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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Meetings and leaders and minds, oh my

We watched three meetings this week and boy were they boring. Boring was a result of organization and leadership – routine business conducted routinely. No drama or pointless whining.

First, the study session

The first meeting was a Council study of the budget. Costa Mesa’swant” list of projects exceeds our anticipated income by about $12 million due to needed infrastructure updates. The money we must spend on infrastructure right now is partly a result of ineptitude by previous Councils. Earlier Councils deferred infrastructure maintenance and repair, such as road and alley and median care. Now, we have to pay for catch up.

We'll do a measured amount of catch-up each year until we can just do routine maintenance at a markedly reduced cost. Unfortunately, playing catch-up uses money we need for important matters like developing the West side of Costa Mesa.  Procrastination in repairing and maintaining infrastructure is usually bad all around.

New and improved process

The budget process used now in Costa Mesa works like this: first the City staff lists “must pay” expenses like pension contributions. They must be paid. Next it lists the we'd better pay” costs like employee pay and utilities. We need to pay and keep our workforce to provide the services we expect in Costa Mesa.

Finally, CEO Hatch prepared a list of projects we want to do, such as developing parks and recreation facilities, the infrastructure repair and maintenance mentioned, and support of schools and homeless. He suggested a priority for these expenses, but it’s up to the Council to choose what to fund.

Council professionals

There were some astute observations and insightful questions, and the discussion stayed on its timeline. Boring. No nay-sayers were heard complaining, opposing, or belittling and there were few diversions of discussion onto unrelated subjects. We had no speakers approving or disapproving (one must ask, who cares whether you approve or not, what is your point?).

Mayor led 

We'd attribute the efficient, organized and effective meeting to cooperation of the City Council members and City staff. Remember that we've defined leadership as “inspiring willing and enthusiastic cooperation in the accomplishment of a goal.” The meeting’s professionalism and decorum – and “boringness” -- resulted from Mayor Righeimer’s effective leadership.

Another meeting

Meeting two was the Planning Commission meeting chaired by Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick. This meeting, too, was characterized by efficiency, time control, and decorum. Insightful questions from each commissioner showed that they had prepared for the meeting and understood each issue well. Vice Chair Robert Dickson and Commissioners Jeff Mathews, Tim Sesler and Colin McCarthy each delved politely but incisively into the issue being discussed, demonstrating their differing perspectives.

Boring is not dull

Please don't read “boring” to mean “without disagreement.” Competent people with different perspectives didn't necessarily agree in either meeting. However, disagreement was fueled by logic and characterized by courtesy and respect. This meeting’s success and decorum – and “boringness” -- would also have to be attributed to good leadership. This time the accolades go to Chair Jim Fitzpatrick.

Meet the Mayor 

The third meeting could have easily deteriorated into blaming, name calling and accusing. “Meet the Mayor” at (the former) Bethel Towers addressed lots of heated concerns. Issues likethey're going to close the Senior Center,” “why didn't the charter pass last election,” and “the illegals are camping in the bushes and scare and disgust us” are laden with emotion.

Mayor Righeimer solicited concerns, explained the whats and whys, and asked the two Planning Commissioners present (Fitzpatrick and Sesler) to follow up on specific complaints. This meeting could have been a textbook example of how to reassure constituents and help them – and win their hearts and minds. A couple of the questions were soliloquies by confused speakers: the Mayor kept the meeting moving so that all concerns could be voiced.

Rumor control 

Apparently some folks have been told that the City will close the Senior Center if the corporation that runs it doesn’t behave. “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he said. “As long as I’m in office, and Pro Tem Mensinger, the Center is there.”

The Senior Center is owned by the City and run by a non-profit
corporation. If the corporation veers too far from City guidance, it can be replaced. The Center is not going to be closed in a pique of frustration about the corporation’s policy of demanding a $500 donation from every person appointed to their Board of Directors. 

Since the City provides much of the funding to the Center, it doesn’t want those who the Council appoints to be subject to this requirement. This will shake out over time.

Can't stop camping -- yet

The Mayor explained to the thirty-some folks in the audience that laws against camping in the City parks and recreation areas cannot be enforced until other housing is available, according to State law. The other housing is being developed. This could have degenerated into name-calling, blaming and buck-passing, and didn’t. It could have held up the meeting for multiple tirades – it didn’t. Good control, good  leadership.

“Why the charter didn’t pass” offered a great opportunity to blame the Union money spent in Costa Mesa. Instead the Mayor assumed the blame for not getting more community support in his rush to stop bleeding cash from Costa Mesa to Sacramento. He said he may have over-reached in setting the scope of the charter. In short, when something fails, a leader determines where HE failed, gets up and goes back to work. (Compare that to Jack Welch at General Electric, who exemplified the concept, and to members of our present National administration, who don’t.)

Three meetings, all run professionally 

So, we had three meetings that included a substantial amount of disagreement, but which were all run efficiently and well. Good leadership, transparency of government operations – and gifts at the “Meet the Mayor.” Mayor Pro Tempore Steve Mensinger and Mayor Righeimer’s daughters distributed Tees and hats to those who asked questions.

Boring, but refreshing. We're starting to do the right things the right way in Costa Mesa.

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