Official: Tiff 'pure politics'

Planning commissioner says his stance on pension is why police want him disciplined. Union leader disagrees with statement.

September 22, 2010|By Mona Shadia and Joseph Serna,

The show of unity by dozens of Costa Mesa Police Assn. members, who packed the City Council Chambers Tuesday night, points to increasing political tension between Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer and the police union.

Righeimer, a City Council candidate, is under fire from police for getting out of his car during a DUI checkpoint and arguing with officers over whether it made sense to screen for drunk drivers before an Estancia High School football game, slowing traffic to a snail's pace.

"It's pure politics," Righeimer said. "It's because of my position on pay and benefits."

During an Aug. 18 City Council forum debate, Righeimer repeatedly pointed his finger to the back of the room where representatives from the police and fire unions were present. Righeimer warned that the Police and Fire departments are watching carefully and are ready to bring down any candidate who stands in the way of their pension reform.


The city is in the middle of negotiations with its five union groups to find a way to close the budget deficit.

Although the police union plans to come out against Righeimer's candidacy for council, union President Allen Rieckhof contends that assertions that the planning commissioner abused his power at the checkpoint have nothing to do with contract negotiations nor with his philosophy on pension reform.

"Righeimer has no control over contract negotiations," Rieckhof said. "He will not have any control because it's the current council that has control over our contract. The public is mixing it up, thinking it's us against Righeimer. It's not because of political purpose."

Righeimer simply stepped out of line when he threatened to call Police Chief Chris Shawkey to shut down the operation, Rieckhof said.

"He created this situation," Rieckhof said. "He didn't just ask questions; he started making demands, throwing his weight around as a planning commissioner, and when he didn't get a reaction, he riled up some bystanders."

Righeimer could have used a different approach to handle the situation, Rieckhof said, stressing that there's nothing wrong with asking questions. He could have called or e-mailed his concerns to the police chief or the traffic commander.

But Righeimer said he's not the type of person who watches on the sidelines. He claims he saw several near-accidents because of the traffic.

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