Costa Mesa Councilman Gets in Altercation with Local Teacher

Monday, April 25, 2010 | An English teacher at Estancia High School said he will file a restraining order against Costa Mesa City Councilman Stephen Mensigner after the two were involved in a heated verbal exchange at fun run event over the weekend.

The incident is the latest fallout in the controversy over a City Council plan to outsource up to half the city's departments. Last month, city officials handed out six-month layoff notices to more than 200 Costa Mesa employees.

Joel Flores, 38, filed a police report Saturday alleging that Mensinger "chest bumped" him during an argument between the two men. Flores said Mensinger became enraged after he criticized him for his endorsement of the outsourcing plan.

"I was in shock that my bringing a verbal engagement would result so quickly in his physically accosting me," Flores said.

Mensinger denies the allegation, saying no physical contact occurred. He labeled Flores, who is the coach of the school's surfing team coach, as the instigator.

"People that know me, know I'm candid and direct," said Mensinger, who is involved with Estancia's football program. "But I didn't put my finger in this guys' chest nor did I chest bump him."

He said the incident was part of an orchestrated attack from unions fighting the possible layoffs. Flores appears in a series of television and internet ads against the outsourcing plan by the community group Repair Costa Mesa, whose media campaign is largely funded by the Orange County Employees Association.

"This is the kind of thing that occurs, when outside interests attempt take control of local government," said Mensinger in a statement he released Sunday.

"They will do anything to disparage our city leaders even if it means fabricating incidents. No matter what they do I remain committed to balancing our budget."

Flores said he had finished running in the race and was walking back to his car when he saw Mensinger. "Nothing good can come from what you've done," Flores said he told Mensinger.

"[Mensinger] quickly walked up to me, got close, leaned down, and said, 'what did you say?' Flores said.

Flores said he replied, "never mind" and tried to walk away but Mensinger kept at it.

"He walked side by side, pushed his shoulder into me and said I was a disgrace to the school and to the teaching profession," Flores said. "He said he was going to call and threaten my job with the school board."

Flores said that's when he told Mensinger that he "was an enemy of the workers in Costa Mesa."

Mensinger said he filed a "civility incident report" against Flores with the Newport Mesa School District, which alleges that Flores told Mensinger that he would destroy him.

He also released an email from a bystander at the incident who described Flores as the aggressor.

"I walked down watching the conversation," wrote Robert Murtha, "and saw Steve try and walk away and this guy stepped in front of him. It appeared to me that this guy was trying to start something. At no time did either touch each other."

Flores said he decided to take the step of seeking a restraining order after researching Mensinger on the internet.

He found a 2006 report in the Los Angeles Times on an incident between Mensinger and an Alaska Airlines attendant at John Wayne Airport over some lost luggage.

According to the LA Times story, Mensinger screamed at workers and asserted he was a Sheriff's deputy. The airline later checked to find he was a reserve deputy under a controversial program for political donors initiated by former Sheriff Mike Carona.

Mensinger said the LA Times story was inaccurate and that a Sheriff's investigation into the matter did not result in any discipline against him.

Flores also cites Mensinger's involvement in lawsuits filed against Arnel Management Company while he was CEO of the company. The company is owned by prominent Republican donor and former Ambassador to Spain, George Argyros.

One is a 2006 wrongful termination suit and the other a 2001 sexual harrassment case in which Mensinger is mentioned as a defendant. Both have been settled.

Mensinger said those court cases only involved him in his official capacity as CEO of the company and not as an individual.

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