Missing signs causing uproar

Hired private investigator confronts Estancia High School football players about vandalized employee union's signs.

July 29, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

COSTA MESA — Politics boiled over into other areas of city life this week, as the Orange County Employees Assn. found itself having to explain why a private investigator was questioning parents of high school football players about missing campaign signs.

"Scores of our supporters have reported their signs were vandalized or stolen from their private property," OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said Friday. "We attempted to look into and resolve the matter privately so that nobody got in trouble."

Instead, the group found itself in trouble with some Estancia High School parents when a private investigator stopped by their homes, and asked if their kids knew anything about the missing signs.


The two families who were contacted have players on the football team, and Councilman Steve Mensinger is one of its boosters.

"Blaming us and my brothers in your drama, it makes me embarrassed to say I live in a city with such people," Estancia's star running back, Robert Murtha, wrote on Facebook.

"You got problems? Fix it," he continued. "But sending investigators to my home draws the line. Have to go that low to blaming high school students?? What great adult role models…"

Since the City Council elected in March to outsource nearly half of the municipal government's jobs to cut costs, council members reportedly have been targets of vandalism, while workers have claimed that city leaders have targeted them for harassment and intimidation.

"Without regard to the specific topic, I think it's sort of out of bounds," said Jim Scott Jr., president emeritus of Costa Mesa United, a local sports organization.

"I've lived in Costa Mesa since the 1960s," he added. "This is outside of my bell curve of life in the norm … It's inappropriate because they're kids. Kids should be off limits. They're not voters."

According to the Orange County Register, which first reported the news, the investigator said he was hired by an unnamed employee union. Mensinger jumped on that Friday and issued his own media statement.

If the story is true, he said, the OCEA needs to rein in its leadership, specifically General Manager Nick Berardino. Neither the investigator or the students' parents were available for comment Friday, and no one other than Mensinger has accused Berardino of being involved.

"Hiring [private investigators] to intimidate our community's kids — who by the way did nothing wrong — might be labor's accepted practice in New Jersey or Detroit, but it's not right in Costa Mesa, and it needs to stop now," Mensinger wrote in his statement.

OCEA denied that any intimidation was involved and maintained that it was only looking into missing political signs.

"There were and continue to be a lot of rumors in the community about the disappearance of Cancel the Layoff signs, and we respectfully followed up by making a few simple inquiries instead of jumping to conclusions," Muir said. "We just wanted the vandalism to stop."

Muir then took aim at Mensinger, by saying it was the councilman who was trying to intimidate workers and residents opposed to the city's outsourcing proposals.

"We hope he'll knock it off soon," she said.

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