At Tuesday evening’s city council meeting CEO Terry Matz and Chief Brice of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) presented their proposal to provide fire and paramedic services for the City of Costa Mesa. I’m no budget expert, but from what both gentlemen presented, it doesn’t sound like there would be much, if any savings, using OCFA. In some cases there were cost increases. These were justified by the OCFA by saying they had better services to offer than our current fire department. In fact, there would be substantial costs paying for the fire fighters that will lose their jobs if the fire services are contracted out in the form of medical benefits and retirement costs. Those costs will continue but there will be no current union fire fighters paying into that fund. A few speakers expressed the same observations during public comments on the matter.
When the question of timing in relation to how fast the OCFA would be able to respond to calls, Righeimer chimed in with his observations that the neighboring cities, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, rush right in to assist. He stated, “In a major fire situation, I have just never seen a fire department not respond.” I would like to know how many fires he has actually seen, and if he has any idea how much it would cost to reimburse those neighboring cities for their services. It sounds like pretty shaky ground to make up the slack in timed response to calls by assuming neighboring cities will be there on demand. Not to mention, the cost of reimbursing them when they do was not factored into the bottom line.
The OCFA representitives were given approximately an hour and a half to present not only their proposal, but a less than impressive “commercial” for their organization, which for some reason had no sound. It may have been more impressive if the video had sound. I am not sure why that happened. It is certainly more time than the current fire dept have been given to offer their proposal.
Councilman Bever questioned, in response to information regarding concessions the current city employed fire department have offered to make, why they have not been allowed to negotiate these concessions before now. Wendy Leece didn’t waste any time in answering that question. She stated that the with “the current climate,”( i.e. the union busting agenda of Monahan, Righeimer and Mensinger) negotiations with the current city council hadn’t been offered to the fire department. Righeimer snapped, visibly angry, that any time they (the city fire department) want to negotiate, we’re willing to negotiate. Wendy, wisely cementing Riggy to his word said, “So, mayor pro tem, are you willing to go to the table with the current Fire Department?” He said that he was, but he didn’t look at all happy.
I am not sure if his response was being unhappy at being spanked by Wendy Leece, or a pathetic attempt to appear as if the council had always been willing to negotiate but that the Fire Department had refused to come to the table. It was Righeimer who did in fact state at the Feet to the Fire meeting, that negotiations with the union were not an option because a four year contract had already cemented by the previous city council so they were left with no choice. That of course, is not true, as the union and council can renegotiate their contract at any time both sides are willing. The current council had not offered negotiations, they offered pink slips instead. The speaker who represented the current Costa Mesa Fire Department said that their Department were willing to reduce vacation and sick leave costs by 50%. That in addition to a 9% contribution by the firefighters to their retirement. Those are some generous and quite reasonable concessions.
The OCFA stated that all the current employees of the Costa Mesa Fire Dept would be offered positions with the OCFA as “new hires.” This would mean complete loss of seniority, as well as a great reduction of pay and benefits for our firefighters. It was made clear from the get go that they pay their fire fighters less than city does. All I can say is that I suppose it is better than nothing, and one hell of a slap in the face to our firefighters.
I have heard the justifications both recently and in the past, of the reasons folks like college presidents, the CEOs of big corporations, high level administrators and politicians make enormous salaries, exorbitant bonuses, gold plated benefits and perks most of us only dream of, and usually don’t even know about. “We have to attract quality people to fill these positions — We have to have quality people to remain competitive.” Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road, that goes for lower level employees in all walks of life. The reason we should be happy to pay our city workers a decent living wage and offer much needed benefits, is because they provide us with quality services and many risk their lives to do so. We have already attracted quality people to work for our city. Come on Costa Mesa, let’s keep them. They are willing to make concessions and the are worth every penny.
When all was said and done last night, the Righeimer plan to outsource the City starting with the Fire Department was doused with cold water revealing Righeimer’s true agenda. When presented with an opportunity to do everything that Righeimer said he wanted to do, the Council chose to kick the can down the road, study the idea a little more, and probably make no change at all.
This entire process was never about reducing the costs of government services in Costa Mesa. It was simply about publicity for Jim Righeimer and his anti-public employee agenda.