Chicago Style Politics in the Sewers

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“The residents of Goat Hill are subsidizing Kobe Bryant,” says Jim Fitzpatrick, a director of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.

Fitz, as he is known by his friends, explains that the trash contract that the sanitation district has costs $19.95/household/month and Newport Coast’s contract, with the same vendor, CR&R Inc., costs $12.10/household/month.

For those of you that don’t follow such things, the sanitation district, according to its website, takes care of your solid and liquid waste (think trash and sewer) in Costa Mesa, parts of unincorporated Orange County and parts of Newport Beach, serving more than 116,000 people.

According to Fitz, the Costa Mesa district’s contact has not been put out to bid since World War II.  That was a while ago, even by the standards of old timers who refer to Costa Mesa as Goat Hill. Since then, the contract has been periodically awarded by the board without going through a bidding process. Fitz, rightly, is asking that district put its trash contract out to bid.

So what is the problem?  Sounds reasonable, right?  Well, you see, Fitz is the new guy on the block.  He defeated Arlene Schafer in 2010 by a measly 417 votes, or 0.9 percent.  Schafer was a former mayor of Costa Mesa and was elected to the district board in 1994.  The rest of the board, evidently, does not approve.

You see, Fitz, being the over-achiever that he is, was already an appointed member of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, when he was elected as a director of the sanitation district. This didn’t seem to be a problem until Fitz decided that the trash contract should go out to bid.  Then the rest of the CMSD Board decided that Fitz’s two positions were not compatible.

They are suing – using ratepayers’ money (so far nearly $35,000) – to have Fitz removed from the position that you elected him to. The district has limitless pockets (those would be your pockets) to hire attorneys to sue Fitz. But they will not pay Fitz’s attorney’s bills – he asked – and Fitz is being drained financially (so far $17,000).

So even though Fitz doesn’t believe that the positions are incompatible, he resigned from the Planning Commission post in May, to end the lawsuit and stop the bleeding.

So, the lawsuit is over right?

Not so fast.

The sanitation board, led by member Art Perry, is still pursuing the Fitz’s removal. Perry, by the way, ran for Mesa Water District board in 2010, which is a clear violation of the incompatible-office rule, so obviously what is good for the goose is NOT good for the gander.

And I thought Chicago politics were tough.

The sanitation board still has a 4-1 majority, but they evidently want it to be 5-0 like it was in the good ol’ days before Fitz.  So they are using the legal system to make sure Fitz stays in line.  Sort of makes you wonder if the proposed, no-bid, 20-year contract with CR&R at a rate 64 percent higher than Newport Coast’s  has anything to do with it, as Fitz claims.

I think the voters ought to send the sanitation district board a message in November and elect Fitz’s allies – new Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Jeff Mathews and accountant Don Harper.  That way, we can get a clean sweep of the “business as usual” crowd and maybe even save a few dollars for the ratepayers along the way.

Please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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