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We run 'a different offense' in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa: A City Divided

Critics say the City Council hastily pink-slipped some 200 city employees. Righeimer says they had to act swiftly to make lasting change before the next election, or else the city would never get on the right path.

September 01, 2012|By Mike Reicher and Joseph Serna

"You just have this idea," said Perry Valantine, a council critic and retired city planner, "that they have a goal in mind, and they're going to get there however they can get there."

Stymied by an employee lawsuit, the majority's hurried outsourcing plan is costing the city at least $1 million to defend so far, and a court injunction will block layoffs until the suit is resolved. The councilmen will tell you those legal fees are not their fault, because it is the employee association suing.

Mensinger says privatizing could solve short- and long-term budget deficits, the city's unfunded pension liability, and take care of immediate problems, such as an aging infrastructure in need of repair sooner rather than later.

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"By shifting to the private sector, you save money," Mensinger reasoned. "By saving money, you're able to solve all those stand-alone issues."

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What they knew then

City leaders didn't know with certainty whether outsourcing would help when they handed out more than 200 pink slips and launched the organization into tumult. In March 2011, they had not yet reviewed private-sector bids to see whether they'd save money.

Since then, city administrators have studied 11 services, finding seven would be more efficiently served fully or partially in-house.

So why the rush to notice some 200 workers?

The public reason is the councilmen — Councilwoman Wendy Leece steadfastly opposes their plans — followed contractually required labor protocol.

"Everybody knows that [a pink slip] doesn't mean you're going to be laid off," said Righeimer, who has proposed a city charter that would avoid such rules requiring long notice.

The city, he said, was just adhering to its agreements with workers' groups, which require a six-month lead time in case positions are eliminated.

A three-judge panel from the state Court of Appeal disagreed with the council majority's argument. In August, the justices upheld an injunction temporarily blocking outsourcing. The Costa Mesa City Employee Assn. had sued the city over the pink slips, throwing a wrench into the council's plans.

Employees who received notices "were faced with the daunting prospect of being terminated," the court ruling stated. "Job loss is always a serious matter, and in this post-recession era of high unemployment, it cannot be taken lightly."

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