Costa Mesa Approves Annual Efficiency Audits by Outsiders

The Costa Mesa City Council voted unanimously at its last meeting to establish a yearly performance audit process aimed at improving the efficiency of city functions.

"We have smart people and great people in a lot of spots, but processes don’t change," said Councilman Steve Mensinger, who is spearheading the effort.

The auditors would "look at things we do and determine better ways to deliver services or accomplish the task in a more defined and cost-effective way," he added.

The move gained the support of dissident Councilwoman Wendy Leece and faced no criticism from residents during the public comment period.

Under the approved plan, an outside consultant will evaluate whether certain city functions are being performed as efficiently and reliably as possible. Considerations include cost, time, legal compliance and conformity to best practices among other government agencies.

The consultant would then make recommendations to the City Council, which would decide whether to implement them. The council has authorized $100,000 for the first year of audits.

While Costa Mesa city leaders haven't yet decided which functions they want evaluated this year, they did approve a process for determining which areas take top priority.

Each year, the City Council and city CEO will make a list of tasks they'd like reviewed. Functions deemed to present the most risk to the city would be recommended for study over the following year, with the City Council making a final decision on what the auditors will evaluate.

The audits' ultimate findings would be presented at a public meeting, except for sensitive personnel and legal issues.

Assistant CEO Rick Francis, who until recently worked as a top aide to county Supervisor John Moorlach, said performance audits were an important asset at the county level.

The audits were "an extremely effective tool in rooting out things that had been longstanding practices that in many cases were inefficient," said Francis.

"It uncovered a lot of things that, quite frankly, the Board of Supervisors hoped they wouldn't find," he added. "The public was served well as a result of that."

While last week's meeting focused on the positives, Mensinger has previously noted that such audits can lead to tension between employees and management.

In an attempt to avoid further exacerbating the heavily strained employee-management relations at City Hall, the city says it will place an emphasis on selecting consultants that can foster a good working relationship with workers.

The city also plans to encourage a "working together philosophy" with employees whose functions are being audited by outlining the benefits of the process to them from the beginning.

The county employees union, meanwhile, has expressed concern that the City Council majority will use the audits as a new means to justify its large-scale outsourcing efforts. Numerous suggestions for improvement from the city employees union have been repeatedly ignored, the union asserted.

Costa Mesa's next step is to seek proposals from consultants and generate a list of areas to study.

— NICK GERDA

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