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Closed-door contract talks planned

Costa Mesa council getting used to COIN process for negotiations, including timeline and transparency specifications.

March 29, 2013|By Jill Cowan

In a closed session before its meeting Tuesday evening, the Costa Mesa City Council will continue working toward a starting point in the first set of contract negotiations to take place since the passage of the city's new transparency ordinance.

The current contract for general employees who are not public safety workers will expire Sunday.

Depending on how closed-session discussions go, the council may publicly disclose some aspects of negotiations, per the process laid out in the Civic Openness in Negotiations, or COIN, ordinance, said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.

A city financial analysis aimed at making the costs of employees' pensions more clearly understandable has been posted online since mid-February.

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Because the analysis was conducted by the city, the Orange County Employees Assn. has expressed doubt about the analysis, and association spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said in February that the group planned to review the city's accounting.

Muir couldn't be reached for comment by deadline on Friday.

According to COIN's provisions, that analysis had to be posted at least a month ahead of the start of negotiations. Then the council hired a designated labor negotiator, also as required by the ordinance.

Now, Mensinger said, "We're kind of in the red zone." He said the parties involved have already had "a couple meetings to talk about our process — our goals and objectives as council members."

Once an initial proposal is made by either side, COIN requires that its terms be made public and comments invited.

Mensinger said that he didn't know yet whether negotiations would be at that point by Tuesday, but in general, he said discussions were "going fine."

Councilwoman Wendy Leece said COIN has lent structure to what has in the past been something of a fraught process. Furthermore, she said, the presence of labor negotiator Richard Kreisler has helped.

"The picture was entirely different [before the city worked with a negotiator]," she said, adding that she feels confident "because we're following the process. ... Now it's a lot more serious."

Still, Leece said, because COIN is a novel process, the city is still feeling its way.

"We've really been looking at COIN in-depth and really understanding the process and the timeline and the deadline, and the part the public plays, and understanding their opportunity to weigh in on the process."

"We really haven't done this before," she added.

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