Council splits on commission appointments

A divided Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday made three appointments to the Planning Commission during a meeting that echoed the sharp political differences seen in the November election.

The council voted 5 to 0 to reappoint Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, but split 3-2 on returning former Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick and appointing newcomer Timothy Sesler. Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilman Gary Monahan voted in favor of the appointments; Councilwomen Wendy Leece and Sandra Genis dissented.

Genis and Leece supported giving Commissioner Sam Clark another term but failed to find a necessary third vote.

One of the three terms approved is for two years, and the other two are for four each. Fitzpatrick and Sesler each received the four-year terms.

McCarthy was chosen for the remaining two years of Commissioner Edward Salcedo's term. Salcedo resigned his seat Monday night, citing unspecified personal and business reasons.

Regarding the vacancy opened by Salcedo's departure, Genis asked if, given the staff report asking for only two appointments, the council was even allowed to appoint a third member. City Attorney Tom Duarte replied that the council could, after which members approved a motion — with Leece dissenting — to waive policy and proceed with the appointments.

Monahan nominated McCarthy, who then received the unanimous vote in his favor. Monahan and McCarthy, as well as Mensinger, campaigned in the past general election as the "3Ms" slate. Genis ran on an opposing slate supported by a grass-roots group, Costa Mesans for Responsible Government (CM4RG), but said her political differences with McCarthy last year did not influence her decision vote in his favor Tuesday.

Righeimer nominated Fitzpatrick. Genis, however, said she could not support Fitzpatrick, citing what she called his bad judgment becoming "embroiled through the various agencies. First he wants one job, then he wants the other job, then he wants the first job," she said.

She was alluding to his initial appointment on the Planning Commission, then his election by voters to the Costa Mesa Sanitary District's board in November 2010. His concurrent service, however, was problematic to his Sanitary District colleagues, who filed a lawsuit contending that service to both boards was a conflict of interest.

Fitzpatrick, who argued there was no conflict, resigned his planning seat in May in an effort to end the Sanitary District's lawsuit. The litigation continued, however, and Fitzpatrick resigned from the Sanitary District on Monday.

During the meeting, Genis accused Fitzpatrick of posting material regarding "female biological cycles" — an accusation that Fitzpatrick told the Daily Pilot after the vote he was "unaware of."

From the dais, Monahan defended Fitzpatrick, calling him a "tireless worker" who did a "very wonderful job" on the Planning Commission.

"I am very happy to support Mr. Fitzpatrick," Monahan said, "and as a far as his judgment, I have no problem with his judgment."

Mensinger said he felt it was wrong to "make accusations that are not founded … without the ability for that person to speak to those items."

Leece was critical of Fitzpatrick holding a small press conference at City Hall at the same time as a retirement party for a Costa Mesa police officer.

"I have a problem with Mr. Fitzpatrick's character as well," Leece said, "as far as poor judgment representing the city, and saying and doing things that are better left unsaid and left undone."

Fitzpatrick said when he called his conference, which decried campaign sign vandalism, he "had no idea" that the officer's party was happening; he didn't schedule the conference on purpose to conflict, he contended.

Fitzpatrick said Genis did not reach out to him in the appointment process, and that Righeimer, Mensinger and Monahan are "bending over backward to change, and I'm not seeing that from Leece and Genis. And I think they need to be held accountable for that."

"Their comments were pretty disappointing that they chose that stage to disparage an individual without any proof or sources," Fitzpatrick added, saying that some online comments are incorrectly attributed to him.

Before the appointments were made, Robin Leffler, CM4RG president, said of the situation, "This is a very interesting turn of events to suddenly have three seats open."

She referred to Righeimer's past statements calling for a collaborative and inclusive governing of the city and its council.

"If you do give the appointments only to people who were outspoken in their support for the three men on the council, then we'll know that's the only qualification for the Planning Commission," she said. "That's the most important one to you."

She said the other qualified applicants who weren't as vocal in the November election "had an equal amount to offer."

The planned appointments for the Parks and Recreation Commission, which has four openings, were pushed to the Feb. 5 regularly scheduled council meeting.

"That would give us a chance to meet a lot of what looks like some pretty impressive applicants," Righeimer said.

Twitter: @bradleyzint

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