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Column: Leadership Tomorrow panel got me thinking about the quality of leaders today

Good leadership inspires — and creates — common sense solutions.

Poor leadership breeds chaos, confusion and, in some cases, glaring embarrassment.

I’m focusing on leadership because I had the pleasure of leading two Leadership Tomorrow panels on May 17.

The hour-long panels — one with mayors, the other with city managers — featured officials from Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine and Tustin.


Leadership Tomorrow’s program is a series of nine workshops over nine months focusing on team building, business development, education and other local governmental issues.

The mayor’s panel included Costa Mesa’s Sandy Genis, Newport’s Marshall Duffield, Tustin’s Al Murray and Irvine’s Don Wagner.

Wagner, a former assemblyman, brought his dynamic political personality.

Murray, a former police officer and Medal of Valor recipient, oozed self-assuredness and humor.


Genis, a political veteran, proved knowledgeable and detailed.

Duffield, a businessman, seemed lost at times, as the group discussed the dynamics of city governance and leadership.

For example, we discussed how these cities’ mayoral positions were ceremonial in nature, but that at any time any one of them could be thrust into the media spotlight, should their city face unforeseen tragedy.

That begged the question as to why Duffield was absent in the aftermath of the deadly helicopter crash near John Wayne Airport in January.

Duffield said city staff had invited him to make a statement and participate in news conferences along with first responders.

He opted not to, as he and his son had recently flown on that very helicopter, and he was too upset to join in.

But shouldn’t a mayor set aside his or her personal emotions?

Shouldn’t they be at the forefront, praising the heroic work of city fire and police, as well as sympathizing with those who lost loved ones?


Duffield responded maybe so, but he wasn’t up for it.

As the discussions progressed, Murray, Wagner and Genis stressed the importance of good working relationships with their city managers.

Duffield, who was instrumental in speeding up Newport City Manager Dave Kiff’s planned retirement, didn’t chime in here.

And that wasn’t the only uncomfortable moment.

Wagner spoke about the lengthy search to replace Irvine’s former city manager, Sean Joyce, who retired in February. Interviews are just starting.

Given the length of Irvine’s search, and the controversy surrouding Kiff’s retirement, it’s possible that Newport won’t hire a new city manager until just before the November elections. And what if the council majority changes after the election?

One scenario: A new council majority could choose to fire a new hire in December.

So how can Newport expect to attract quality talent when faced with such messy circumstances?


Duffield didn’t have an answer for that one either.

Lack of leadership certainly creates a domino effect of confusion, and Newport’s city’s manager search saga has only just begun.

Costa Mesa animal control update

One city that continues to show strong leadership regarding animal control is Costa Mesa.

It’s been six months since the city took matters into its own hands by contracting with Dr. Anthony Rizk of Newport Beach Animal Hospital to serve the medical needs of city strays and partnered with the nonprofit Priceless Pets Rescue for adoptions.

I contacted all parties this week for an update.

“The current shelter service operations provided through NBAH and the adoption service operations that are being provided through PPR are both going well overall,” said Justin Martin, Costa Mesa’s parks & community services director.

Martin said of the approximately 180 animals entered into the shelter, nearly 60 have been adopted, and that doesn’t include animals redeemed by their owners.

“We are proud of these strong statistics and only hope to continue with an even greater percentage of adoptions as we move forward,” Martin said. “Our main goal in this area is the welfare of the animals and the city, and our contractors are dedicated to this.”

He commended and thanked Rizk, Priceless Pet Rescue and the city’s animal control officers “for their continued efforts on raising the bar for animal care in Costa Mesa.”

“The city’s new Animal Services Committee has been tasked by the City Council to assist with reviewing options and making recommendations for what may become the city’s long-term solution for animal sheltering and adoption,” Martin said.

The committee recently began meeting. As members get their bearings they will begin to delve into potential long-term scenarios, he said.

“In the meantime, staff is recommending that the City Council consider contract extensions for both NCAH and PPR that will go through January 2019, or until the Animal Services Committee and staff can provide recommendations,” Martin said.

Rizk said he welcomes a contract renewal, if the council approves one, and will suggest the new contract give folks more time to find lost pets by extending an animal’s stay to 10 days, rather than seven, before going to Priceless Pets, which has locations in Chino Hills and Claremont, for adoption.

The shelter hopes to open in Costa Mesa soon.

Lynette Brown of Priceless Pets told me her organization is still in the “planning department steps on our Costa Mesa location” and “until all approvals are obtained by the city,” she can’t say more about the location.

Rizk said the working relationship among the city, himself and Priceless Pets has proven to serve the city’s animals well and he looks forward to the next six months should the council approve a contract extension.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at