Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Early, But Not Boring, Meeting

Well, sometimes when I'm wrong I'm REALLY wrong!  I predicted the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last night would end at 10:35 p.m.  I only missed it by two and a half hours!  Yep, we were outta there at 8:05 p.m.!  I got home so early my wife thought I was a burglar!

Only 40 people were in the audience as the evening began at 6:00, and a few of those were staffers, perched in the front rows just in case some kind of emergency back-up was needed.  Still, those there early heard some interesting stuff.

For the second meeting in a row there were exactly 10 people who filled out cards to speak during the Public Comments segment, which fits Mayor Jim Righeimer's criticism-quashing edict that only 10 speakers would be accommodated during the first segment, with anyone else left over forced to sit through the entire meeting and speak at the end, following items pulled from the Consent Calendar.

And, in a curious twist, Righeimer encouraged anyone wishing to speak on items on the Consent Calendar to do so during Public Comments to keep the item from being "pulled" and trailed to the end of the meeting.  This is just one more perfect example of how he tries to bend the rules.  The rules, as spelled out specifically on the agenda report TWICE, states that Public Comments are for items NOT on the agenda.   And, it's another reason for not taking what he says on the dais at face value.  His penchant for misspeaking is becoming much more pronounced and frequent lately.  Maybe his lawsuit against the men and women of the CMPD is actually true!  Maybe he is no longer able to function - there are certainly signs of it these days.

Beth Refakes expressed concern that the Costa Mesa veterans, already without their facility, may now be forced to abandon the Neighborhood Community Center if the proposed Library expansion utilizes that facility.

I was a little surprised when one of the first speakers, Dennis Ashendorf, rose to heap support on Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger about their lawsuit against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department.  He told them, and us, that he didn't know many of the details - then went on to demonstrate his ignorance of the facts by completely misstating some of them - but that he supported them in the lawsuit.  He told them, "Please win."  It was very strange, indeed.

Several speakers addressed the fact that some items on the Consent Calendar - the Mid-Year Budget Review, for example - should have been an item on the regular agenda.  Robin Leffler told the council that, since the recent Budget Study Session was held at 4:30 p.m., few people could attend and hear the details on the issue.  Of course, she is correct.  And, since Wendy Leece did, in fact, pull the item from the Consent Calendar, when it was discussed at the very end of the meeting there was very little detail provided by Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent.  The entire discussion took less than 15 minutes and no formal presentation was made.  Only very cursory attention was paid to the eight (8) exhibits that formed part of the report.  It's events like this that demonstrate to us that the highly-touted word "Transparency" is only that - a word.  On important issues the process of getting accurate and timely information can be long and painful.

For example, others spoke during Public Comments about the long-awaited 60th Anniversary Celebration report and the need for there to be a gathering of the volunteers, who worked long and hard on that event, to provide an opportunity for an "after action" report - a chance to present their views on how the event was managed to help avoid some of the problems in the future.  This has been stalled for months, with the investigation of the 60th Anniversary Celebration finances being the reason given.  CEO Tom Hatch, during his comments, told us that he had a meeting scheduled with event Chairman Mike Scheafer and Vice Chair Melinda Lowery next week to make plans for such a meeting.  He then invited the two most outspoken advocates of the meeting - Sue Lester and Cindy Brenneman - that he would be happy to meet with them.  That sounded to me very much like he was trying to temper vocal critics before their views spread to the broader volunteer base.

The most interesting presentation came from businessman Tim Lewis, who owns an equipment rental business on Harbor Boulevard.  He came to the meeting angry about a proposed development contiguous to his location that recently had a screening request heard by the City.  His contention is that councilman Gary Monahan should be recused from discussions and votes on that issue because Monahan has a bias against him personally, and came armed with newspaper accounts to support that claim.  He began his 3-minutes by praising the CMPD, then tried to get clarification from Righeimer about the development, mentioning his views about Monahan's participation.  He and Righeimer went back and forth and, when Lewis finally asked Righeimer to ask the City Attorney, Tom Duarte, for a clarification, Righeimer blurted back, "No!"  Lewis asked, "What do I have to do, file a lawsuit?"  Righeimer responded that he'd read Lewis' recent letter to the council, sent him an email and referred to his presentation before them as "your little routine."  Lewis asked how he should proceed and was told by Righeimer to contact CEO Hatch.  Lewis looked at Hatch and said, "Tom, did you get my letter?", to which Righeimer said, "He's not going to answer you."  The angry Lewis, his time about to expire, looked directly at Righeimer and said, "You're fulla shit!", then stepped away from the speaker's podium.  I smiled, because someone had finally expressed the obvious.

Following the Public Comments Righeimer led off the Council Member Comments segment by praising the Police and Fire Departments, stating that we "hire good people".  Did I mention it's a campaign year?  He then told us he'd gotten "a lot of emails and calls" about the Senior Center.  He told us there is ZERO chance the Senior Center is going to close, which I thought was curious, since he and the council only have a little bit to say on that issue.  If the Senior Center runs out of cash they will have few options.  He mentioned the recent audit, commenting that it pointed out management shortfalls and that "this board" (he meant the City Council - another peculiar gaffe) wasn't going to let the Senior Center close.  He told us that the Senior Center Board will have "different bylaws" - another curious statement, since ONLY the Senior Corporation Board determines what their bylaws will be - and then he said emphatically, "NO CHANCE THE SENIOR CENTER WILL CLOSE!"  He continues to sound like he thinks he's the Emperor Of Costa Mesa, not the mayor.

Wendy Leece expressed concern that a recent tree removal issue that impacted a large segment of one north Costa Mesa neighborhood had no appeal process - the Parks and Recreation Commission is the last stop.  She asked Hatch to look into a way to allow appeal to the City Council - the elected body.  She also expressed concern about the 60th Anniversary situation and also said she's in favor of expansion of the library to provide more space for children's activities, but yet retain meeting rooms.

Hatch covered many items during his segment: 
  • He gave a weak response to the request for the Budget review to be part of the regular agenda. 
  • On the issue of the proposed library expansion, he said it will definitely include the Vets, that private rentals take a lower priority, but there are no solutions yet. 
  • I mentioned his response about the 60th Celebration (above).
  • Regarding the Senior Center, he told he had met with Senior Center Board President Judy Lindsey and Executive Director Aviva Goelman, and corrected a mistake he made on the date of that meeting.  He said it's important for the council and community to weigh-in on how we should move forward.  
  • He addressed the recent improvement in the way Worker's Compensation issues are handled that has resulted in significant dollar savings.  
  • He mentioned a change suggested by Interim Information Technology Director Steve Elvy that will save more than $110,000 per year on software issues.  
  • He mentioned the new Youth Basketball Program and showed a short video clip.  
  • He mentioned Costa Mesa Connect, a new smart phone app, that can be useful to residents.  
  • He then mentioned hiring several new staff members "on the 5th floor" and told us that members of  this new Code Enforcement staff was spending 40 hours a week each on Motels and Group Homes and that a third member was focusing on "problem properties".  He then showed us a clip of Code Enforcement officer Mike Brumbaugh on the job. (Nobody has yet explained WHY it was necessary to create an entirely new, separate Code Enforcement operation on the 5th floor)
  • He closed with a long, feeble attempt at an explanation of the controversial decision to permit Matt Leinart's Flag Football program to oust established softball programs from TeWinkle Park.  During that explanation he mentioned a meeting with Parks and Recreation Chairman Byron de Arakal and departed Recreation Manager Bob Knapp last October on the issue, then alluded to the "staff failed to communicate with the community.", which I interpreted to mean Knapp.  He also acknowledged a mistake "staff" made in waiving fees for Friday Night Lights flag football.  Funny... I don't recall retired City Manager Allan Roeder ever throwing the staff under the bus in his three dozen years with the City.  Hatch wrapped up that comment with some vague mention of the need to balance youth and adult field use.
Next came a blitz of New Business items.

Attorney Celeste Brady guided the discussion of Items 1, 2 and 3, which dealt with the Successor Agency to the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency.  After a very short combined discussion they each passed on 5-0 votes.

#4 was Fire Chief Dan Stefano's EVP request for a new system to facilitate traffic signal changing for emergency responders, primarily in the north part of town.  That passed, 5-0.

#5 was the new Summer Youth Programs in conjunction with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which emphasized arts programs.  It also passed after a short discussion, 5-0.

#6 was the first reading of an ordinance including vandalism in the current reward program.  It passed with almost no discussion, 5-0.

#7 was the repeal of the ordinance forbidding Sex Offenders from Public Parks, which is probably unconstitutional.  If you blinked you'd miss that discussion.  It passed 5-0.

That took us to the discussion of the budget item pulled from the Consent Calendar, mentioned above.  It took less than 15 minutes before it passed 5-0 and the meeting was adjourned at 8:05 p.m.!

Permit me a couple observations from the Peanut Gallery - my back row seat.   First, Jim Righeimer continues to run roughshod over the rules of procedure and tries to run this city like his own little empire.  His careless - or pre-meditated - disregard for the established rules and policies is the result of either laziness or intentional acts.  In either case it is unacceptable, confusing and sometimes illegal and very costly.

Second, for three years I've cut CEO Tom Hatch a lot of slack because I believe he's caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.  He works for two guys - Righeimer and Mensinger - whom I believe would cut him off at the knees if he pushed back.  Hatch is a great guy with deep roots in the community.  However, his weakness has only further emboldened Righeimer and Mensinger and allowed them to jam unacceptable programs and schemes down the resident's throats - sometimes with very costly results.  Their ham-handed handling of employee matters - the stupid, illegal issuance of more than 200 layoff notices three years ago and their bogus lawsuit against the members of the CMPD are just two of them - have created legal issues for this City unseen in the past.

Hatch has permitted them to circumvent the long-established policy about giving direction to staffers, which has created turmoil, tension and stress throughout the building and caused many senior staffers to retire early or leave for a less-toxic workplace, taking with them decades of experience and institutional knowledge.  He went along with their refusal to permit timely hiring of police positions which has placed the safety of this city in jeopardy.  Because he has permitted Righeimer and Mensinger to run roughshod over the government - ignoring the established rules and policies - Hatch must share responsibility for the systematic destruction of a once-proud city government - one that was acknowledged throughout the region as a beacon of sound municipal management.

From the beginning I've been rooting for Hatch to succeed, but, in my opinion, he has failed.  I ask myself just who might have succeeded under these circumstances - without getting fired, that is.  I don't have an answer.  What I do know is that his unwillingness or inability to effectively step up, and "manage up", has left many city employees feeling that they have no support from the management of the city - a very hopeless feeling.

Do I think Tom Hatch would, or could, do a better job of managing this city if the elected leadership would just let him?  Two years ago I might have enthusiastically said "YES!"  Today.... I'm not so sure.  He's allowed himself to be placed in such a deep hole - and participated in digging it himself -  that I think he's lost the confidence and respect of many employees and more than a few residents.  I think he's a good guy, a solid municipal management technician who cares deeply about the City, the residents and the employees, but I'm not sure he can climb out of that hole now.  I'm not sure anyone in that position could...

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

The little emperor made another enemy, Tim Lewis. Good going Jimbo! Of course he is full of caca just as Lewis said. Next time we need to rent something we'll go see Lewis, to help support good thinking.

2/19/2014 04:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Well, you were civil about it. I'm not so sure Tom would see it that way, but you were. I wish we had a Real City Manager, these "CEO"'s are terrible.

2/19/2014 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It is sad that it has taken a couple of years for me to see what type of men are running our city. These guys are so self centered and I will for one will be a voice against them. Now we just need the rest of Costa Mesa to open their eyes like I did.

2/19/2014 06:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I completely agree with Tim, the business owner on Harbor Blvd. Righeimer is full of himself and full of shit. Tom Hatch has gained the reputation of a hand puppet, and someone who cannot be trusted.

There was no excuse for Righeimer's behavior towards any resident such as that displayed towards the gentleman with the rental business. Does Righeimer really think he will be re elected after everyone now knows what he is like? This city has fallen so far downhill it will take years to recover, if it ever can.

What a coward throwing people under the bus when they are not there to defend themselves. As far as the ball fields go, is NMUSD wants to rent their fields out for profit than so be it. But that should not ever interfere with the residents use of the public fields. Something is terribly wrong here, and the whole story has not come out. Blaming Knapp is his way of deflecting attention off himself and Mensinger. Remember, they hired Knapp as a favor to his father in law, their good buddy Gordon Bowley. Great.

November can't come soon enough. I pray Righeimer and Ramos don't get elected.

2/19/2014 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger orangemath said...

Concerning Mr R's and Mr M's lawsuit against the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association. There is one FACT that is NOT IN DISPUTE and should trouble everyone:

After leaving Mr. R's home, the police officer walked over to a PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL's car and had a discussion.

1. To the very best of my knowledge, police to not give status reports to people who call in DUI violations. I once had a roommate that called the police whenever a "friend" left a bar to report a DUI. She never was thanked by a police visit or phone call. There is no reason whatsoever, for the officer to have spoken to a private individual, who turned out to be in the employ, directly or indirectly, of the Police Officers' Association.

2. No police agency would ever instruct a caller to follow a car. How did the officer even know to go over to the car? This could only be if the police officer was in contact with the individual earlier. This intimacy in contact - with the caller falling the car - is so unusual; so against any known police policy that an innocent interpretation of the conversation is deliberately self-deceptive.

What I don't understand is why the officer(s) involved were not dismissed. They obviously were not working for the people, but for individuals working in a private capacity. Under the color of his/their authority they attempted to harm a citizen.

Keeping a check on our security forces is a vital component of being a citizen.

The politics of Mr. R & Mr. M displease me greatly. I oppose practically all of their positions - as I stated in my remarks. However, their rights as citizens trump conventional political issues. Do you really need a quote by Voltaire to understand this.

2/19/2014 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

I agree with your comments about Tom Hatch. I really wanted him to be one of the good guys, but he has sold out.

It can be rationalized in that he has to provide for the family, but what happens to morals and scruples? What does he model for his kids?

The decay of the city's moral fiber starts and the top. It has infected every aspect of our governance and many people have had to "sell their souls" for a paycheck. It's so sad.

2/19/2014 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

MaryAnn, so true. I have had that same thought about Pastor Rick Francis.

Ashendorf, where do you get your facts? This is a whole different set than have been presented. Nowhere...NOWHERE does it state what the office discussed with the person in the car. The officer may have told him to move on for all we know, and all you know.

And as far as police speaking to people watching a house from their car, they have the right to speak to anyone, anytime, for any reason.

This officer is a seasoned officer. He handled himself professionally, and even Righeimer admitted to that. He praised Officer Bao and indicated he did a great job.

What're you smokin' their, Dude?

2/19/2014 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Geoff, I'm glad you stated what I felt last night watching the "CEO's" report.
Tom Hatch has been a disappointment with his unwillingness to stand up to the little dictators and manage our city according to the rules and municipal code. For us who view Costa Mesa as a city, he is the CM City Manager- that is his job to manage our city. He has failed at his No.#1 job duty.
Tom Hatch also took a dig at councilwoman Sandy Genis by name last night which was very unprofessional. It's alarming when one remembers who his former boss was, his mentor former CM City Manager Allan Roeder. He had an excellent example to follow yet chose not to.

We don't need to hire more expensive, salaried full time people for "the fifth floor" when we had more experienced and knowledgeable city employees in our CM Dept. of Building and Safety, which has been decimated down to a skeleton crew.

Tim Lewis spoke for many of us last night. I hope more people come forward like he did and let the councildudes know that their dictatorial rule via Scott Baugh is not what we want in our city.
Thanks for a great report, Geoff.

2/19/2014 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Officer Bao is an exceptional police officer who is a member of an exceptional police force.

Ashendorf owes Bao and CMPD an apology.

2/19/2014 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger orangemath said...

Dear Coffee:

I appreciate your words. Still, I learned long ago from Vincent Bugliosi that one fact in a complex case renders all other information pointless and a distraction. Read his short book on the OJ trial or the brilliant "The Sea Will Tell" to see how law is executed by someone who actually knows what he's doing.

An officer visits a home, investigates a resident, and then beelines to a private car should give a citizen pause. To assume that it's merely chitchat is naive. The burden of proof from a public policy perspective is on the police.

I thought it was established that the person in the car was the investigator hired by the police. If not, who did the officer contact? There is no need for this to be a secret. If so, this should give all citizens more cause for concern.

This isn't about the lawsuit - which should be a separate issue - but police misconduct. Since Cost Mesa police are NOT self-policing, the private lawsuit is the only vehicle the people have.

Mr R's statement about the officer merely praised his manners to the best of my knowledge. Everyone praises the officer's manners. So what. It's another irrelevant fact.

The main fact suggests a conspiracy. If the officer went to private car containing a person who opposes Mr. R or made the phone call about Mr. R on behalf of someone else, then it is a conspiracy. One that should frighten the citizens. All other complexities are irrelevant to the public concern.

2/19/2014 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

I never did get my answer from Tom Hatch as to why Cognify got a no-bid contract for $136,562.14 Strike one.

KB Partners got a similar style contract for the 60th for approximately $80,000. Let me remind everyone that a contract greater than $50,000 requires a public vote of the council. Strike two.

Now he admits "mistakes were made" by staff - but not him - with the softball/FNL debacle.

I asked in September if anyone was minding the store. I already have my answer. Strike three.

2/19/2014 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

"To the very best of my knowledge" does not mean something is factual.

November can't arrive soon enough.

2/19/2014 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Dennis, once again, you are working with faulty information. There has been NO evidence that PI Chris Lanzillo was working for the CMPD or the association when he went to Monahan's pub and subsequently followed Righeimer. Whoever is feeding you that bilge has accomplished his goal - to sway an otherwise-credible person to their side with outrage unfounded in facts. Righeimer paints the picture that Officer Bao - our most highly-decorated DUI officer - dragged him out of the house in front of his terrorized family and forced him to do a field sobriety test. Hog wash! He asked him to step out and did a simple eye test, following his flashlight. He determined by that simple test - that took about as long to administer as it did for me to type that last sentence - that Righeimer was NOT under the influence... and that was it! It is MY understanding from statements made previously, that Lanzillo was not invited to follow Righeimer home - that he told the dispatcher that he would follow along from a public safety standpoint. I presume, but do not know because I was not there, that Bao simply thanked him for his concern and closed the loop. The bogus claim that Lanzillo tried to run down Righeimer's wife is specious. Had he done anything resembling that Bao would have snatched him up in a heartbeat. Read the darn lawsuit! They have claimed for 6 months that they, Righiemer and Mensinger, were so traumatized by the events that they're unable to function and will suffer life-long damage and inability to work... yet Steve just got a new job - finally - and neither one has shown any signs of being less effective as council members. Question your sources... they're feeding you crap.

2/19/2014 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

The vilification of our CM Police officers, especially exemplary officers like Officer Bao by Righeimer, Mensinger and Monahan is despicable!
To make matters worse, people are falling for their lies.

Our CMPD is second to none with not one case of using excessive force or police brutality in the history of the department- 60 years!
That is phenomenal.

Yes Joe, Dennis does owe Officer Bao and our CMPD an apology. Many people do.
Wake UP, Costa Mesans!
You're being punked by the councilguys.

2/19/2014 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Skeptical in Costa Mesa said...

Does the saying go something like: "The fish rots from the head down"? The stench coming from the right side of the fifth floor can be smelled (smelt?)all over this once great city. Hatch is a coward in my humble opinion. Sure he needs to feed the family and pay the mortgage. But he should be more concerned about what is happening to the city (while looking for another job)and tell the two morons looking to higher office to stick it where the sun doesn't shine!

2/19/2014 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Terry Koken said...

Ye Gods! Despite all my good intentions, I cut the meeting last night as I was unsure I had anything relevant to say. Turns out I do, but only after reading the above.

Officer Bao stopped me at a DUI checkpoint on the way back from a concert at Segerstrom. It had been two days since I had had a drink, so there was no issue there. I like the CM cops, and always give them a thumbs up or a little banter -- make their day a little easier, if not just make their day. I had forgotten that Mr. Bao was the man involved in exonerating Righeimer, but I said jokingly, "hey, did you get Jim Righeimer tonight?" Officer Bao responded perfectly correctly, "I can't comment on that, sir." As far as the DUI checkpoint went, he was straight-arrow and one hundred percent "by the book"; very polite and respectful of a citizen's rights, and I got the feeling that he would have been all of that even had I been utterly sloshed; the only difference there would have been that he'd have conveyed me politely to jail. We need cops like officer Bao. There are some of us who even appreciate him, and the others like him on the force, for their upstanding and exemplary conduct.

Mr. Ashendorf, you are of course entitled to whatever opinion you care to hold, however cockamamie. However, to present such an opinion as fact borders on clinical paranoia. One of the bases of our legal system is "Innocent until proven guilty"; and I feel compelled to remind you that not only has there not been such proof, there has not even been one shred of credible evidence presented. Your insinuation about the content of the conversation is at best on the level of a fairy-tale or a sea story. I'm from Missouri; show me.

Into the mixture here we must insert a bit of conjecture about the manliness of resorting to a lawsuit over a piece of police procedure. It's a bit like running to Mommy in tears and saying "he called me a bad word!". Had he been only a tad more masculine about it, Righeimer could probably have used the incident to make some political hay. Instead he manifests himself as a wimp. Not only a wimp, but one who drinks diet coke. Not only that, but he pays three bucks for one! Where's fiscal responsibility?

He carried it a bit further a few weeks ago, when he "misspoke" to Sue Lester about police-force staffing. That also was an act of cowardice. As was his bifurcation of the public comment period, with the lame excuse that it would speed business up.

Seems to me that Wendy exhibits a HELL of a lot more manly firmness than we see, and have seen, from Jim Righeimer.

Tell me, would you want him movin' in next to you and marryin' your daughter?

2/19/2014 08:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Ashendorf, you make no sense. Have you been talking to Popp? First you say thay the burden of proof is on the CMPD, then you say it's not about the lawsuit. You have no burden of proof without a lawsuit. Burden of proof is always on plaintiffs, not defendants.

Secondly, and again you are assuming that Ofcr Bao gave the investigator a status report, and you are also assuming there was idle chatter. Closing out a call often consists of speaking with the person that calls. If you ever have need to call an officer, quite often the dispatcher will ask if you want the officer to contact you. You're conspiracy theories concerning Ofcr Bao are hysteria. You really do owe him an apology for your foolishness.

2/19/2014 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Relax everyone, Fisler says the brand is strong.

2/20/2014 08:56:00 AM  

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