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Council candidates debate at forum

Three contenders portrayed the council majority's outsourcing plans as reckless, while two sitting councilmen and their ally said they seek to reform government and save taxpayers money.

September 06, 2012|By Mike Reicher
  • Harold Weitzberg, left, and Colin McCarthy, Steve Mensinger, Sandy Genis, Gary Monahan, and John Stephens, right, participate in the fourth "Feet to the Fire" Costa Mesa City Council candidates forum at the Costa Mesa Community Center on Wednesday.
Harold Weitzberg, left, and Colin McCarthy, Steve Mensinger,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

The battle for Costa Mesa's government burst onto the stage Wednesday night as challengers and defenders of the City Council sparred at the Feet to the Fire forum.

Three City Council candidates portrayed the current majority's outsourcing plans as reckless, while two sitting councilmen and their ally said they seek to reform government and save taxpayers money.

The forum at the Neighborhood Community Center drew about 250 people, the most vocal of whom cheered on the council critics.

Columnists and editors from local media outlets pressed the candidates on outsourcing, with Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia taking a hard line about the current City Council's actions.

"I think everybody has had enough time to see the damage and the fallout," she said, asking Councilmen Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan if they regretted how they handled the outsourcing process.

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The Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. had sued the city after the council voted last year to issue about 200 pink slips. Since then, the city has spent almost $1 million defending against the suit.

"We had knee-jerk reaction from the associations and we had a lawsuit," Monahan said, pointing out that the city expects more than $2 million in annual savings from park landscaping and maintenance, street sweeping and jailing — three city services the council has already voted to outsource.

Candidate John Stephens, a business attorney and council critic, said he would consider canceling some of the decisions already made to outsource services, if his slate won the majority.

"I think the process was infected from the very beginning," he said.

Stephens is aligned with former Mayor Sandy Genis and businessman Harold Weitzberg. The candidate trio has the support of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grass-roots citizens group. They have coordinated their attacks on the current council.

On the other side, Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy came to the support of Mensinger and Monahan. He argued that the city has the "sovereign right" to outsource and could have done it much easier if the city had a charter.

The seventh candidate, retired certified public accountant Al Melone, did not attend Wednesday's forum. Melone has said his main goal is to get a referendum on the city's fireworks ordinance.

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