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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Council leadership, subtle and direct 

Last night’s City Council meeting was extended but productive. We found that a stack made from just one copy of each public document concerning the meeting measured over 1 ½ inches. So, there was lots of homework for the Council – and for citizens. Digital agenda and staff reports are available on the city’s web site. (HERE)

Mayor Righeimer is displaying aggressive (but amiable) leadership in getting the work done. New Council Member Genis appears to have done her homework. And she displayed insight and astute thinking during the meeting.

Council at work

Member Monahan doggedly sought information he believed was missing from a staff presentation, and Mayor pro Tem Mensinger displayed his usual statesmanship as he presented and defended a proposal for another City committee. Member Leece was absent. Best of all, the Council played well together.

Awards and comments

The Mayors Award was presented to a loved and respected long-term influence in Costa Mesa, Sister Mary Vianney Ennis. The presentation and acceptance is worth a look. (The video is here)

Citizens’ comments had been well-planned and orchestrated in support of changes to the City’s fireworks regulations and of partnering with Costa Mesa United to support youth sports. The folks supporting Council actions should be commended for bringing as much organization and motivation to Council meetings as the “anti-everything” folks.

Ex-parte revisited

Mayor Righeimer began a practice of asking the Council Members for reports of any “ex parte” communications about agenda items of financial import as they were discussed. (Ex parte is a Latin term meaning “from one party” used in legal circles to relate any contact with principals in the matter being discussed.)

This pretty well opens COIN-like transparency to all financially significant Council issues. (None of the members disclosed what their conversations were about, though. Perhaps that will be an issue in the future.) Now what will the City Employees’ associations and the chronic nay-sayers have left to warn us about (or divert attention to)?

All grown up

All in all, this Council is starting to look like an effective, and well-led, government body, and the citizen-speakers are sounding like productive Costa Mesa Citizens with concerns or requests. The theater of the absurd that we've seen at past council meetings has diminished since the new regime took hold, and was absent last night. Good riddance.

It’s nice to feel proud of the City Council; we’d like to enjoy that pride twice a month.

The Mayor’s Award and proceedings will be discussed in the newspapers, particularly the OC Register. We’ll focus instead on observations about the meeting.


A developer presented information about a site; the information was clear and controversial, but one of the representatives was hard to take seriously. When a supposedly-professional person is chomping gum like a stereotypical “Valley Girl” the clash between appearance and ideas is stark. The same criticism could be applied to some of the otherwise-influential City staff members from time to time.

To improve. . .

If an executive is making a presentation she’d certainly comb her hair and wear a jacket. Why wouldn't she spit out her gum before the meeting? Perhaps these folks would benefit from observing their bovine-mimicking mannerisms on video.

And, we think that presenters should attend “how to present” training prior to appearing before the Council. The IT Chief seemed to be throwing out lots of both relevant and irrelevant data  in response to questions. Although it’s interesting to hear how he decided on a course of action, what the background for his decision was, and the current state of changing IT technology in the area . . . an answer of “no” was all that was needed.

A past presentation by the City’s Assistant CEO about the Homeless Study group activities suffered from the same surfeit of data that obscured the thinking. The City should sponsor Toastmasters training for its executives. Or the CEO, who presents quite well, should teach a class for the other presenters. The savings in Council time alone would be worth it.

Issues passed

CMPD in-car-computer upgrading slipped through as a consent item. Outstanding and well overdue. (Consent items are routine matters that aren't likely to be controversial. Some regimes, such as Bell’s City Council, reportedly slipped very controversial financial decisions through as consent items. That misbehavior makes citizen responsibility to read the staff reports more acute – even though we have an honest Council.)

One shaky issue at the meeting was creating an IT fund from money borrowed from the General Fund, and arranging to pay back the loan with General Fund money. Councilman Monahan questioned the need for the financial manipulations, and apparently wasn't satisfied with the answers. He cast a dissenting vote on the issue, although he favored financially supporting the upgrading and improvement of our IT infrastructure.

The fund seemed to us to be duplicitous. Perhaps the IT fund with its borrowed money could be spent with less Council oversight. Or it could be a way to “lock up” some of the budget surplus. Whatever its purpose, it seems sneaky.

That is not, in any way, to suggest misuse of the money – the City procedures protect very well against that and the executives involved have reputations for integrity

But, it might be tempting to have a fund to use as needs develop without the cumbersome process of bringing details to the City Council. Or, one might understand that IT, having suffered from non-maintenance for so long wants to lock in its support as soon as it can.

Perhaps the loan-filled fund is just an efficient way to process funds. Perhaps not.

Look for in the video 

The Mayors’ Award and the discussion of IT, and the sharp questioning about a site’s development are worth a look; you can skim through the video when it’s posted and view those parts. Be sure to watch the Mayors’ Award for a great example of professionalism by both the Mayor and the recipient.

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