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Righeimer: Union-backed financial review a 'stunt'

He says numbers from review were used against council in ads. City finance director says suggestions will put city in 'cash crisis.'

October 19, 2011|By Britney Barnes and Joseph Serna

COSTA MESA — Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer called a financial review that said more than $26 million in one-time money could be used to save city jobs a "political stunt."

The City Council took no action on the recommendations in an Orange County Employees Assn.-funded review by San Francisco-based Harvey M. Rose Associates at Tuesday night's meeting. The council voted 5 to 0 to file it.

There were no public comments on the item.

"Here's what we know: This whole document is a stunt," Righeimer said. "It's a political stunt. It's done all the time."

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Righeimer, who also called the document "garbage," went on to say that he knew the review was a stunt because the numbers were used to attack the council in ads.

OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said in an email that the review shows the city is nowhere near bankruptcy and is actually in a relatively healthy financial position compared to other cities.

The audit showed money available to the general fund that was "conveniently missing from City Council's political narrative to justify outsourcing city services," she said.

"The city's response is so full of misstatements and misrepresentations, it's clearly just spin to serve the City Council's political agenda," Muir said. "But I'll ask you, who would you believe: A reputable firm with decades of experience in public finance, or a group of rookie politicians who have already caused so much damage to the community?"

Costa Mesa Finance Director Bobby Young urged the council not to take an action on Rose's spending suggestions because they would put the city is a serious cash crisis.

Young wrote in the staff report that the recommendations are "not fiscally conservative and do not use prudent financial planning to ensure the financial stability of the city of Costa Mesa."

Rose's findings, presented in May, went over the city's finances for the last five years. The report didn't find any "hidden" pockets of money, but did find one-time, spendable cash.

Rose suggested some of that spendable cash could be used to save jobs until the economy recovers and the city sees higher sales-tax revenue, which is about 40% of the city's revenue source.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece pointed out that the city has dipped into these funds in the past, which Young confirmed, but he said that the city is not in a position to do so in the future.

The financial review came amid the council's May budget discussions leading up to its adoption in June. The council had approved laying off hundreds of city workers and potentially outsourcing their jobs to public agencies or private companies.

A court order limited that option to public agencies. The city continues to move forward with the process.

britney.barnes@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @BritneyJBarnes, @josephserna

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