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Friday, September 28, 2012

Catching up for the weekend 

Charter, again and more

We've discussed how a Charter can be developed before, but the wave of nonsense seems to return. A charter is an initiative, and, like all initiatives, can be proposed by citizens (a percentage of registered voters agree it should be on the next ballot) or by the City Council. Then we, the voters, decide.

How it was developed

Charters, like most important documents, are usually developed by a single person or a small group of people passionate about the subject, then tested, modified, and finally subjected to the final authority. In the case of marriage contracts, purchase agreements, and most any legal document, pieces are “cut and pasted” to get the best out of all the work others have done before.

So the breast beating chants of, “it was cut and pasted…it’s the work of one man,” and such are disingenuous at best. That’s how the Declaration of Independence was written, and tested and improved until it was finally issued. We don’t know if Jefferson was called as many names as Righeimer has been (called), but we are sure that he used paper rather than data strings to paste together the best ideas available for his document.

It matters not

In any case, who cares? The Charter’s designed to give Costa Mesa control of her money. Almost everything the city does will continue exactly as before, same laws and penalties and procedures. A few items, that are inimical to union officialdom, do change. So the dangerous Charter, AKA “the monster under the bed,” is just a dust bunny to Costa Mesa’s citizens, and we need to move on.


Three candidates assured us they were not supported by big labor, but the endorsements by AFL-CIO give lie to their assurances. These are the “nay-sayers” who have proposed little except opposition to the progress we've made in budget, transparency, and governing. That is, Genis, Weitzberg, and Stephens.

Three were endorsed by the Orange County Register as having viable plans for dealing with Costa Mesa’s problems and improving her infrastructure. These three are Mensinger, McCarthy, and Monahan.

Identified, then promised

One candidate published an open list of what he believes Costa Mesa needs, what dangers she faces, and how he proposes to deal with both the needs and the dangers. This is Mensinger.

His opponents are crying, “No to the Three Ms, No to the Charter, No to outsourcing” – but to retain at least a little credibility they agree that a Charter is probably needed, but “not this one,” and “not one made this way.” And they agree that transparency is needed but it “should cover everything” that anybody talks about, but they have no practical suggestions. They just oppose, vilify, and protest.

Know the ropes or learn. . .or not

Monahan, of course, is very well versed in matters concerning City government. At coffees and Candidates’ forums he, and Mensinger, and newcomer McCarthy demonstrate a good grasp of the issues and intimate familiarity with the massive studies done so far on outsourcing, labor negotiations, and Charters, and with the processes necessary to get stuff done.

Two of the nay-sayers, Genis and Stephens, admitted during the Feet to the Fire forum that they weren't familiar with the studies or background information and would have to read up on the studies (which have been conducted over the past two years and are readily available). I guess it's not surprising that they oppose instead of propose -- needs less research, less thinking.

Repeated instead of developed (ideas)

Genis reminds us she didn't cause all the City’s problems when she was mayor, years ago, and Stephens reminds us he’s a lawyer and he has an office in Newport Beach and he’s an active supporter of Fountain Valley sports. And he opposes the Charter as very dangerous (like organized labor says it is).

The other nay-er, Weitzberg, wants to shout down people who disagree with him and wants Costa Mesa to limit the number of marijuana dispensaries – somehow.

Summing up

So, we can sum up the political situation going into the weekend as:

Some people; don’t like the way the Charter was developed (that is, like the Declaration of Independence), so they urge us to vote against it. “Let's teach ‘em a lesson; we'll eat worms!”

The unions will lose excess power and the organizers will have to work harder to collect political donations under the charter. Not much else will change.

Three of the candidates, AKA the Three Ms, are well-informed, have solid plans, and, two of them have a record of remarkable accomplishments on the Council including award-winning transparency and a balanced budget with increasing reserves. Both recognize that they've made mistakes, and, in Mensinger’s case, have struck people as being abrasive in his one-way, “get it done” approach.

One candidate out-yells opposition and supports medical marijuana through local dispensaries; one is a lawyer and knows what good law is. And one is pretty and pert and even giddy, but she didn't cause the City’s problems while she was mayor.

Supporters define their candidates 

Supporters of the nay-sayers complain, ascribe motives, and call Council Members names at just about every meeting I have visited. They flash distracting and insulting signs and sometimes obscene gestures at the Council members during meetings and during forums. These are the supporters of Genis, Stephens, and Weitzberg.

Supporters of the three-Ms, McCarthy, Monahan, and Mensinger, sponsor coffee meetings to explore issues with the candidates, compliment the Council members and City staff when they make their citizens comments at Council meetings,  and address supporters and opponents alike with respect in the meeting halls.

What am I missing

I must be missing something here. It shouldn't be that clear-cut. Perhaps one of the anti-everything folks or a (probably dyspeptic) angry blogger will be able to set me straight.

Until then, that’s how I see it.

Charter -- or Legislature -- or Committee?

Earlier we found that public employee labor organizations are likely to view the Charter as problematic. They’re the ones pointing fingers and crying, “It’s a dangerous charter, it leaves too much unsaid, it’s scary, it will take away rights . . .  

Do labor unions actually have much power? After all, it’s primarily the CM4RG group that does the anti-charter speaking. And sings protest songs. Not much clout, there.

Citizens vs. Unions

Well, courts have to decide if the employee unions are more powerful than the citizens in San Diego! Employee unions sued to block a ballot measure. They believe that 145,000 county citizens shouldn't be able to place a measure that affected their members on the ballot until the union officers were consulted!

How about in Orange County? 

You can build it big

Well, you have to understand that pension spiking is still OK in Orange and a few other counties. Members can save up their vacation time and special benefits pay until their last year, and then use the total to compute retirement benefits. That’s why some retire at higher pay than they ever earned while they were working. Would anyone willingly give up a $100,000 retirement?

You can bet they’ll use every bit of influence they can to grow the benefits, not decrease them. Is this a big problem, then?

What happens in other counties

It’s difficult to get hard numbers for large counties such as Orange County (which isn’t a surprise), but data from a two smaller counties (that couldn't obfuscate and block fast enough) might suggest the extent of this problem. According to the Daily Pilot,

In Ventura County, where the pension system is underfunded by $761 million, 84% of the retirees receiving more than $100,000 a year are receiving more than they did on the job. In Kern County, 77% of retirees with pensions greater than $100,000 a year are getting more now than they did before.
There are numerous ways to spike salaries . . . in fact; there are 60 categories of payments that Ventura County employees can convert to cash, and then to higher retirements.
Don't steal his check
Can we cut back the retirements? Nope, the benefits are considered contractual – they're promises. There’s some question about the effects of a complete bankruptcy but I don’t think we want to search for those answers in Costa Mesa.
This also addresses the crocodile tears of those who tell you about the poor, hard-working mechanic finally nearing retirement, or the gardener who is depending on his retirement, earned over 30 years of hard, manual labor in high temperatures. Like all present employees their retirement benefits won’t be affected a bit by the Charter.
Will the State help us
So, if we aren't going to renege on our agreements with present employees, can the State help us stay solvent? Maybe.
The Governor would like to have salaries averaged for three years to compute retirement, or maybe to figure the retirement based only on regular pay. Or something. And, bills for that might be passed by the State Legislature. Or not.  And, if they’re passed, they may then be amended. Or not.
Or help ourselves
Costa Mesa can take control of the outpouring of our funds and prevent future abuses and excesses – without Sacramento’s OK. First we pass the Charter. Then, if we want to change the benefits for future employees, we vote, and before we can change the benefits again – we vote again. It’s strictly up to us, the folks who pay the bills. But only under the Charter.
But they said they weren't when I wrote my check
A lot of the “monster under the bed” Charter warnings from the three anti-M candidates echo the union script. Wait: didn't candidates Harold Weitzberg, John Stephens and Sandy Genis go out of their way repeatedly to assure us that they are not supported by big labor? Then, why do their warnings sound like they come from the unions’?
Well, the Orange County Federation of Labor, the local arm of the AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers 324 have endorsed these candidates. Their meetings and newsletters promote the anti-M’s. So, if “not supported by the labor unions” means they haven’t received a paycheck – yet, maybe their assertions are true. But, paychecks aren't the only way labor supports – or buys – candidates.
It's happened before
Recall the last Council election. Do you remember that labor organizations paid about $12,000 for printing and distribution of campaign materials to elect a currently-sitting Council member, , according to the Pilot.  “I'm not supported by the unions” didn't mean that the unions didn't endorse and finance a candidate then, either.
The articles and outrage about that were hidden by the noise focused on the police officers’ dragging anti-candidate signs behind patrol cars and harassing a Council Member’s restaurant patrons. So, the endorsement and financial support weren't as noticed and protested.
Who cares
But why do we care how much the employees get when they retire, anyway?
Simply enough, because we pay the bills and money is limited. Paying the costs of excessive pensions eats up the money we can use for services and infrastructure in Costa Mesa.
What is infrastructure as used here? It means roads (that’s the spaces between potholes in some areas, what we drive over while hitting potholes in others), alleys, lighting, parks and sports playing-fields – basically the stuff that makes living in Costa Mesa a pleasure. Services, of course, are the fire and police services, graffiti removal, and so forth – what keeps us safer and more comfortable in Costa Mesa.
What do we want in Costa Mesa
So, someone has to decide whether to spend our limited money either improving roads and alleys, or increasing retirement benefits. That can be us using the Charter to control Costa Mesa’s expenditures in accordance with Costa Mesa’s needs – and our existing laws.
Or we can hope Sacraments gets some changes made soon. Real changes, not eyewash like the bill Governor Brown just signed. Or we can get a committee together to develop guidelines about writing a new charter, heck; maybe they’ll even sing a song about it. And wait. And wait. And maybe get a charter, perhaps a much weaker charter, someday.
It’s up to us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More Charter Chat

There’s a lot about the differences between Charter and General Law cities available from the nonpartisan California League of Cities at: . The City site has the link under Charter Measures, too.

Benefits accrue how?

The primary benefit of a charter, as we've seen in earlier blogs, is that “charter cities have supreme authority over ‘municipal affairs.’” That is, a charter city’s law will trump a state law governing the same subject. This is detailed more in a future blog about the proposed Charter for Costa Mesa.

The charter does not need to detail every municipal affair the city wants to govern; it just has to declare that the city intends to use all of the powers provided by the California Constitution. The Charter proposed for Costa Mesa does this and it reserves powers not yet defined, while it absorbs all of the debts and obligations (such as contracts) of the previous city government. Pretty much boilerplate, but that’s what lawyers do.

Summaries and charts for the interested

There’s a summary on the City’s web site that gives a pretty good overview of what is changed for Costa Mesa. In general, whenever a matter involves only Costa Mesa money, property, and/ or citizens, Costa Mesa law will be followed. In all other matters, current state law applies. And, in reality, most of the matters involving only Costa Mesa still continue to be governed by our existing regulations, rules, and procedures, all in accordance with state and federal law. So, no change for most processes and procedures – we just follow our current laws.

Fear and loathing from . . .

But, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead, and to generate “fear and loathing” in Costa Mesa.

For example, I've read and heard that the charter takes away rights granted by the Constitution to individual citizens when it grants all rights not specifically mentioned in state law to the city. That section only deals with the division of power between the City and the State – it does not try to overrule the Constitution of the United States regarding citizens. It is boilerplate that certifies that any city matters that haven’t been specifically defined as state regulated – such as street sizes, which are state mandated – is to be considered solely Costa Mesa’s business.

Friends get special treatment, right

And, there’s a lot of misguided talk, too, about “giving special advantages to (Council Members’) friends.” Hogwash! That’s against the law now, and it will be under the Charter. However, some special interest groups have misled a lot of folks about these “dangers” the Charter raises.

Whose ox is being gored

There’s a reason for everything, so let’s see who is inconvenienced by this specific Charter to get some ideas about who might be promoting misinformation. That’s misinformation in Costa Mesa, especially, but also statewide, and even nationally (see the on the 23 Sep blog for comments from a Newport Beach woman about a National Public radio program ).

The actual dangers in the proposed Charter are to the excess power of some organized labor units in limited areas of their operations. Very limited changes, and it certainly doesn't “defang the unions” any more than it cripples them. 

It does present a risk of more work for some union officials who will have to convince union members to donate to political causes the union supports instead of just assessing their contributions. That’s much like one of the propositions on the State ballot. But, with this provision in our Charter, we know it can’t be changed by Sacramento. And, the Charter insists on fairness in contracting; forbidding preference to union contractors, and that, too, can’t be overruled by Sacramento.

State already solved the problem

Also, I've heard “Governor Brown signed a bill that stopped the union excesses,” so the Charter isn't necessary right now. Not true. He signed a bill that, if it isn't modified any more – unlikely – will start reducing the excesses – but only for newly hired personnel. The legislature and the governor are able to modify even such modest change at any time. However, Costa Mesa’s charter insures that any major changes to compensation or benefits will be presented to the voters for their approval before they can be adopted.

The question is, then, should we depend on Sacramento politicians and lobbyists to keep the benefits’ costs within Costa Mesa’s means, or do we want to control our multi-million dollar outgo ourselves?

What the "Three-M's" get out of this

And I’m hearing more and more that the “three M’s want the Charter to pass so they’ll benefit personally.” Well, if that means get kickbacks and additional business through their positions on the Council, it means that any of them stupid enough to try to benefit personally will soon be in jail, before or after the Charter.

If it means they’ll have exposure to go on to higher office, all three Ms are committed to Costa Mesa and aren’t willing to go to state office. So what will they get from the Charter?

Well, Mensinger will have more playing fields for sports, all three will have better streets, roads and other infrastructure, and all three will enjoy living in a city that attracts good, hard-working folks who want the best for their families so they buy their home in Costa Mesa. In return, they’ll be insulted and be accused of having sinister motives during Council meetings, called names in blogs . . . But they’ll also go to sleep at night knowing they made their City better. A lot better.

We all want some of that

Come to think of it, we’ll all get those bennies without the name-calling. So, what’s not to like?

Coming soon

In a future blog we’ll start digesting the Charter section by section. I’ll try to keep the boring stuff as minimal as possible --- but I’ll give you plenty of references in case you’d like to wallow in the boilerplate sections.

Monday, September 24, 2012

National propaganda is like Costa Mesa's 

While surveying local campaigns for propaganda techniques I was amazed by the national “Straw Man” deluge in today’s politics. Straw Man, you remember, is creating an image, a “scarecrow” so to speak, to attack, and then assuming victory in the debate because the imaginary opponent was vanquished.

Disprove the Trickle-Down Theory today!

Have you noticed the often-very-detailed tirades to refute the “Right Wing’s Trickle-Down Theory?” “Trickle-down theory” is the “Straw Man” attacked, discussed and dismissed, although no such theory exists. (Don’t just take my word for it; Thomas Sowell, an economics scholar and columnist and a Hoover Institute thinker at Stanford University can’t find it either.)

As far as I can tell, this imaginary opponent is a belief that tax decreases for the very wealthy benefit the lower income folks because the rich buy a lot of goods and services and the increased business activity somehow “trickles” some wealth down to them. That’s preposterous, of course.

It doesn't work that way

Increased tax revenue follows tax cuts for the wealthy -- yes. But that's because it becomes profitable for those who earn their living by investing their money to use it to grow businesses and the economy.

Here’s how that happens: when the very rich face confiscatory taxes they keep their money in tax shelters and overseas. This means they have lower income and lower taxes, and that the U.S. collects less taxes. But when their tax rate decreases they invest in new and expanded businesses, which increases their income – and taxes paid -- while it creates jobs, and ultimately increases the total tax receipts. Yes, their investment increase the amount that of tax they pay, as well as their portion of the total.

Close their tax loopholes

Why not just close the “loopholes” or tax shelters?  Well, some of those shelters, like municipal bonds, would then get no money. Or, roads and police departments would be financed by bonds that would cost much more, so affordable services would decline.

And, as a practical/political matter, the politician who attempted the closure would find that a great, great deal of money rolled over to supporting his opponents.

So, the practical politician maintains the “loopholes” that benefit both the rich and his own constituents (by funding their infrastructure), but makes sure to stand up firmly in the class warfare. He'll surely insist on high tax rates for the “rich” or the “one percent” so he’ll appear a leader in giving “the little guy a fair shake.” But he'll protect the loopholes.

Is this just theory?

Has all of this ever happened? Of course. Decreasing the  taxes on the rich has been used by both conservative leaders, such as Reagan and Bush, and by Democratic Presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy, just for samples.

Prove it, then

Can we show that lower taxes for the One Percent increase jobs and total tax income – as well as increasing the share of total tax income paid by the rich? Absolutely! Let’s look at the early 20th century first because the numbers are smaller and easier to display accurately.

To quote Sowell (Trickle Down Theory and Tax Cuts for the Rich, 2012, page 3:

The facts are unmistakably plain, for those who bother to check the facts.

In 1921, when the tax rate on people making over $100,000 a year was 73 percent, the federal government collected a little over $700 million in income taxes, of which 30 percent was paid by those making over $100,000.

By 1929, after a series of tax rate reductions had cut the tax rate to 24 percent on those making over $100,000, the federal government collected more than a billion dollars in income taxes, of which 65 percent was collected from those making over $100,000.

And, a bit later in his paper, he says,

There were 206 people who reported annual taxable incomes of one million dollars or more in 1916.

But, as the tax rates rose, that number fell drastically, to just 21 people by 1921. Then, after a series of tax rate cuts during the 1920s, the number of individuals reporting taxable incomes of a million dollars or more rose again to 207 by 1925.

Under these conditions, it should not be surprising that the government collected more tax revenue after tax rates were dropped. Nor is it surprising that, with increased economic activity following the shift of vast sums of money from tax shelters into the productive economy, the annual unemployment rate from 1925 through 1928 ranged from a high of 4.2 percent to a low of 1.8 percent.

Roughing up a Straw Man is easy

Refuting the “Trickle-Down Theory” is easy, since it doesn’t exist. It makes a fine Straw Man for pontificating, though. And, we’ve seen that the national campaigns mirror Costa Mesa’s in propaganda techniques, with “Straw Man” being featured today. But there are so many other techniques being used that it’d be hard to even list them all in one sitting.

Keep repeating it , even if it's a lie

Finally, don’t forget (from the 8 Sep blog):

Adolph Hitler (in a statement formulated by Joseph Goebbels):  "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Even if they are lies . . .

Is the repetition convincing you?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Propaganda in opinion pieces

In previous blogs we’ve studied examples of propaganda. Today let’s expand our search from news and blogs to opinion pieces. We’ll consider a column and a letter to the editor, both in September issues of the Daily Pilot.

Defense criticized for what's missing

Candidate Monahan wrote, in a Pilot commentary defending the Charter:
…I can think of plenty of laws Sacramento politicians have approved that imposed costly mandates on our city, dictated how we spend our residents' tax dollars and told us how we must conduct business in our own city.
…Costa Mesa has had to listen to Sacramento politicians who are out of touch with our needs, controlled by special interests and are only looking out for themselves.
That’s generalization by Monahan. A column by Jeffrey Harlan criticized Monahan’s defense of the Charter for leaving out facts. He may have missed or obscured a few facts himself. He says,
Let's start with Monahan's central argument: Costa Mesa is somehow under the merciless thumb of Sacramento, and we need to "break free" to recapture local control.
Is that what Monahan’s piece says? Harlan’s techniques here are “exaggeration” and “out of context.”

Ludicrous or probably true?

Harlan also waxes sarcastic about Monahan’s listing of a minor benefit found in the Charter:
In what has to be the most ludicrous statement in his commentary, (Monahan) asserts that the charter provision prohibiting the city from collecting political contributions through payroll deductions …protect the workers themselves.
This is Monahan’s “ludicrous statement:”
In addition, the charter would prohibit the city from collecting political contributions through payroll deductions from city employees. This protects our city workers from having to financially contribute to political causes they might not support themselves.
Since the provision allows union members to write a smaller, or no, check, it does seem to protect (especially) the lower income union member as Monahan asserts. It’s another “tempest in a teapot.”

Prevailing wage exemption drowns aquatic center

Harlan goes on to criticize the Charter’s exemption from paying prevailing wages on contracts. He says,
Just ask the residents of Oceanside how their charter's prevailing wage exemption delivered a half-constructed harbor aquatics center by a contractor who was financially unable to perform the work and meet its contractual obligations. Ultimately, the delayed project was taken over by a surety company, and the city was forced to reduce the project's scope by $1.4 million.
I don’t understand how paying workers the prevailing-- and higher--wage would have made the contractor more solvent or the Oceanside officials more effective in their “due diligence.” Would Mr. Harlan have offered the City Council officials union wages so they’d do their job better? This is Red Herring and Straw Man techniques working to influence opinions in spite of fact or logic.

Better charter . . .better columnist, take your pick

Ironically, Harlan’s column uses “selective presentation of facts” to criticize Monahan’s selection of facts. 
Mr. Harlan also says that “We deserve a genuine charter that is thoughtfully crafted. . .” Perhaps the Pilot deserves a genuine columnist . . . who crafts thoughtfully.
Mr. Harlan isn’t alone in using opinions as facts, though.
Criticism from a Newport resident
A Newport Beach resident, “shared” in a letter that,
I heard on a National Public Radio program Sept. 13… discussing the Costa Mesa City Council and … the question of Costa Mesa's transparency regarding outsourcing costs, restructuring plans, various contracts awards, open bidding, etc. They referred to some "exceptions" when it included the council members. Information regarding much of the expenditures by council members as well as monies and favors received by lobbyists, interest groups, etc. are exempt. I guess when it comes to the council's transparency, (sic) it's opaque, not transparent.

Unfortunately, they weren't there at the time

Ms. Fitz-Gibbon, and the NPR commentators, apparently didn’t attend the same Council meetings I did. The issue was whether a Leese proposal, which had been rejected previously, be re-addressed instead of the COIN proposal. Righeimer pointed out that, 1) the COIN ordinance was part of personnel law so it couldn't duplicate the Leese proposal about all contacts, regardless of subject.
Then Righeimer said 2) he had voted against Leese’s proposal because it demanded excessive time and effort by council members and would have been onerous to use. (He and Leese were charged to develop together a practical proposal for the Council.) At that meeting Mensinger noted that about 75% of Costa Mesa’s expenses go toward personnel costs, so that is the first category to bring into the open.

Missed the boat by missing the obvious

Also, Ms. Fitz-Gibbon missed the obvious – Costa Mesa’s kudos for transparency: number one city statewide and highly rated nationally. If she were a Costa Mesa resident she could just check her City’s web site for almost any information about City personnel, contracts, or operations.
And she ignored the obvious in that Council Members are bound by the same campaign disclosure laws in Costa Mesa as in Newport Beach. What she states that NPR intimated was happening in Costa Mesa would be a crime – if the intimations were supported by facts instead of opinions.

She has an opinion just like everybody else

And she winds up with:
…I'm mournful and concerned about the "good old boys club" that has taken over the city. I can only hope that come November, the city will elect some new people. . .
Perhaps NPR or someone she knows in Costa Mesa thinks that the transparency is opaque, back room deals are done, and so forth. That’s their opinion. And, as a Newport Beach resident she learned about Costa Mesa’s “good old boys club” from . . . whom? Somebody’s opinion? All of which influenced her to assert her own opinion:
I can only hope that come November, the city will elect some new people. I want my neighbors to be represented by intelligent caring people who aren't an embarrassment throughout the country.
Maybe NPR has a program that discusses the difference between facts and opinions -- and opinions about opinions. I can only hope that come November Ms. Fitz-Gibbon understands that difference.

More to come

There are a lot more examples of selective reporting and of using opinions as facts in this campaign. It’s fun to look for them, and we’ll be back with more examples soon.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Charter Chat    

There’s so much Charter debate – and misinformation – spewing into Costa Mesa’s news and views now. Good? Bad? Both? Let’s take a look at the Charter, in a blog or three. Just what does it actually say?

What's it all about?

First, there are two types of city government under California State Law: Charter Cities and General Law Cities. Charter Cities write a lot of their own laws to fit their local needs. The advantage, of course, is that the laws fit their needs. The disadvantage is that a lot of updating is needed which takes time and money.

General Law Cities choose to be governed by a body of law enacted by the state legislature. So, the expense and effort devoted to keeping their legal codes current and orderly is minimal. They can enact local ordinances within certain limits.

For example

For example, if a mining city in the Northern California Mountains can persuade (and purchase) enough votes in Sacramento, general law can be amended to give mine workers special benefits. In that situation Costa Mesa would be required to search out and offer the benefits to any mine workers it can find in the city. However, if Costa Mesa were a Charter City, it wouldn’t be bound by that state law and wouldn’t have to search for miners.

Independent, but not always

There are a couple of exceptions to the independence, though:

Whenever money from the state or federal government is involved, the state or federal regulations apply. If they’re paying for it they’ll make the rules. (I know, it’s all our money but government folks don’t see it that way.)

And, if the project affects another city’s property, or federal property, directly, then the state or federal rules apply.

Blended benefits

The Charter proposal coming before the voters of Costa Mesa is a blend. For most things Costa Mesa we have existing ordinances, regulations, and procedures, all established in accordance with State law. Most of them will continue in force under the Charter. And, the State will keep the underlying laws up to date for us. In a few critical areas, citizens of Costa Mesa will take back control, though.

Not much really changes

Such matters as financial controls, like audits, and integrity enforcement are unchanged. For example, City Council Members are forbidden – with criminal penalties in some cases – from influencing purchasing contracts or directing city operations. So, a Council member cannot now “give a contract to his friends” or hire who he wants. And under the Charter? Exactly the same – same laws, same penalties.

But some list everything in their charter

For various reasons some cities have decided to make policy in their charter. This looks good to a casual glance, but, since a charter is much like a constitution, an update requires a long time and a lot of money.

For example, say a Charter specifies an audit by outside agencies every year (Costa Mesa’s audits are scheduled by our regulations in accordance with state law and good accounting practice). Then, say the Public Accounting standards change to every other year. The city with the audit frequency specified in the Charter would have to have hearings, draft the changes, have hearings on the draft (and if it were Costa Mesa, would have to listen to the nay-sayers at every Council meeting!), then put the change on the ballot, and let the community certify the change.

Much ado about very little

That’s silly. It would be like forcing a lawyer to go back to school every year to get familiar with current legal practices. (There wouldn’t be very many prestigious legal offices in Newport Beach any more.)

Or a lot

If we’re talking about a significant change, such as a major increase in workers’ pay or benefits, though, citizen control is great. The citizens who are governed and who pay the bills should have the final say.

How you make one

Now let’s address how charters are established.  Since a charter is a basis for governing a city, much like a constitution, it must be approved by the majority of the voters. It gets on the ballot in either of two ways; it’s proposed by the City Council, or, a specified percentage of the registered voters in the city agree it should be on the ballot. 

That’s true for all initiatives. Changes to the charter are made exactly the same way – by ballot as proposed by the City Council or the voters.

If the City Council wants citizen input, they often form a committee – this group is generally elected to study the charter and to write a draft. (In several California cities this process – electing, studying and writing – has been ongoing, sometimes for years. Delay and obfuscation are tactics of choice.)

Can do it our way -- like most other cities

Or, the Council can do as Costa Mesa’s Council did; draft a sample, call for citizen input, have the staff massage and clean up the text, review it, and put it on the ballot. Which way is best? 

That probably depends on whose ox is being gored. The nay-sayers and some thinking folks don’t like the way this one was prepared. Others don’t see much problem. Whether it was prepared in an ideal fashion or not, the intent is the same – take control of Costa Mesa governance and expenditures as quickly as possible.

Road blockers

Those who want to see lots of dissent for their own agendas will raise, “monster under the bed” fears. And, They'll chant “but not this charter,”or “not any charter made this way,” or “not Righeimer’s personal charter.”

No one will go on record as opposing control of Costa Mesa by our citizens, of course. They just propose, expose, and accuse to obscure their goal – no Charter (the groups giving us money oppose it!). So they say “Let’s study it more” – as if two years of study was inadequate. “Let’s get a citizens group (elected) to study it,” -- perhaps forever.  Is the purpose better-informed choices? No, the purpose is to delay; to delay the Charter as long as possible.


In a later blog: more about what the Charter actually says.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'd have whipped him, that's for sure (updated)

Remember being in Junior High School when a (fist) fight was anticipated? Most often one party didn’t show and the other swaggered around (secretly relieved) throwing punches at an imaginary opponent and daring the opponent to come out and fight.

The Anti-M candidates (Genis, Weitzberg, and Stephens) are really, really, ready to debate, but they’ve been cut off. But, they have credentials and accomplishments, and they really, really want to debate.

Cancelled out of debate

Costa Mesa United,  which is a non-profit group promoting youth sports, and is something like  a Home Owners’ Association (HOA), cancelled a scheduled Candidates’ Forum they were sponsoring that focused on youth athletics. They said the cancellation was because two of the candidates in the debate are on their Board of Directors (BOD).

As a HOA BOD member I can surely understand – it’s very important to maintain both the reality and the appearance of impartiality. My HOA faced a lot of heat (from a couple of the M’s, actually) about a perceived conflict of interest and impartiality because we have a member who is also an officer on an advocacy group. Cancel the forum that involves BOD members debating non-members? Of course, it’s a slam dunk (pun intended).

I wanted to fight, really

The three Anti-M’s immediately press-released and interviewed with sycophant bloggers about how ready they were to debate. To read it, they were all once very sports-minded, and they think youth sports are critical to Costa Mesa. (They didn’t say, but I’m sure they’re all in favor of motherhood and apple pie, too.)

A lot of the sports support they cite is from (kinda’) long ago and (kinda’) far away, with Stephens citing his pride in his work for Fountain Valley and other city teams, and Genis talking about her (what else) accomplishments in a past reincarnation as a CM Council Member – and Mayor. John, who is a lawyer – which he cited often last month – and has an office in Newport Beach, a prestigious area – also cited often, mentioned that he scraped cheese out of cookers after games, just like a regular guy. Apparently he even came to the meeting dressed to play -- or to impress -- or maybe just to pretend (see update, below).

The nefarious motivations surface

And, predictably, the pundits started offering hidden reasons for the forum cancellation: fear in a suspected future Council candidate (named Katrina) that an angry parents group would show up to confront Sandy (Genis) for advocating against lights on a playing field – Harper Park – in Fountain Valley. Oh, yes, and John’s perceived weakness in that his own children attend private schools and his sports-support happens in other cities.

Since all three are able politicians I imagine they had arguments ready for these criticisms. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything specific that they actually do advocate, just “give the kids more” – money, I guess. The “throw money at the problem” solution is a point of contention in this race, anyway, so the debate might have become profound.

How it played out

However, according to the Daily Pilot, Stephens showed up with a baseball glove and hat, and Sandy wore a High School Sports shirt. Also according to the Pilot, about five non-CM4RG folks showed up, so I guess there weren't a lot of people there to ooh and ah about two candidates' costumes and pretended "sports-mindedness."

Walking the walk, not talking the talk

Mensinger got involved in politics by trying to get the city to pay for the grass seed he was buying for playing fields, gravitating eventually to the City Council. Monahan’s restaurant supports local youth sports and his kids attend local schools. McCarthy has sports support background and experience, and is and will be (a little child in the house, too), sending his kids to local schools.

Mensinger and McCarthy spend a lot of their “free” hours on youth sports, so they’re probably better informed about problems. But, whether their positions on the BOD gave them an advantage or not they have pretty good credentials for walking the walk in CM youth sports, which would have been an advantage over their opponents -- who don’t.

But to me, the important point was that unfairness could have been perceived. So Costa Mesa United had good reason to cancel the forum.

Easier to swish the air

I wish that the candidates who aren’t particularly involved in CM sports had identified specific Youth Sports problems or the solutions that they’d favor as Council members. There’s certainly plenty of information available if anyone were interested. It’s easier to throw punches at the air, though

There's a right way to display

Flag customs and courtesies are simple. For example, when the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the flag is suspended over a sidewalk, the flag's union should be farthest from the building.

If there are others present

When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor - to its own right.

..The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger.

..No other flag ever should be placed above it.

..The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.

On the dais

On a speakers’ platform the flag must be above and behind the speaker, and if on a staff it is to the speaker’s right.

If you leave it out all night

The federal code says the universal custom is to display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open, but when a patriotic effect is desired the flag may be displayed 24-hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness

Also, the U.S. flag should not be displayed when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.

I wonder why

I wonder why some, or at least one, of the candidates won't understand how to fly a flag. For some of us, the flag is a symbol of great importance and allegiance. Perhaps some candidates don't share our devotion, but common sense would suggest that they not show disrespect to a flag if they choose to use it in their campaign. Those of us who care take note, and hear an implied message, whether it's intended or not.

I wonder why they do that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Found another blog (Updated 21 Sep)

Today I was checking the news and some of the more irrational blogs surveying propaganda techniques used in this election, and I found a new blog. Actually, I was referred to it by a hysterical, semi-homophobic outburst from a regular blogger.  

Fear and loathing in the cauldron

After reading this in Geoff West’s blog, I was intrigued:

...  He posts photos of me frequently on his blog…  I speculated recently that he might "have a thing" for me … today he posted what apparently is one of his favorite photos of me …and told his readers that he was trying to imagine me 'in tights'.  Too weird! 

That certainly sounds ominous, and definitely weird. So I looked up an H. Millard on the blog CM Press and found the comment that got Geoff so excited:

…this pathetic, whining Geoff West, who apparently sees himself as part of a lefty rapid response team--sort of a super hero of the left (yeah, imagine this guy in tights)--rushes in with another negative whine.

Say what?

Uncomplimentary, but that's the only reference to tights, and the profile pictures he posts of Geoff are, well, like the "Walmartians have Landed" pics that circulate on the web. They're clearly not fan photos. Geoff goes on in his blog comment:

So, to set the record straight - so to speak - I find these bizarre shows of attention from this chest-thumping Neanderthal bully to be completely unwelcome.  I'm a VERY HAPPILY married - 45 years and counting - heterosexual man.  … (he) will have to visualize someone else in his "Deliverance-on-the-log" fantasies.  Ewwwww!  He will have to find another subject of his pent-up, prurient passions - perhaps in the back woods of West Virginia.

I wonder if this is a case of simple over-reaction, or if it’s an example of a phrase Shakespeare made famous, “Methinks (the lady) doth protest overmuch.”

Slanted for sure, but refreshing

Political commentary can sure be fascinating, intriguing, even confusing – but it's so rarely logical. So, CM Press is refreshing in that it seems logical and fact-oriented, although it’s certainly solidly slanted strongly conservative, possibly even Libertarian. He expresses some radical, perhaps distorted, views about race (actually ethnicity).  H. Millard uses pictures, like Geoff, but doesn't use the ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation points that Geoff does. And Millard makes more use of sharp wit than of name calling and labeling. Bigoted? Perhaps. But he shows some actual reasoning in the three blog entries I looked at. And thinking bloggers are rare.

Newspaper endorsed 3Ms

Geoff may have been unhappy (or dyspepsic, see earlier blog) about the OC Register’s endorsement of Mensinger, Monahan, and McCarthy today. Apparently Geoff's favorites, the three anti-M candidates, didn't convince the newspaper’s editorial board that they had a positive agenda and a plan for implementing it. That supports what I've seen in the news releases, City Council meeting comments, and blogs so far.

Missed a chance for answers

I attended a HOA BOD meeting instead of visiting with and questioning the three Anti-M’s during their casual meet-and-greet in the park (I’ll address this in a later blog). I hope I didn’t miss my only chance to get them to talk to me about their views of, and plans for, Costa Mesa. It’s been hard to get even a courteous answer from any of them at the forums – or a substantial reply to my post-forum email questions.

According to the Daily Pilot newspaper on 21 Sep, Genis, Stephens, and Weitzberg all agreed that, if they had the power (such as being elected to the CM City Council) they'd eliminate the job of Communications Director. Genis suggested replacing the position with a grant writer to bring more money into Costa Mesa.

I’ll keep trying to get them to talk with me, but there are only a few weeks left before the election.