Lobdell: Poor execution of an idea worth considering

March 07, 2011|By William Lobdell

March Madness has already hit Costa Mesa.

In a dizzying, four-day span beginning Feb. 25, the council placed a last-minute item on its agenda that proposed sending pink slips to nearly half of the city's employees.

The only information given to the public about the item was a bare-bones city staff report that lacked any meaningful details, including the number of employees targeted for potential layoffs and the estimated cost savings.


And then the new council super-majority voted 4 to 1 to send out about 200 layoff notices that warn employees that they could lose their job in six months.

Wham bam, thank you, ma'am.

The council did virtually the same frantic dance steps to ram through a proposal on another 4-1 vote to explore allowing private paramedics — billed as a complement to city paramedics — to serve Costa Mesa residents.

This agenda item had flown so low under the radar that no one at the Costa Mesa Fire Department was consulted about it, and the city's emergency medical services coordinator — the experienced and well-respected Larry Grihalva — told the council as nicely as possible that he wondered why no one hadn't tapped his vast knowledge on the issue. He practically begged the council to use his expertise.

The Costa Mesa City Council seems to be operating on the philosophy that former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi used when pushing through the nation's health-care reform bill: "You have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it …"

Or there could be another explanation: The council members had been injected with some of Charlie Sheen's tiger blood, leading to highly aggressive behavior.

Look, privatizing government services will always be a difficult journey to embark upon, especially locally where residents interact with and are fond of their public workers.

For instance, in 1993, Newport Beach debated whether to lay off seven employees and hire a private company to trim the city's 20,000 trees, hoping to save $123,000. Many residents protested the then-radical step.

One city tree trimmer summed up the feeling at the time: "You have to have somebody who knows what they are doing if you need to cut a tree over a $1-million house in Corona del Mar. You won't find a better quality of work anywhere."

But guess what?

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