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Chairman is no Dave Wheeler

September 30, 2010|By William Lobdell

Editor's note: William Lobdell, who served as Daily Pilot editor before going on to a distinguished career in investigative reporting at the Los Angeles Times, has agreed to write a weekly column for the Pilot. His column will appear on Fridays.

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Why do Costa Mesans have to go all Fox News Channel on each other when it comes to Jim Righeimer?

I wouldn't want to hang around Righeimer — a Costa Mesa planning commissioner who is running for City Council on Nov. 2 — during a thunderstorm. The guy's turned into a human lightning rod.

In the latest example, Righeimer last month gave a tepid tongue-lashing to police officers who decided it was a good idea to set up a DUI checkpoint on Harbor Boulevard during the evening rush hour.

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Judging by some of the reaction, you would have thought he had sprayed graffiti on the walls of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, proposed Costa Mesa become a sanctuary city, or streaked across the football field during halftime of an Estancia game (sorry for the disturbing vision for those who have laid eyes on Righeimer).

But Righeimer's actions on that fateful September evening should raise, at most, an eyebrow — and maybe a sympathetic chuckle from those of us who wish we had the nerve to speak the truth to authority gone astray.

After being stuck in rush-hour traffic exacerbated by the DUI checkpoint that began at 6 p.m. (apparently to get a jump on the happy hour drinkers), Righeimer got out of his car and told police officers it was "ridiculous" and "outrageous" to inconvenience thousands of motorists with a checkpoint right after most motorists were coming home from work.

He identified himself as a planning commissioner and demanded that a meeting be held the next day so this kind of traffic mess could be avoided. On a recently released audiotape recorded by the police, Righeimer spoke in measured tones and ended the conversation by telling one officer, "Not your fault, you're doing your job, I understand."

Since this isn't Fox News, let's concede what Righeimer should have done. He should have stayed in his car, drove home and — after a night's sleep and a cooler head — complained to the appropriate city officials about the wisdom of the checkpoint's location and timing.

I'm also not thrilled that Righeimer identified himself as a planning commissioner, but he told me this week he was merely trying to be transparent.

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