In what can only be described as a disingenuous, ideologically based, attack on their family of city workers, the Costa Mesa City Council voted last night to send lay off notices to half of the city’s work force. Without even determining the amount of the City budget for next fiscal year, without even evaluating whether or not any savings could be realized, Mayor Gary Monahan and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, the only members of the Council’s Budget Work-group proposed that the City issue layoff notices to staff in 18 city departments.
Given the constraints identified above for a six-month noticing process and given the successful outsourcing of similar services by other cities, the Budget Working Group is recommending that the City Council act now to decide on outsourcing these identified City services:
- The entire Fire Department operations;
- Street Sweeping services;
- Graffiti Abatement services;
- Park Maintenance services;
- Parkway and Median Maintenance services;
- Fleet Maintenance services;
- Street Maintenance services;
- Facility Maintenance services;
- Animal Control services;
- City Jail services;
- Special Event Safety services;
- Information Technology services;
- Telecommunications services;
- Building Inspection services;
- Reprographic services;
- Graphic Design services;
- Payroll services;
- and Employee Benefit Administration services
The Council, in a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting, voted to accept their baseless recommendation. Councilman Steve Mensinger speaking to the Orange County Register after the agenda item was posted compared the notification process to that of the schools, where “600 teachers get a pink slip and then only 20 are let go. Collectively, there are probably three or four (services) that are better candidates than others,” Mensinger said, mentioning street sweeping and IT.
The facts however reveal a very different story. When school districts issue such notice, they do not issue wholesale lay off notices to all of their teachers or entire departments. When school districts take action to notify employees subject to potential layoff, they have at least some idea of how much they need to cut their budget, and therefore how many staff members may be subject to layoff. In the case of Costa Mesa, they do not even know how much they need to cut in next year’s budget.
Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer claimed in his remarks before the vote that the council’s action should be no surprise to anyone. The past election campaign “was about balancing the city budget,” Righeimer said. ” The voters made a clear choice.”
Righeimer’s assertion is not backed up however by any evaluation, study, or even budget projection. The Mayor Pro Tem offered only one explanation in his presentation to the Council, projected pension contribution costs. Displaying a graphic that he claimed was a CalPERS projection of future pension contribution costs for the next several years, Righeimer claimed that the pension costs for the city staff would cripple future budgets and that laying off staff was the only solution to those future costs. In questioning staff, Councilwoman Leece asked if the projections were from PERS or were the work of city managers. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, the figures were not from CalPERS as Righeimer claimed,Â the most dramatic of the cost spikesÂ were staff estimates for 2013 on.
The council majority claimed repeatedly that previous city councils had simply kicked the can down the road rather than addressing budget shortfalls. Former Mayor Sandy Genis suggested that the Council “was substituting kicking the can down the roadÂ with kicking their employees.”
The process outlined by staff indicated that based upon council action, rather than study the feasibility of contracting out services, they would immediately begin the process of seeking proposals to provide the identified services, in addition to conducting a full top to bottom review of all department budgets. Many of those services, such as street sweeping, have been repeatedly identified as being more efficiently provided by city workers.
No better example of the rush to judgment made by Righeimer and Monahan with their proposal, than the proposal from Righeimer approved earlier Tuesday evening “to transmit a letter to the Medical Director of the Orange County Emergency Medical Services requesting that he determine the feasibility and requirements to evaluate the addition of the City’s ambulance provider as added capacity to the current Costa Mesa Emergency Medical Service-Paramedic delivery system.”It turns out that at no point in Righeimer’s process did he even bother to ask anyone in the Costa Mesa Fire Department whether additional capacity was necessary, needed, or efficient.
While the room was full of city employees and their families, more than half of the speakers on the topic were city residents who spoke in support of the Costa Mesa workers facing elimination. One of the most clear messages was communicated by one resident who said; “I’m angry, and if you go forward with this you should be ashamed.”
One of the more ironic twists from this meeting was the recognition of the City’s employee of the month, Code Enforcement Officer Tim Sun. In addition to the recognition he received Tuesday night, Sun can look forward to a layoff notice. Building Inspection Services, including code enforcement, was on the list for outsourcing.
Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Employees Association, who represent the bulk of the workers facing layoff, pointed out the similarity between their layoff vote to the previous attempt to sell off the Orange County Fair Grounds. Muir asked the Council during comments from the public on the matter, “why would the city sell off their greatest asset?’