by Mike Harmanos
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 19, Mayor Jim Righeimer was lamenting his decision to recuse himself from a vote regarding paying the legal expenses for the Police Officer’s Association (POA). He recused himself because he and Mayor Pro Tem Mensinger’s are plaintiffs in an on-going lawsuit against the POA.
He went on to make the very concerning comparison that, “If we had, in front of us, a project a developer was bringing forward, and he found out that [Council Member] Sandy Genis was gonna [sic] vote against it, all they have to do is go up to Sandy Genis and punch her in the face, and if Sandy Genis sues, she can’t vote on the project.” The implication being that Genis would have a conflict of interest analogous to his own situation.
I have multiple problems with such a statement from anyone in our city leadership at a public meeting.
First, the Mayor’s comparison is based on two highly improbable circumstances — the developer finding out Council Member Genis’ position prior to her vote and the developer using violence because he/she wasn’t going to get Genis’ vote. But even if that did happen, wouldn’t the developer be arrested for assault? Wouldn’t the developer’s arrest cause the Council to seriously reconsider the project?
Second, Conflict of Interest is based on one of the parties having a financial stake in the outcome of the situation. In Righeimer’s situation, both the mayor and the mayor pro tem have an interest in the outcome of the POA’s negotiations for the city to pay their legal expenses because it could impact their lawsuit.
Third, Costa Mesa has rules regarding decorum at meetings. Section 2-60 (b)(1) of the Costa Mesa Civil Code says, “It shall be unlawful for any member of the council to violate any of the following rules: Members of the council shall not, by disorderly, insolent or disturbing action, speech, or otherwise, substantially delay, interrupt or disturb the proceedings of the council.” On its face, Mayor Righeimer broke the law with his disturbing and insolent speech.
Fourth, the Mayor’s remark is disrespectful and inappropriate on many different levels. What kind of leadership (or lack thereof) is exhibited in mentioning this example from the dais? It’s no secret in Costa Mesa that our mayor has strong supporters and strong opponents. The political mood in our fine city remains tense, and comments such as his inflame passions even further. We can agree to disagree about the future of our city. None of the major issues Costa Mesa faces – pension reform, public safety, land use, and budgets – are going to get solved when the drama gets turned up yet another notch.
Finally, and most disturbing, is the use of violence in the mayor’s comparison. Let us assume that, in his example, the developer is a man. What kind of man punches a woman? What kind of man uses that example without thinking about the violent act itself? Sadly, violence against women is nothing new. There is a new book titled Man Up, written by Carlos Andres Gomez whose central theme is that “… the solution isn’t just to stand up for women, it’s to hold men accountable. We can do that one moment at a time – on the sidewalk, in the subway, at the dinner table, at the game, on the bus, at the bar, with ourselves.”
In my opinion, that extends to how we govern our city, and this is one of those moments in time.
I have no doubt the mayor will apologize at the next City Council meeting. The question for all of us is, “How do we hold him accountable?”
Mike Harmanos is a resident of Costa Mesa