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GOP obliges Leece to vote 'no'

Councilwoman has not yet decided on employee contracts. Party is holding her to a promise made in exchange for its support.

October 25, 2010|By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — Promising political consequences, the Republican Party of Orange County has warned Councilwoman Wendy Leece to vote along party lines Tuesday when the city employee contracts go before the council, she has stated.

Costa Mesa council seats are non-partisan. But Leece, a Republican, sought her party's endorsement, and there are plenty of Republicans in Costa Mesa who require advocacy, GOP officials said.

Leece, who is running for her second council term, issued a news release saying party leaders have sent her e-mails and left her voice mails reminding her to vote against the contracts. In the GOP's opinion, the contracts would continue to provide unsustainable pension packages for

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three of the city's employee unions, as well as the city's executives.

"This vote could possibly cost me the election," Leece said. "I have two very strong groups to consider. I never envisioned having to say this about my own party, but Republican outsiders are trying to control the city of Costa Mesa and its public safety."

Leece declined to name on the record the Orange County Republican Party officials but assured that they were well-known.

Scott R. Baugh, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, told the Pilot that when Leece sought the party's endorsement, she promised that going forward she would support defined contributions for new hires to make into their retirement programs.

"If this vote is contrary to that, I can see why she's getting so many calls," Baugh said. "The bottom line is she stood before our party in order to get our endorsement and said for new hires she would only support defined contributions."

By extending their contract, he said, she's extending a defined benefit plan for new hires.

The Republicans would rather see new hires pay into a program similar to a 401(k) retirement program seen in the public sector rather than be guaranteed pensions.

Leece said one caller told her that if she thinks she got grief for voting for last year's firefighters' contract, which allowed them to retire with 3% at 50, "I'd be very cautious about this one."

Instead of collecting their full benefits at age 55, the council last year voted to approve early retirement, which allowed firefighters to collect their benefits and retire at age 50. The amendment was part of a 10-point plan put forward to help close the city's budget deficit. It allowed some firefighters to retire early, and it saved the city $1.1 million.

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