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Commentary: Costa Mesa needs 'a return to normal'

August 21, 2013|By Jim Righeimer

Inhumane. Draconian. Extreme.

Those are some of the wild adjectives that the Costa Mesa employees' union recently used to describe the City Council's initial contract offer.

Few of Costa Mesa's hard-working and recession-hardened residents would use the same words for a contract offer that, among other things, reduced sick days for public employees from an astonishing 12 annually to a reasonable six (and doesn't allow them to bank unused days).

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The City Council also asked a workforce where 311 of the 450 full-time employees [about 200 are represented by the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn.] receive more than $100,000 in total compensation — including a five-star pension package that takes up 20% of the city's General Fund budget while still creating more than $220 million in unfunded liabilities — to take a 5% pay cut.

And there was the proposal to eliminate two of what's termed "floating holidays," still leaving the employees a dozen paid holidays annually.

I, along with I'll wager the vast majority of Costa Mesa residents, only want a return to normal.

For too many years, past city councils with the help of the employees' union expert negotiator (the city used a department head untrained in negotiations who would also receive any pay and benefit increases) have added more and more contracts until the pay and benefits are what most of us in the private sector could only dream of: the sick days, generous vacation allowances (that can be banked), seven automatic pay raises for each position, premium health care plans and an unsustainable pension plan that even today has drained the city's ability to keep up with its infrastructure needs. This is the result of the past cooperation union officials kept referring to. Of course they'd like to go back to those days.

Here's the irony. Thanks to a thriving business community that includes the tax-generating machine called South Coast Plaza, our city has plenty of revenue. The problem has been misplaced spending priorities. We've made public-employee compensation a top priority, squeezing out basic city staples such as infrastructure repairs and youth sports leagues.

No one but union officials would say that's fair to the taxpayer.

This isn't just a Costa Mesa phenomenon. It's happened in virtually every city and county throughout California.

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