Monday, March 31, 2014

2013 Employee Compensation Report

Another story that "broke" while I was away this past weekend and unarmed technologically to do anything about it was the publication of the 2013 Employee Compensation Report, HERE.  If you wish to compare it to the 2012 report, you'll find that one HERE.

Now, before you go off half-cocked, take a couple minutes to actually read the very first page of the report - the one that defines the information that will follow.  Each of the eighteen (18) columns are defined to help us understand just what we're seeing.  Most of them are pretty self-explanatory, but if you hurry through the process you'll find yourself presuming too much.

For example, if you look at the second column, Job Title/Name, you'll see who that line is all about.  But, if you immediately glance over to the far right column, Total Compensation (total Pay+ER Pension Cost) you may mistake that number for the actual pay the individual received for the year.  It is NOT.  That last column represents what it cost the city to have that person on the payroll for the year, including Base Pay, Overtime, Specialty Pay, Certification Pay, Other Pay, Leave Payouts, Health Benefits and the Employers Cost of the Pension.

I'll leave it to you to do your own analysis of the 695 line entries for Active, Terminated and Retired persons on the list.  However, I did do some calculations of the FIRST TWO PAGES - 52 persons - just to whet your appetites.

Those two pages, as I said, contain entries for 52 persons, of which thirty (30) are in the Fire Department; twenty (20) are in the Police Department and two (2) are "other" - CEO Tom Hatch and Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz.  The list is ranked, top to bottom, based on the number in the far right column.

These two pages are very similar to the same two pages last year.  Many of the same names are near the top pay-wise.  Fire Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw is at the top of the heap again, due in great part to the 983 overtime hours he worked.  Same with Battalion Chief Kevin Diamond, who worked 989 overtime hours.  Third on the list is Police Chief Tom Gazsi.  Hatch is fifth and Munoz is 30th, on the second page.

Let's talk about the impact of the staffing dilemma both Police and Fire find themselves in today.  In the case of the Fire Department, because the re-deployment plan by former Interim Chief Tom Arnold has not yet been implemented, the existing staff has been working horrendous overtime hours.  Every one of the 30 Firefighters on the first two pages, including the command staff, worked overtime.  They averaged 1190 hours per man for a cost of $2,022,998.66 on those pages alone!  Just scroll down the page with your eyes on that column alone and it will rock you back.

In the case of the Police Department, fourteen (14) of the twenty members of that department on those two pages worked overtime.  They averaged more than 500 hours per man at a cost of $509,456.31 for those officers!  Again, just scroll down ALL the pages watching that column and you'll get a sense of just how much time these men and women are spending away from their families to serve our community.  And, certainly in the case of the Police Department, this has been unnecessary - created by the vindictive, short-sighted leadership by the current City Council majority.

Speaking of which, the City Council shows up on the list, too - way, way, way down near the end on pages 18 and 19.  Sandra Genis is on line 447; Wendy Leece is on line 448; Gary Monahan is on line 449; Steve Mensinger is on line 452 and Mayor Jim Righeimer is on page 19, line 480.

In addition, the City Council has it's own special report, HERE, titled "Council Member And Mayor Compensation and Benefits".  That report is a little easier to comprehend.  And, it explains something that's been bugging me ever since the very last Charter Committee meeting.  I wrote about that meeting HERE, and mentioned the peculiar event that occurred when member Andrew Smith proposed removing from their draft Charter the $2,100 per month stipend for each council member  that had been hashed out over several meetings and many staff hours providing information.  He said it was because he feared that the voters would perceive the council members were getting a raise - their salary is $904.40 per month today - and that might "drive a stake in the heart" of the Charter.  That stipend was supposed to be consistent among all council members, and they would be expected to pay any additional benefits that might be available to them from that stipend.

Well, take a look at that chart.  It seems that the "Monthly Total" compensation and benefits for the council members ranges from $2,790 for Righeimer and Mensinger, to $2,981 for Leece and Monahan and $3,003 for Genis.  If each council member were paid that $2,100 stipend, and wanted to maintain their same benefit level, they'd have to PAY for the privilege of being on the council!  It would cost the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem $690 per month; Leece and Monahan $881 per month and Genis $903 per month!  While Smith may have been correct in his assessment, I now wonder if perhaps his friends on the council - he used to work with Mensinger - figured out the math and.... well, you know.

Now that the 2013 Compensation and Benefits Report is available for public consumption, I suspect we may have certain sycophants of the council majority begin their yapping about how overpaid the City Staff is, particularly the public safety folks, that put their lives on the line every single day to protect us.  They'll begin that old "Unfunded Pension Liability" chant again, knowing full well that Righeimer has stated MANY times that he has no intention of sending any additional money to Sacramento to pay it down.  Unless we ride it out, depending on CalPERS to pick up the slack with their investments, the only other solution is Municipal Bankruptcy - just like "our" $495 per hour lawyers, Jones Day, guided Detroit through recently.

It's campaign season, so let the rhetoric begin.  However, when it starts this year, though, the policies of the current council majority must bear the burden of responsibility for this situation.  It was THEIR decisions that have caused so many police officers to bail out, with more on the way.  It was THEIR policies that delayed for more than a year the recruitment plans to replace known pending departures.  It was THEIR ignorance about real policing that caused them to arbitrarily establish a staffing level at least 10% too low to begin with, and exacerbated (not "exasperated", Steve) the situation with their stubborn vindictiveness.  It was THEIR eagerness to incur legal entanglements - the hasty, ill-advised layoffs three years ago;  the Steven White fiasco and the lawsuit brought against the men and women of the CMPD, for example - that have created such a toxic workplace at City Hall.  It is THEIR flagrant disregard of established procedures and policies that perpetuate the "us versus them" mentality when dealing with employee groups.  They've imposed an adversarial relationship that was never seen in our city before.

It's time for a change.  Let the games begin...

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News Doesn't Wait For Me!

Geez, I take my lovely and very patient wife on a little birthday excursion - much-needed by both of us - over the past weekend and all heck breaks loose (literally) back at home!

It's hard to decide what's the most important news item locally that broke while we were gone to our favorite big city, but I guess it would have to be the story about the jury in the Steven White sign theft case finding him NOT GUILTY after a very short 3-hour deliberation.  You can read Jeremiah Dobruck's article, "Accused sign vandal found not guilty", including viewing the video clip, HERE.

In my view, this is just another example of terrible judgment by members of the Costa Mesa City Council - in this case, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.  The fact that he actually hired a private investigator to stake out a specific batch of campaign signs and video someone destroying them is bizarre.  And, it's unclear whether Mensinger was in the car with the PI while this video was recorded.  If so, why?  For $5.00 worth of signs?  Of course, when you're out of work for a long time, every penny counts, right?  No, this was just another vindictive move on Mensinger's part - much like the bogus lawsuit against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department - that demonstrates how unqualified he is to hold a public office.

I did not attend the trial so did not hear the testimony.  However, the video was shown and it did not convince eight jurors of White's guilt.  The comment thread on Dobruck's article is fascinating.  More than a few commentors, including at least one elected official, are apparently unwilling to accept the result of the legal process because it doesn't agree with their opinion.  Sad, indeed.

Now White gets on with his life, unless he plans legal action of his own, and Mensinger and his cronies will moan and cry about the "unfairness" of this decision for months.

The second big story that broke while we were gone is Bradley Zint's excellent piece titled, "Hatch alleges Friday Night Lights misled city", HERE.  This story is part of the whole Friday Night Lights Football/Matt Leinart Football drama that has been playing out over the past few months in Costa Mesa.

While I'm certainly concerned about the possibility of someone defrauding the City, as is alleged in this article, for me the greater concern is the position taken by City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch regarding former Recreation Manager Bob Knapp as quoted in the article.  As you will see when you read the article, Hatch is quoted by Zint as saying, "I believe Bob Knapp Knew that the letter was not accurate and that he did not investigate it further to help his friend." So, is he saying Bob Knapp committed a crime?  Did he misuse public funds?

Knapp, of course, denies any improper behavior and, according to Zint, describes the memo from Hatch that Zint reviewed for the story, "a 'smear' attempt to use him as a 'scapegoat for the poor decisions of others'."  Zint further describes Knapp's response, quoting him thus: "Knapp called the allegations'very disppointing, and I think it's a real true sign of the nature of leadership in our city.' 'And I don't mean the council, I mean the fifth floor [of City Hall],' Knapp added, a reference to where the city's top management keeps offices."

The article also describes the event that apparently caused Knapp to resign the job he held for eighteen months - the ouster of long-time Group 1 softball players from their scheduled time at the TeWinkle Sports Complex for Matt Leinart's Flag Football program.  I watched some of the discussion of that situation in City Council chambers and recall feeble excuses that the softball group "didn't lose their field, they had a choice of five other nights during the week" when Leinart's program was given their favored Friday night slot.  Lame, to say the least.

All this stuff just reeks.  The pungent odor of rotting management permeates City Hall.  This kind of decay starts at the top and it certainly should cause the residents of this community to be more than a little concerned about the strength of the senior leadership of this city.  Of course, some of that may be due to pressure being applied by a city council majority with warped values.  I was aghast when Hatch threw Knapp under the bus on this issue.  He should have said NOTHING about Knapp in this situation, and may have placed the city in legal jeopardy by making the comments above.

I find myself wondering about the relationship between Costa Mesa United, where Gordon Bowley - Knapp's father-in-law - plays such a big role, and the city leadership as we move downstream from this debacle.

And, maybe as an exclamation point to all this stuff, Friday night the region had another earthquake! HERE.  We were more than 100 miles away but my sweet wife heard the hotel "crackle" at the time the biggest quake hit.  Yikes!

Another interesting week ahead.  More on that later.  It's nice to be back, but it was VERY nice to take a short break from all this crap.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Feet To The Fire" Is Back!

Mark your calendar!  On April 17th Barbara Venezia and her merry band of "Feet To The Fire" interrogators are back and ready to rumble again.  This first one turns the heat onto the candidates for the 74th Assembly seat being vacated by Allan Mansoor.

This series of forums for candidates for public office ALWAYS provides some fascinating peeks into the minds of the candidates as the interrogators dig and probe, trying to provide reasons for us to vote - or not vote - for one or more of the candidates being grilled for 90 minutes.  You may recall that it was at one of these forums candidate Leslie Daigle doomed her campaign for State Assembly.
(Click image to enlarge)

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Burglar Caught In Short Order

Another win for the depleted staff of the Costa Mesa Police Department this week.  According to a press release yesterday, early Monday morning - around 2 a.m. - rookie CMPD officer Jake Jacobi and his partner, James Brown, were cruising along Harbor Blvd. looking for suspicious activity.  Jacobi observed a bicyclist who appeared to be trying to evade them.  They made a stop for a minor violation and discovered that the bicyclist, Luis Morales, was on probation.  He admitted to possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
However, Morales was found to be holding more than just drugs.  He was also carrying numerous items of women's gold jewelry.  Morales was arrested and the officers met with fellow officer Jodi Schmidt at the police station to compare notes on a residential break-in for which she had taken the report less than four hours earlier.

The short version of the story is that the jewelry Morales was carrying was identified as the items stolen earlier at the burglary on Maple Street.  Although worth about $2,000, several items were priceless to the owner - family heirlooms given to the her as a family tradition.

Morales was booked at the CMPD Jail for burglary in addition to the drug charges.  He was later transported and booked at the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana with bail set at $20,000.  CMPD detectives made arrangements with the jewelry theft victim so she could later claim her stolen belongings.

Kudos to all involved.  Despite running with a skeleton crew, the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue to serve the community at a high level of professionalism and proficiency.


In a sidebar, I also received a notice that the team from the Newport Beach Police Department finished 1st in their division and 5th overall in the Baker-To-Vegas Challenge Cup Relay event last weekend.  The NBPD team consistently does well in this event - a grueling relay that begins 24 miles outside Baker, California and ends the next day in Las Vegas.  The 20 runners finished in an impressive 14 hours, 54 minutes.  Some may know that my pal, Larry Moore, created that event 25  years ago while he was on the Los Angeles Police Department and conducted it until his untimely death ten years ago.

Unfortunately, because of our severely depleted staff, the Costa Mesa Police Department was unable to send a team to this event.  Some might say, "Well, so what?  We pay them to be cops, not run."  That's true, but this event is run on their own off-duty time for the teamwork and spirit of the event, and to represent their city - OUR city.  This event has teams from around the world and life-long friendships have been made among the competitors from different parts of the world through the competition.  It is my hope that Costa Mesa will soon be able to field a team in this event - it will be one sign of a healthy department once again.

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More Vandalism At Model Train Site

As many of you already know, around the first of March there was very significant vandalism done to the site of the Orange County Model Engineers facility in Fairview Park.  Valuable rails were stolen, part of the infrastructure was destroyed and other damage to the tune of around $9,000.

A call went out for help replacing the damaged items and the public responded in a big way, offering replacement for items stolen and cash.  Plans are afoot to install a security system at the site, but that kind of installation takes a little time and a lot of money.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, there has been more damage reported over the past few days.  Picnic tables and benches were destroyed and control boxes were damaged.  And, what appears to be gang graffiti is now being left.

Because of this new possible "gang" element to this equation the OCME is very concerned that their site may become part of a gang turf war, which would cause potential harm to visitors.

The Costa Mesa Police Department, of course, has been notified and will be working on this issue.  Sadly, the gang detail is now down to 2 officers from six, when it was especially effective.

In the meantime, if you're in the area at night and see activity please immediately call the police. 

As an interesting sidebar, the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee will soon consider possible options for that segment of the park - the Southeast Quadrant.  There are some on the committee who seem determined to add playing fields to that section of the park.  It will be interesting to see what impact of this vandalism might have on the deliberations of that committee over the next few months.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fun With Finance

For the first time in many months I attended the meeting of the Costa Mesa Finance Advisory Committee this afternoon at City Hall.  Most of the members were in attendance.  Only Chairman Shawn Dewane and Steve Mensinger were absent.

I attended because the items on the agenda, HERE, were interesting.  There was plenty of room in Conference Room 1A - only four residents attended this meeting.

Gary Armstrong, Director of Development Services/Economic Development and Deputy CEO, provided a briefing for the committee covering the current state of affairs in Economic Development in Costa Mesa.  Basically, there isn't much going on, although there was a lively discussion for 45 minutes on the subject and Armstrong provided several very useful handouts to the committee.

It was generally agreed that having so many of our financial eggs in one basket - South Coast Plaza - isn't a good idea for the long-term financial future of the city.  Presently, sales tax revenue represents about 50% of our revenue and South Coast Plaza is a huge chunk of that.  If we lost that revenue Costa Mesa would go back to being known as Goat Hill.  During the conversation CEO Tom Hatch responded to a question by stating that he'd prefer to see Sales Tax represent only 25% of revenue because it's a volatile revenue source.

Committee members asked Armstrong and Hatch what kind of plans the city has for broadening our economic foundation - what are we doing to attract new businesses and what kind of businesses are we targeting.  The answer, stated a couple times, was that we're basically doing nothing because we don't have staff to put on the project.

Armstrong mentioned that we have very few big parcels available for development in the city - Segerstroms Home Ranch site and the Sakioka Farms site are the only two mentioned.  Those seem earmarked for high density residential development - not exactly what the committee was hoping to hear.  He also mentioned the 240 apartment development approved by the Planning Commission last night, which doesn't do anything to improve the renters/owners ratio in the city, which is about 60/40%.

A discussion was held about the cost of housing in Costa Mesa and how it affects the ability to attract young families.  Armstrong indicated that Eastside housing sales have now reached the $1.7 million level.  That would be the house across the street from me, in a neighborhood where there are currently three homes on the market over $1.4 million. The house across the street from me sold for $1.4 million last year and the new owner tore it down and has begun building a new home on the site.  One member postulated that there will NEVER be affordable housing in the city.

Others speculated about attracting high tech and the bio-tech businesses that help keep Silicon Valley so stable.  Armstrong and Hatch concurred that those kind of businesses typically demand some very serious financial incentives and that Costa Mesa has historically not been interested in doing business that way.

It was generally agreed that more needs to be done to spur economic development in the City.  Armstrong defined the administrative process for new businesses and provided several handouts used to attract them.  Committee members opined that more should be done to retain existing businesses.

Then the conversation turned to the discussion of the Ethics Policy, presented by new Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau.  She presented a Draft of a proposed policy for the committee to review and offer comments.  I won't try to present the entire document here, but I will give you a flavor for it by providing the segment titles.  I'll give you the entire preamble, though.  It reads thus:

The residents and businesses in the City of Costa Mesa are entitled to have a fair, ethical and accountable local government that has earned the public's full confidence for integrity.  The proper operation of democratic government requires that decision-makers be independent, impartial and accountable to the people they serve.

The City of Costa Mesa has adopted this Ethics Policy to promote and maintain the highest standards of personal and professional conduct in the City's government.  All elected and appointed officials, City employees, volunteers, and others who participate in the City's government are required to adhere to this policy, understand how it applies to their specific responsibilities, and practice these values in their work.  Because we seek public confidence in the City's services and public trust of its decision-makers, our decisions and our work must meet the highest ethical standards and demonstrate the highest levels of achievement.

The eight segment titles of the Ethics Policy are:
  1. Act in the Public Interest
  2. Respect for Government Structure and Process
  3. Conduct
  4. Comply with the Law
  5. Conflict of Interest
  6. Use of Public Resources
  7. Confidentiality
  8. Development Projects
  9. Gifts and Favors
  10. Positive Workplace Environment
  11. Compliance and Enforcement
OK, no guffawing out there!  I'm sure a few of you either raised your eyebrows as you read through that list, or flat out laughed.  Many of us have observed actions by elected officials over the past couple of years that seem not to pass muster based on these titles.

According to Letourneau and Hatch, this is nothing new.  Every two years the City Attorney holds a workshop for all elected and appointed officials plus City department managers to refresh their memories on this policy and EVERY city employee must read and sign it when they are hired.  Letourneau, in response to a question, said that even if an employee doesn't sign it, he is still responsible for knowing and following this policy - it's part of the new-hire orientation packet.

I looked for a draft of this policy on the City website, but am unable to locate one.  I'm sure it will become part of the official record as the staff presents it to the City Council for adoption.

During a discussion of Future Agenda items Assistant Finance Director Colleen O'Donohue discussed the recent implementation of an online Business License Renewal system and told the committee that on April 21st they will launch a New Business License online program.  The online renewal program is working fine.  The discussion also revolved around finally determining just how many businesses in the city are NOT paying their fees.  Apparently that will take coordination with a county and/or state database, which is not yet set up. 

The meeting was adjourned around 5:30 in memory of my friend, David Stiller, who was a member of this committee and the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.  Today the City sent out a reminder that applications to fill Stiller's positions on both these committees are due no later than Monday, March 31, 2014.  You can read the details HERE.

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