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Contract provisions targeted in city ordinance

Costa Mesa council will consider the law, which would require the city to bring in a negotiator and use an independent auditor, among other aspects.

August 20, 2012|By Joseph Serna

The Costa Mesa City Council will consider an ordinance Tuesday that would publicly outline the costs of employee contract provisions before city leaders can sign off on them.

The Civic Openness in Negotiations, or COIN, proposed by Councilman Steve Mensinger, would require Costa Mesa to bring in a professional negotiator on its behalf, have an independent auditor spell out costs of current and potential contract provisions, and show the public what issues the city has taken off the table.

The city's three biggest employee association contracts — nonsafety personnel, police and firefighters — are scheduled to expire in the next three years. Salaries and benefits for all city employees take up about 64% of the city's general fund.

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"This is simply a way to bring the employee contract out of the dark of a closed session and into a public forum so everybody can understand what's contained in each of them," Mensinger said. "One council agrees to a special pay this year, another council agrees to a merit pay increase the next year. And this all ends up in the [contracts]."

Thirty days before city negotiators would sit down with employees to negotiate contracts, the city would publish a report that lays out each section of the groups' contracts and what those sections cost.

"We are absolutely advocates for transparency, but much like the city of Costa Mesa's other attempts at convincing the public that they care about real transparency, this ordinance is not what it seems," said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which includes more than 100 Costa Mesa workers. "It increases costs for taxpayers and adds a cumbersome bureaucracy to the negotiations process — all in an effort to create a one-sided venue for the council to frame political attacks on Costa Mesa employees.

"This ordinance was clearly not written in the spirit of respect and collaboration that has led past city councils and employee groups to forge meaningful reforms. The backer of this ordinance has only one goal in mind: political opportunism."

The city is using Richard Kreisler of the Los Angeles-based Liebert Cassidy Whitmore as its negotiator. Kreisler charges $300 an hour. The law would require that the contracts be open for public discussion for at least two council meetings before the council can vote.

Representatives for the police and fire associations were unavailable for comment Monday.

"For too many years, the general public had no clue what these contracts contained, and what the impact on the budget is," Mensinger said. "All we're doing is shedding light on the process … you know the cost, and you know the component of the costs. We owe it to the taxpayers."

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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