Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Small, But Focused, Crowd For Charter Hearing

Last night a small crowd - around 50 souls - turned out for the first public hearing on the latest iteration of a proposed Charter for the City of Costa Mesa.  What it lacked in size it made up for in focus and participation.  Perhaps the turnout was small because the meeting was televised live and also available live on streaming video.  The City did a miserable job of publicizing this meeting - maybe that's part of the plan.  Don't tell anyone so it can be passed under the cover of darkness.

Several members of the Charter Committee attended the meeting.  Ron Amburgey, Andrew Smith, Lee Ramos, Bill Fancher and Tom Pollitt huddled together on the far right (appropriate) side of the room.  Gene Hutchins arrived a little late and was alone on the other side of the room.  Mary Ann O'Connell and Harold Weitzberg were also in attendance.  I did not see  Brett Eckles, Hank Panian, Kevin Tobin, Kerry McCarthy nor Tom Graham.  Facilitator Pastor Mike Decker attended, too.

Following the introduction of the issue by Mayor Jim Righeimer, father of the Charter rejected by the voters less than two years ago, attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow of our contract City Attorney's office, provided a brief reading of the staff report, HERE.  As an aside, there was no Pledge of Allegiance to the flag at this meeting - a special City Council meeting.  I thought it was curious, especially in light of the fact that every meeting of the Charter Committee included not only the pledge - the only committee to do so - but a moment of silence demanded by member Tea Party Tom Pollitt.  Last night they faked it - no pledge, no prayer, no silence - no hope.

After Barlow delivered her brief monologue council members asked a few preliminary questions, often referring to the draft Charter, HERE.

Sandra Genis wondered about the status of a recent change in state law on Prevailing Wages and was told by Barlow that seven cities have challenged it.  Genis referred to section 700 of the Charter, Public Contracting and mentioned the Public Contracts Code.  Barlow said the Charter uses General Law as a fall back position.  Genis wondered what this Charter contains that we don't already have - a dominant question throughout the evening.  Nobody really answered the question.

Wendy Leece wondered about section 802, Outsourcing, and asked if the current limitation of $49,999 applies before council approval is required and was told yes, but the council could change it by ordinance.  Leece also wondered about section 800, Charter Review.  She wanted to know if the council could change the Charter on it's own and was told by Barlow that every change to the Charter must be voted upon by the people.  Mention was made of the arbitrary threshold of 2,500 voters required for a petition to place recommended changes on the ballot.  Quite honestly, this process is more than a little bit fuzzy.  Every time they tried to resolve it they missed the mark.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger inquired about Section 602, Civic Openness In Negotiation (COIN).  As you will recall, that is his baby and he wants her kept alive at all costs.  He wondered how it might be changed under the Charter.  Barlow told him that the way the section was worded, even if a future council decided to delete it entirely, COIN was there in perpetuity!  If the Charter goes forward as proposed and is passed by the voters, COIN is there to stay, period!  Mensinger smiled.

Another discussion took place about the Review Process.  As I mentioned above, the issue was murky from the start.  The conversation bounced back and forth about a Charter Review Committee and/or a Commission, elected by the voters.  The process - under the best circumstances - seemed vague and cumbersome.

Committee member Harold Weitzberg led off the Public Comment segment with a brisk, three-minute presentation in which he immediately affirmed that he didn't think the City needs a Charter, discussed the process the committee went through, then provided color-coded slides demonstrating just why we don't need a Charter.  Far and away the greatest number of segments of the proposed Charter are for issues that we can already manage.  He told us this Charter doesn't change anything.

James Bridges described the recent effort by the committee as a wasted opportunity, alluding to the stacked deck the committee appeared to be. (My term, not his).  He also mentioned that Tustin recently revoked all compensation for council members and it seemed to be working out just right.

Melissa Abraham wondered about eminent domain and later was told that eminent domain is controlled by state and federal law and the Charter doesn't change that.

Chris McEvoy expressed concern about future advertising mailers that will be biased in their presentation of the issue and suggested he didn't want his tax dollars advocating for a charter.  He veered off-course and criticized council members for cell phone use and thought maybe a prohibition should be placed into the Charter.

Greg Thunnel, among other things, reminded the council of the major failure of Measure V at the last election.

Committee member Gene Hutchins - one of the nicest men you'll ever meet - thanked the committee members, then told us that the Charter will "save the city a lot of money" - but didn't say how.  He, to the surprise of nobody who has observed the committee in action over the past year, brought up the Unfunded Pension Liability - but the Charter will have NO impact on it.  He mentioned that it requires a 2/3 majority of the voters to increase any post-employment benefits.

Susan Shaw, Terry Koken and Perry Valantine spoke - the latter reminded the council that any communications sent out by the city must NOT be one-sided - it must present both sides of the argument on the Charter.

Cindy Brenneman stepped up and stated categorically that we don't need a Charter, and reminded everyone that we still have not heard why we should have one.  Then, responding to an earlier Righeimer admonition that the crowd should not clap following speakers because folks are intimidated, told Righeimer that HE is the one  who intimidates speakers - that he has worn people down.  She referred to the speaker's podium as a "sacred place" where residents should feel safe to speak to their elected leaders, but that he intimidated and discouraged them. She told him the "dirty dozen" - regular speakers - will NOT be worn down.  When the crowd cheered Righeimer called a ten minute break and scampered out of the auditorium, talking on his telephone.

Following the break Tamar Goldmann told the council that the only "local control" she saw coming from this Charter was more control the three of them - the council majority - would have over us!

Then up stepped committee member Ron Amburgey, who promptly told the audience that he'd lived in Costa Mesa his entire life and the rest of us were just tourists!  Nice, huh?  From a guy who's running for a seat on the Mesa Water District Board... nice style.  He went further - after being heckled by the audience to "speak to the council" - something Righeimer has frequently reminded other speakers in the past but seemed to ignore in the case of his supporter, Amburgey, who told us that previous councils had led us astray and "hurt us".  He didn't mention whether he included his father in that indictment.  He told us "the unions spent a half-million dollars to defeat the last Charter."  The crowd reaction to that was predictably unappreciative of that observation.

Sue Lester suggested that a cost analysis be done to determine the potential savings of a Charter.

Tea Party Tom Pollitt, also a committee member - you'll recall his blow-up at a meeting earlier this year when he went into the break room, slammed the door and pouted for a few minutes in a fit of anger - said he supported the Charter, said it would save millions (but didn't say how) and would give the council more flexibility (but didn't define what kind of flexibility).

Anna Vrska told the council we didn't need a Charter.

Former councilman Jay Humphrey said he was disappointed that no determination had been made as to whether we actually did need a Charter, and why.  He suggested that answers to all the questions asked last night be provided in a form of a memo on the city web site so all residents could read it.

Karl Ahlf, a life-long resident and former council candidate, reminded the council of the resounding defeat of Measure V, and gave the percentages .

Resident Phil Morello stepped up to support the Charter, stating several times that he was a "physical conservative" - we presume he meant "fiscal".  Then he said, "Why do we need a Charter?  Get a clue!"  He said the city is $260,000,000 in debt - pulling a number out of the air, or from somewhere.  He then, in response to Brenneman's comment above, said "this isn't a sacred place, it's politics!"

The 19th and final speaker was Robin Leffler, who observed that the configuration of the committee did not represent  the configuration of the voters, no matter how you tried to manipulate it.  She said whatever planned community outreach should not be a "sales pitch" like the last time.  We need to be given options and the costs.

Of the nineteen speakers, only four - Amburgey, Pollitt and Hutchins (committee members) and Morello spoke in favor of the Charter.  One person - Abraham - just asked a question.  All the remaining speakers spoke strongly against the Charter.  Of course, Righeimer and his majority will completely ignore those numbers.

First up among the council members was Gary Monahan, who showed up nearly 20 minutes late, but at least he showed up this time.  He acknowledged that he'd been fairly quiet in recent months, but that he'd make up for it last night.  As it turned out, he should have remained silent.

He launched off into a tirade by stating that the Charter would give NO MORE power to the Council - clearly refuting what members of the committee who crafted it had said.  He said, "This Charter does not give any more power to anyone."  Then he made mention, again, of Medical Marijuana - a curious comment, just as was his previous one last Tuesday.  Could it be that he wants in on some of the anticipated medical marijuana action that is being hinted about in town?

Monahan suggested that Lester's idea about a cost analysis was a great idea, then went almost apoplectic on the subject of council member compensation.  To say he came unglued would be a major understatement!  He refuted Bridges suggestion that council members work for free, indicating that he's putting in 50 hours a week on his council duties (I don't believe that for one second, by the way), and that it "almost kills me".  He suggested that "900 a month and health insurance won't keep me on the job, but it helps."  He then said "I think you're nuts!" and that it was a "crazy idea!"  As I said, he should have remained silent.

He also commented on speaker Chris McEvoy's observation that there should be a ban on cell phones on the dais by citing examples of why they should have them - emergencies, like "a kid getting hurt".  As he ranted he made a very interesting malaprop.. he said the word "hiper bowl".  I suspect he had a script and was trying to say "hyperbole".  It was very peculiar.  As I said, he should have remained silent.

Then, in perhaps the most bizarre comment of his entire rant, as he wrapped up he said, "Don't say you don't want it on the ballot because you don't like it!"  Really?  Why not?  Is that not a good reason?  It was VERY clear that most of the speakers before them last night had a MUCH better idea of what was in the draft Charter than Monahan did.  With each passing meeting it is becoming clear that he has "stayed too long at the dance".  Unfortunately, his term doesn't expire until 2016.

Sandra Genis pointed out what I feel is the stake in the heart of this Charter - section 104, Powers.  The way the committee worded this section it appears to give virtually unlimited power to the city council.

Wendy Leece corrected a misstatement made by Pollitt earlier, then discussed Prevailing Wage, using Oceanside's failed Recreation Center project as an example.  She also pointed out the need for tighter financial controls, using the 60th Anniversary debacle as an example.  She also mentioned a runaway contract for computer support that ended up more than double the original proposal and nobody was watching.  She also mentioned that company was a campaign contributor to certain council members.

Steve Mensinger addressed "all the folks at home", mentioned that the Charter holds folks accountable - but didn't say how.  He repeated the question, "Why do we need a Charter?", then answered "Why wouldn't we?", smirking.

Genis observed that the differences between this Charter and  General Law are insignificant.

Then it was Righeimer's turn - and it was worth waiting for.  He concurred with an earlier speaker's observation that 75% of California cities are NOT Charter cities, then said, "But, 80% of the people live in Charter Cities.", as if that somehow justifies Costa Mesa becoming one.  Then he said, "Once you do a Charter you have complete control!"  He then said, "If you have a simple Charter you can go ahead and do those things."  Why, thank you, Mr. Mayor.  The LAST thing I want to give you is "complete control" over anything, much less my city!

He talked about the Vista case and mentioned that's what Bonds are for.  Yikes!

In response to McEvoy's question, "What are the first fifteen things you'd do with a Charter?" he said, "Make a list."  He then launched off into a tirade about how "the unions" refused to let the city do any outsourcing - citing at first the "little old guy in an apron who printed our business cards."  Geez!

He then brought up the fact that our Jail operations are in the process of being outsourced and told us that the guys that work in the jail really want to be cops, so they take the job as a jailer so they can be close to cops.  He then said "Put jailers 1st in line to be a police officer."!!!  I guess Chief Gazsi will be happy to know that the mayor has his recruitment problem all solved for him.  Good grief!

Then Righeimer did the unanticipated - he actually apologized for the way he handled his Charter two years ago.  He said, "The last time was the wrong way to do it."  He said it was a "humbling experience" going from door to door, talking about the Charter and having people tell him they were not against a Charter, just against HIS charter.  He actually apologized several times.  Cue the violins, please.

He went off in a stream-of-consciousness rant, talking about "if you want to change the Charter later all you have to do is elect a Charter Commission."  He neglected to mention that under the proposed Charter the city council gets to decide when elections are held - if ever.

Then the council addressed the next Public Hearing.  Originally it was supposed to be May 20th, but the date of this first meeting slipped, which required shifting the subsequent one.  Now, according to the information last night, the second - and final - public hearing on this Charter will be on June 3rd, during the regular council meeting.  As the discussion ensued Righeimer, unilaterally, told the group, "Don't mess with the dates!"  Gee, who made him king?  Oops, I guess we did, huh?  Then, the first meeting of July - the 6th was mentioned - the council will vote on whether to place the Charter on the ballot.  Because this meeting slipped a little, the fudge factor City Clerk Brenda Green built into the process got a whole lot tighter.  We all recall what happened two years ago when a "clerical error" cost then-City Clerk Julie Folcik her job.

There was a great deal of confusion about public outreach and the timing, cost and message to be sent on any communications to the community.  CEO Tom Hatch was not helpful with that process.  It was clear from most speakers who addressed it that they felt whatever the city communicates on this Charter should not be biased one way or the other.  That should be very interesting, because the last time around the communications coming out of City Hall were basically sales brochures, hawking a flawed product with glossy mailers.

I came away from the meeting last night with a strange feeling of deja vu.  We'd been here before, but this time there was not as much energy in the building.  The crowd was smaller, but those who spoke were passionate.  Interestingly, as many speakers pointed out, this Charter as currently written gives the city very little that we don't already have as a General Law City, but if implemented it does remove some very significant protections from abuse that we currently enjoy.  And, there are a couple areas that make it completely unacceptable because it leaves the door wide open for mischief by this or future councils.  It will be interesting to see what happens at the next hearing, since no member of the council offered up anything significant in the way of changes or additions.  The clock is now ticking...

So, that was it.  Watch the streaming video of this two-hour plus meeting, or watch it on replay on CMTV.  Form your own opinions.

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Why do we continue to waste time and money? Thugs want more power, the people must say no. One doesn't have to be one of Morello's "physical conservatives" to understand this.

From the Costa Mesa Dictionary:

"A physical conservative is one who strives to chest-bump or physically intimidate less people than pro tem Stevie."

Can someone tell Amburgey he's not only a disgrace to the public school system, but his father's memory as well?

4/23/2014 06:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Charter supporters are fond of saying - "The charter does (fill in the blank) with no facts to support their claims. They might as well say that the charter cures cancer and eliminates homelessness. Who can be against that?

4/23/2014 07:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

One more thing - when Ron referred to previous city council missteps, maybe he was referring to Gary's previous tenure when he made a motion (which carried) to give lifetime helath benefits to all city employees after 10 years of service. It was retroactive to boot. City council members were included, too. (I don't know if this is still in force or if Gary has lifetime health benefits. Worth looking in to.)

4/23/2014 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

I'm still unsure of the differences between this Charter and the last Charter.Or are they just so minor there is no difference?

4/23/2014 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Squad 51 said...

The jailers may or may not want to be cops. The ones who do, aren't because of one reason or another and I doubt that "just haven't gotten around to it" isn't the reason.
Righeimer is so obtuse it's just amazing.

4/23/2014 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Gericault, the differences for the most part are minor. They really don't care what it says. Its what it doesn't say that its important to them.

4/23/2014 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Gary was an absolute embarrassment last night. His tirade was almost comical coming from a glaring red face. He flipped out when suggested the phones should be kept off the dias. I totally agree. They can be kept in a pocket for emergency calls. What a troll.

Someone really needs to explain to the charter supporters that it does absolutely nothing to pay down the "unfunded" liability. Not even the supporters realize this. Geez.

Casual Viewer, I noticed that also. The charter will save our souls...but no explanation of how. Its just HYPERBOLE!

Costa Mesa residents would be foolish to support this ridiculous excuse for a charter. Send this carpetbagger packing in November.

4/23/2014 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Well, they'll probably want to explain the differences to the 60% of votes who opposed Measure V. Just a suggestion.

4/23/2014 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

The comment that galled me was from the mayor - at the end. He said the council could not call for a commission, only the voters could.

Calling all cows! That's a stinking pile of something. If he wasn't in a rush, the Council could have chosen to put the idea of a commission on the ballot and there would have been time for people to throw in for a seat before the election.

Sacred place? Not with that many lies.

4/23/2014 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

Just to reiterate...after 10 months of working very hard the charter that was written was basically a reaffirmation of everything we presently do or can do under general law except that it is a "permissive" charter that gives the power to the city council to enact anything they want on Municipal affairs. We do not need this charter.

4/23/2014 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

The majority of the people didn't want the charter the first time around and somethings telling me that a majority of people will vote it down again.

The more they try to ram this BS charter down the throats of the people, the more people will reject it.

4/23/2014 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Whats with Gary and marijuana thing? Whose bidding is he doing?

4/23/2014 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Maryann - that is absolutely right! The lies just fly out of the RIGmeister's mouth! The council could have chosen to form a charter commission by election, and as I recall, there was discussion of this at a cc mtg, where, of course, the RIGmeister, wanting to use this charter for his own personal political advancement, voted, with his 2 lockstep lemmings, to go the committee route, to get the charter on the first ballot possible, whereas Sandy and Wendy, knowing that an elected commission would be a much better way to create a charter for our city, if we even need one, voted against a committee that would rush it on to next ballot, and they voted to have a commission.
Another lie coming out of the RIGmeister's yap last night was his comment that this charter is not a RIGmeister charter!! Hello??? When you stack the charter committee with a huge majority (what? 80%) of your sycophant bootlickers, that is exactly what this 2nd charter attempt is: another RIGmeister charter!
And Gary really should really keep his trap shut at the cc meetings. He knows gd well what Chris McAvoy was talking about in regard to cell phone use while on the dias!! What a jerk he is, but we all know that already. Is Stevie getting and sending emergency texts the whole time he is sitting up there??? You are full of it, you little troll. And while I'm at it, Gary has used the system for his own personal gains. If he couldn't get the city provided health insurance for his family, that he apparently is too cheap to provide, or cannot afford, himself, he would not be on the cc. (Perhaps he should have thought about what he could afford before having 6 children. Being catholic is no excuse in this overpopulated, expensive world in which we live. ) He is only on the council for the benefits and pay, nothing else, as is evidenced by his absences and non-participation at cc meetings. He only pipes up when he has something nasty to say or to protect what he's got.
And just like the question, do we even need a charter, was ignored, the residents will again be ignored by the council majority when we tell them we don't want this charter and don't waste our money and time to put it on the upcoming ballot, just like with the first charter attempt. I did not hear one statement of concrete fact at last night's cc charter meeting that would indicate why we need this charter. A charter will NOT take care of any unfunded pension liabilities the city has, but when bootlicking sycophant charter committee members keep saying that it will, knowing full well that's a lie, it just shows us they've got nothing of any real value to sell this thing to us. It is nothing but another attempt by the RIGmeister to further his own political career and grab even more power for his dictatorially driven cc majority. November can't come soon enough!

4/23/2014 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Lumpy said...

Ron Amburgey wants to get elected to the Water Board? is he serious or just filled with Kool-Aid?

4/23/2014 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Volo pro Veritas said...

The G4S jailers are not subject to background verification by the city/PD. They do not have to be subject to a polygraph (as the city jailers do) and that was a sticking point in the contract. The PD wanted better oversight of the staff working the city jail. It seems reasonable, but was rebuffed.

Keep in mind it was a G4S jail officer who helped hatch and carry out the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks. Sure, these guys might WANT to be cops, but there's a reason they're not. The guys working the city jail under contract are not young men. If they haven't made the career jump by now, there's a reason. Just more distraction from the mayor, exactly what we have come to expect.

4/23/2014 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

WMC - I've been wondering the same thing about Gary and the marijuana deal he's now brought up at least twice at recent cc mtgs. Perhaps it's in self-interest, and he's planning ahead while he can, being a part of the current cc majority, for his next "career" move (he's termed out in 2 years, and god knows, there's no future in his "political career"). There is money to be made in the medical marijuana industry now (and I'm guessing he'll need the income to pay for his family's health insurance, unless that's a life time perk he voted for himself sometime ago) and even more money to be made in a recreational use industry - if and when voted in by Californians (like CO and WA). Or, he's been selected by the RIGmeister as his puppet to initiate bringing medical marijuana dispensaries back into the city (and no doubt tax them to the hilt, of course, without calling it a tax) because the RIGmeister and Stevie don't want to be associated with having originated this themselves and risk jeopardizing their own political careers with such, in the minds of many right-wing conservative republicans - whose votes they would be after, a controversial and "liberal" action. Or, it could be a little combination of both: Gary's happy be RIGmeister's puppet to deflect any potential criticism from his two pals because he, or even quite possibly some of his pals, wants in on a future lucrative CM medical marijuana scene.

4/23/2014 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

We don't need a charter and the voters in our town said just that in the 2012 General election.
I see a young man I know agrees with me.
Great photo of him, Geoff.
Thanks for a great writeup of this meeting.

4/23/2014 07:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Disgusted Republican: I think its along the lines of Gary having a "friend in high places" that he is doesn't want mentioned.

4/25/2014 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Righeimer's mantra that unions are Satan and that everything evil is "union". That is a Tea Party mantra that Righeimer came to town with and has caused his supporters to believe it calling people "union" like its a dirty name. They call conservative Republicans "liberals". Its the whole concept that this carpetbagger blew into town with and he knew how to sell snake oil. Didn't we have a nice surplus of money in the last budget? Yes, we did. Guess what? No charter was involved. This whole concept that its "do or die" just isn't cutting it. If we really have to accept substandard, unlicensed employees in order to save money building, then we really can't afford to build. Period.

4/25/2014 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

WMC - who would Gary's friend be?

4/25/2014 10:10:00 AM  

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