City Life: Grown-ups battle a childish war

Every so often there is someone you know or someone in the news who you just want to grab, shake and say, "What were you thinking?"

I am tempted to run over to Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer's house and do that. But I'm also tempted to run over to the central office of Allen Rieckhof, president of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn., and do that to him, too.

The fun started about 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 when Righeimer, and plenty of other drivers, found themselves waiting a long time to get through a DUI checkpoint on Harbor Boulevard mounted by Costa Mesa police.

Anyone remotely familiar with the area knows that it is a place to avoid at that hour. In this case, rush hour turned into slow hour for thousands of drivers.

Righeimer decided he would question the police on the spot about why they had set up a checkpoint on a Thursday night — not exactly party time — why during rush hour and why on one of the busiest streets in the county.

So, he stopped his car, got out and did just that. Whether he was playing his planning commissioner's card is still being resolved as of this writing, but, regardless of that, confronting police officers at the time was not good judgment.

Neither was it good judgment on Rieckhof's part to be the first person to state that Righeimer's move was political, because there were mistakes on both sides.

Rieckhof stated at a City Council meeting that "… none of my members did anything wrong."

But if the Daily Pilot news report on the incident is accurate, four members most certainly did something wrong.

The initial Daily Pilot story included this passage: "Four police officers, each of whom asked not to be identified because they're not authorized to speak with the media, claimed Righeimer demanded, as a public official, that officers shut down the checkpoint."

Rieckhof is demanding an investigation into the incident. Fine, but let's make sure that investigation delves into the actions of those four officers who broke department rules.

For his part, Righeimer claims that Rieckhof's call for an investigation and the police comments thus far are payback for questioning the size of the police benefits package. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't.

The problem with that position is that he'll never get anyone to admit it.

I mean, can you see Rieckhof saying, "Yeah, well, it really was just Righeimer blowing off steam, but we decided to milk it for all it's worth because he's not on our side when it comes to pension protection."

Not going to happen.

Nor is Righeimer going to say, "I deliberately used my position that night and subsequently in the media to keep the police in line."

That connection from questioning the checkpoint to making the department hurt is not going to happen.

So what we have is a stalemate with two grown men acting like children.

That night, Righeimer was doing what many of us would have liked to do over the years, that is, question the usefulness of these checkpoints. That this particular one was during rush hour on a busy street was the tipping point for Righeimer.

Righeimer should be commended for questioning the checkpoint. Though his intentions were good, his execution was poor. And he knows darn well that bureaucracies do not like to be questioned and do not like challenges to the status quo. Frankly, I want advocates like this who are going to ask questions.

But the department is at fault, too. If the department is so certain of its version of the events that evening, then it should have remained quiet until the investigation has been concluded.

There is bad judgment on both sides and the only losers now, as usual, are residents, for they now have to read and listen to the grown-up version of two kids saying, "Says you!"

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com..

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