ethics. (The emphasis is mine).  She went on to present Municipal Code references defining the roles and, specifically, mentioned Section 2-115 - Control and direction of employees - and Section 2-106 - Interference by council in administrative affairs.  A healthy discussion took place during which it was determined that a councilmember could, as a member of the community, call in grafitti issues or code enforcement problems, without violating the prohibition of giving staff direction.  It was also made clear that, although the cleanest process is for council members to work directly with the CEO/City Manager on staff-related issues, he could delegate some of his authority to others - like the Assistant CEO, for example.

Communications guidelines were discussed, emphasizing the need for the council and CEO/City Manager to be on the same page when information is disseminated to the public.  It was stressed that the "story" should not be told by others to avoid misinterpretation of the issue.

On her slide titled, "What is Proper City Conduct", Kalty listed and discussed these issues:
  • Loyalty to mission of the City that is free from loyalties to others, including each individual members personal interest as a consumer.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Act ethically
  • Respect confidentiality when appropriate
  • "Act" in a unified manner
  • Treat differences of opinion in a respectful manner.
OK, now, I'm sure a few of you reacted to that one, just as I and several members of the audience in attendance yesterday afternoon did.  We've all see flagrant violations of at least a couple of those items over the past couple years, sometimes many times.  Again, I'm disappointed Righeimer wasn't in attendance.

Kalty then went on to discuss the "Values of the Council":
  1. Trust
  2. Responsibility
  3. Respect
  4. Compassion
  5. Fairness
She described Trust as the primary responsibility and my head was spinning as I recalled the many times that trust has been violated recently.

The bullet points she used during the discussion of "Respect" were these:
  • Treat disagreement with dignity
  • Do not make it personal
  • Listen and seek other points of view
  • Understand that others have different styles, personalities, decision-making processes
  • Misunderstanding/tension arises from different working styles
  • Must identify, address and value different working styles
  • Focus on issues, not individuals (Do not denigrate.  Do not insult)
During this discussion Kalty stressed that part of respect is listening.  She opined that there is a basic human need to feel "heard".  Those of you who have attempted to be "heard" by this current council may find yourselves nodding your heads as you read those points.

In her discussion of "Compassion" she listed and discussed:
  • Make government accessible
  • Recognize efforts of staff
  • Hear the opinions of others
  • Do not pass judgement quickly
 Again, Righeimer needed to hear this segment.  His recent actions of splitting the Public Comments segment into pieces effectively disenfranchised several members of the community who wished to present their views.  By doing so he may not have violated any rules, but he certainly stiff-armed the public.  A curious move for a guy who may run for re-election in a year.

Kalty's discussion of "Fairness" included:
  • Act without bias or personal motivation
  • Recusal when necessary
  • Treat people fairly without discrimination
  • Treat public with dignity and empathy
And, once again, the fact that Righeimer was absent from this meeting was disappointing.

She then launched off into a discussion of Liability Issues, and used recently-disgraced San Diego's touchy-feely Mayor Bob Filner as the poster boy for how NOT to act.  She stressed that council members, in addition to potentially placing the City into a legal quandary, also may have PERSONAL liability for their actions while office.

Kalty discussed what defines a "Hostile Work Environment", using the following examples of issues that may constitute such an environment:
  • Protected Classification
  • Verbal, Visual or Physical Conduct
  • Objectively and Subjectively Offensive (Unwelcome)
  • Severe or Pervasive
  • Unreasonably interferes with Work
  • No Intent to Harass Necessary
Following a discussion of Retaliation she led us to the issue of Bullying and used the following as definitions of bullying:
  • Repeated and persistent attempts by one person to torment, frustrate, provoke or intimidate another person
  • A type of interpersonal aggression that goes beyond simple incivility and is marked by frequency, intensity and duration.
As part of that discussion she displayed a slide and discussed the following examples of excuses used by bullies:
  • You are just oversensitive
  • Hey, I just tell it like it is
  • I was just kidding!
  • Are you still mad about that?!
  • I did not do/say that!
  • I'm laughing with you, not at you.
  • Just what is your problem?
Kalty discussed the impact of bullying, which includes:
  • Decreased Productivity
  • Physical/Emotional Stress
  • Increased Absenteeism
  • Increase in Harassment Claims and Worker's Compensation Claims
I smiled as I watched Steve Mensinger's reaction to this segment of the discussion.

After a short discussion of the consequences in the form of back pay and punitive damages, she wrapped up with the following: "Respect is the key to effective communications and minimizing City liability."

It is my impression that Wendy Leece and Sandra Genis, by the nature of their questions during this training session and the answers they received, recognized areas where they may need to improve.  Not so much with Mensinger.  I think he still thinks everyone else is wrong and will continue to only pay lip service to the need to have all voices heard.  In theory, both Monahan and Righeimer will be required to receive this same training - I wouldn't hold my breath for that to happen.

As an old HR guy, much of this information was not new to me, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to observe the presentation - and to watch the reaction to it by our city officials.

Labels: , , , , ,

Charter Committee Meets Again Tonight

The Costa Mesa Charter Committee meets again this evening at 6:00 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) next door to the Police Headquarters to continue their long, slow crawl toward the creation of what I consider to be an unnecessary charter.  You can read the agenda HERE.

You may find it interesting to review the minutes of two recent meetings, HERE, to get a feel for the progress this group has been making under the faciliation of Pastor Mike Decker and Estancia High School Principal Kirk Bauremeister.

On the agenda there is an item, #8B, noted as "Governance/Financial/Personnel" in which a discussion of pensions for council members is anticipated.  You can read the staff report HERE.

And, although this committee finally nailed down their verbiage for a "Prevailing Wage" clause in their proposed charter, included in the staff report, HERE, is correspondence from the State Director of Industrial Relations relating to that issue in Sacramento and San Marcos.

And, on the agenda as well, resident and member Hank Panian - highly-respected long time resident, educator and member of the first Charter Committee four decades ago - will make a presentation to the committee on "Property Tax Inequity".

If you care about the work this committee is doing, join the other half-dozen or so of your neighbors and me as we watch this process unfold.  If you care to address the committee you'll be given 2 minutes to do so.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

OCTA Board Kicks The Can Down The (Toll) Road

In what was reported to be another raucous meeting last Friday on the proposed plan to impose two High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on the driving public on the I-405 from Costa Mesa to the Los Angeles County Line, the Orange County Transportation Board decided to defer a vote on the issue until their meeting on December 9th.

 (The dreaded Alternate #3)
I did not attend the meeting, but Nick Gerda of the Voice of OC provided an excellent report of the proceedings, HERE.  And, if you're looking for a report of the event with a little more "spice", try Vern Nelson's take on the meeting in his Orange Juice Blog entry, HERE.

Both of the accounts mention comments by our mayor, Jim Righeimer, and quote other politicians, too.  Both are worth a read. 

I suspect the members of the OCTA Board who are inclined to vote to move forward with the HOT lane concept may think the December meeting - with holidays, not toll roads, in most of our minds - might make for a "kinder, gentler" meeting at which they could impose their will on us with fewer angry residents there to oppose them.  Righeimer as much as promised to "pack the place" on December 9th.

So, the beat goes on and representatives of the corridor cities who oppose the HOT lane concept will keep the pressure on the Board.  And, we can also participate by going to the Costa Mesa web site, HERE, and write to each of the board members to express your views.

Labels: , , , , , , ,