A Watershed Moment Coming Tuesday Night
As if returning home from a short vacation with a whopper of a cold isn't bad enough, I actually got sicker when I heard last Wednesday about the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center to Facilities Management West and, the same afternoon, the pending retirement of Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder. Ugh!
OF GREATER SIGNIFICANCE
But late Friday we received some news that may rival those two events in significance, not only for our city, but the State as well. Friday evening, well after closing time at City Hall, the City distributed an announcement of a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 26th at a new time - 6:30 p.m. The single issue on the agenda is consideration of "side letter agreements" for the three remaining employee bargaining units and a resolution for the unrepresented employees. You can read the staff report on that agenda item HERE.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? IT'S NOT ENOUGH!
"Why is this meeting so important?", you ask. Well, it's important because, as you can see in the staff report, although the agreements represent more than $3.6 million in annual savings, it doesn't get close to resolving what was a more than $9 million budget shortfall going into the long, long negotiations with the bargaining units. The staff report does not address how the City plans to come up with the remaining nearly $6 million required to balance the budget and, because of the timing of the announcement, there were no staffers available to answer any questions.
SIGNIFICANT CONCESSIONS, BUT...
The agreements in question represent very significant concessions by the individual employee units. For example, in the case of the Costa Mesa Employee's Association (CMCEA), among the items to which they will agree is the establishment of a two-tier retirement program, with newly hired employees working under a 2%@60 formula and will pay 7% of the employee contribution. None of the other bargaining units have agreed to such a change at this point, even though they have made major concessions in other areas. The staff report clearly spells these out, so I won't echo them here.
MORE STAFF REDUCTIONS ALMOST GUARANTEED
Two things have me worried about these agreements. First, they don't get us far enough with the budget dilemma. Since all expendable programs have already been slashed, the only place there are dollars left to cut is in the staff costs. If more dollars cannot be saved through the negotiations then the City has no choice but to lay more employees off - and severely hamper service at all levels in our city. We are already at 1980's staffing levels in most areas.
TOEHOLD TO PENSION REFORM
Although that is bad enough, of greater concern is my suspicion that this may just be the toehold that members of the Orange County Republican Party are looking for to make Costa Mesa Ground Zero for state-wide pension reform. In a recent candidate forum Jim Righeimer practically said as much when, while addressing our budget problems and his view that the pensions were the problem, he said this was not a Costa Mesa problem, it was a state problem.
NO TIME TO RE-NEGOTIATE BEFORE THE ELECTION
If three members of the City Council do not vote affirmatively on this issue Tuesday night it will require negotiations to re-open with the bargaining units and will certainly kill any chance of a resolution before the November 2nd election. There will be only a week in which to meet, negotiate, agree and re-convene for the council to hear another version. While not impossible, it is highly unlikely that the necessary steps could happen before November 2nd. And, you will recall, the council meeting that would normally fall on that date has been canceled. The next meeting will be on November 16th.
IF NO LONGER COMPETITIVE - GOOD-BYE, STAFFERS
I have it on good authority that, if deeper cuts in the pension plans are demanded by the city and the employee unions are forced to agree to them, that will mark the beginning of an exodus of senior staffers across the board, not only in public safety positions. For our city to remain competitive in this labor market our salaries and benefits MUST keep pace with the marketplace. Currently we are at or near the median. Any changes to lower our position relative to our fellow Orange County cities will certainly cause us to lose good employees and hamper recruitment efforts to replace them.
BEVER A WILLING ACCOMPLICE
Eric Bever has become a willing accomplice in the manipulation of municipal governance to further Righeimer's political career by boycotting negotiations with the employee bargaining units. Believe me, it's pretty darn unusual for an elected municipal leader to announce from the dais that he's going to intentionally NOT do the job he was elected to do - and then to follow through with his commitment and fail to appear at those sessions. His plan to drag out the negotiations until after the elections so Righeimer can come riding in on his white horse like some pension savior is so obvious - and despicable - it would be almost laughable if it wasn't so darn tragic.
CM PRESS AND BULLET VOTING
Righeimer and his minions, and through his mouthpiece over at the CM Press, have been harping about public employees salaries for weeks and Righeimer has posted a 2008 list of city employee compensation on his campaign website. The CM Press has become a repository of anti-cop rhetoric as it touts Righeimer's election by bullet voting - voting only for him and no other. It takes some nerve to ask you, the voters, to give up half your choices to perpetuate the political dreams of a carpetbagging hack political operative. You will recall that it was that tactic, instigated by the CM Press-led Westside Improvers, that gave our city Chris Steel in 2000 - arguably the worst city councilman in our history. The lack of wisdom of giving up one of your votes just because our municipal racist-laureate at the CM Press tells you to do so is clearly demonstrated by Steel's wasted four years on the council. Don't let The Mouth talk you out of your vote.
LIKE LOCUSTS, THEY WILL LEAVE DESTRUCTION
Much as Allan Mansoor has used illegal aliens as a springboard into office, Righeimer is using the public employees as his "illegal aliens", hoping his denigration of them and their compensation will grease the skids for him in this election. The tactics of both are driven by the leadership of the Orange County Republican Party and it's honcho, Scott Baugh. The OC GOP doesn't care what happens to Costa Mesa. They don't care if they leave in their wake a city laid waste. They are like locusts who land temporarily in our city, devour every living plant, then move on to greener pastures.
PENSION REFORM MUST START IN SACRAMENTO
Trying to use Costa Mesa to solve a state-wide employee pension issue is the wrong way to go. Those initiatives must start in Sacramento, but the political realities of the day are that the Democrats set the agenda up there and there is virtually no chance of pension reform happening under that party's leadership. The OC GOP seems to think that if it can force Costa Mesa to take drastic steps with it's pension issues, other cities will follow along. That's just plain stupid! Do you really think Fullerton, Irvine or Yorba Linda will shoot themselves in the foot just because Costa Mesa does? Give me a break! They'll just smile and hire our employees away from us.
POSITIONING HIMSELF FOR HIGHER OFFICE
All the OC GOP cares about is crushing the employee unions by diluting their salaries and pensions, and going back on the deals that were made with them when they were hired. If that sounds familiar, remember that this is precisely what Righeimer did in his personal and business life - he left contractors holding the bag for years waiting for payment while he thumps his chest and tells us, "At least I didn't file for bankruptcy!" Similarly, he would leave the residents of Costa Mesa holding the bag by gutting the salaries and benefits of the city's employees so he can demonstrate to his party bosses that he's their guy. He would have Costa Mesa become a city unable to compete in the marketplace for staffers at every level and never look back on the destruction of our city he caused as he positions himself for higher office.
WILL THEY DO THE RIGHT THING FOR OUR CITY?
We can only hope that, come Tuesday, our elected leaders will realize the importance of their vote on these contracts and not put our city in a position of mediocrity simply to benefit the political ambitions of one high-ranking member of the Orange County Republican Party. They should do what they were elected to do - make the right choice for Costa Mesa. I don't know whether a large turnout at the meeting Tuesday will influence their decision, but it promises to be a watershed event in the history of our city - one worth seeing in person. You'll have three minutes to express your views to the council Tuesday, if you're the least bit interested.