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Costa Mesa investigates police dispatch center

Source claims employees fearing cutbacks may have been told to look busy.

March 24, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — A high-ranking city official confirmed Thursday that the city's legal counsel has completed an investigation into whether police dispatch center employees acted busier than usual when a city councilman toured the facility last month.

The official, who spoke with the Pilot in February and this week on the condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement related to the investigation would likely be made Friday or Saturday.

It was unclear whether the suggestion to make the center look busy came from a supervisor or a rank-and-file employee, or whether employees actually complied with the request, the source said.

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Police dispatch is among the services city officials have considered outsourcing.

City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch, who was then assistant city manager, told the Daily Pilot in February that he met with attorneys from the Jones & Mayer law firm to discuss an anonymous letter, whose author claims employees scrambled to look busy when Councilman Steve Mensinger toured the city's communications center building Feb. 9.

The law firm conducted the investigation.

"I wasn't aware of all the things that went on obviously," Mensinger told the Daily Pilot in February. "It bothers me a lot, some of the claims being made. Obviously 911 and our dispatch system can't be subject to any funny stuff. This involves people's lives."

The letter dated Feb. 10 was addressed to Hatch, the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register. The Daily Pilot chose not to publish a story about the contents of the letter in February because it was unable to confirm whether an actual employee penned it.

A city official with knowledge of the investigation has since confirmed that the letter came from an actual employee, but could not verify the validity of its contents.

The outcome of the investigation, and whether there would be repercussions, was unknown Thursday evening.

Hatch said in February that no city employees have been put on administrative leave with the launch of the inquiry.

Despite the claims in the letter, Mensinger said that during his tour of the center, it didn't look particularly busy nor did employees there try to represent the staff as overworked or burdened.

Under Costa Mesa's Telecommunications Division, the dispatch center handles all of the city's fire and police 911 calls and internal city communications.

All of the employees there were given layoff notices last week as the city faces possibly outsourcing 18 city services to stave off rising pension costs.

The division has a $3.2 million budget and 21 employees, Administrative Services Department Steve Mandoki said in February.

Mandoki was also given a layoff notice because an overwhelming majority of his department could be outsourced.

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