Community Editorial: Costa Mesa’s City Budget Doesn’t Value Workers

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The Costa Mesa Civic Center. (Photo credit: City of Costa Mesa)

During the past several months, the Costa Mesa City Council majority has on occasion actually said things from the dais that sound good.

For example, they’ve said they value city employees, that they care about providing great service to the community and that they are concerned about enacting fiscally prudent budget strategies.

Unfortunately, their actions consistently reflect different priorities. And Costa Mesa’s residents and the employees who work for the city have been watching long enough to know that we often can’t go by what these politicians say. We have to evaluate their priorities based on what they do.

The budget proposal they presented to the public this week is a true reflection of this council’s misplaced priorities.

It shows us that at a time when the City is continuing to add high-priced executives and consultants and hire expensive lawyers, they have no qualms about kicking out the working men and women who provide the backbone of the city’s services on the street.

During the past 15 months, this council has created at least three new executive manager positions and hired new people into six of the highest-level management slots. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to clean up the mess they created when they blanketed the city in pink slips.

They hired a PR director to practice selective transparency, a strategy aimed at deflecting the attention of residents away from the council’s political agenda and enhancing its public image instead.

Now taxpayers are footing the bill for five different law firms to handle the council majority’s various politically motivated escapades.

In May, city staff presented a balanced budget that preserved city services and invested in the city’s future. But that wasn’t enough for the politicians on the Costa Mesa City Council.

They told staff to go back to the drawing board, and what they’ve ended up with is a plan to divert $1 million into a special slush fund, spend even more on “feel good” capital projects and set aside $500,000 so they can play developer, using taxpayer money to buy up cheap motels in the city.

In addition to their pet projects, they also found room in the budget for those at the top. For example, this budget proposal calls for the City Council’s budget to increase by 50 percent this year. The CEO wants nearly 50 percent more for his office too.

Yet the council plans to lay off four full-time employees and eliminate seven other positions. As a result, the city's street rehabilitation program, which repairs pavement on residential streets every year, would be eliminated.

This is the type of thinking that is destroying our country. There’s always plenty of money for the highest-paid executives and powerful elite, but when it comes to working people and the community, there’s suddenly nothing left.

Four employees will lose their jobs while the council continues to spend on no-bid contracts, high-priced lawyers and an ever-expanding executive staff. Four employees will be kicked to the street while the council builds up millions of dollars in slush fund money.

This week as the council majority discussed their budget plans, they once again told everyone how much they care about city employees — most of whom have been handed six pink slips in the past 15 months.

But if the council majority really cared, they would have shown it. Do you know how Costa Mesa employees learned about these layoffs?

It wasn’t from a personal meeting with the CEO. It wasn’t during a caring discussion with one of the city’s other numerous executives. And the City Council certainly didn’t go out of its way to make sure that this time, unlike the last, the news was being handled in a respectful or humane way.

No, city employees learned about these layoffs from a staff report posted after 5 p.m. last Monday night. They woke up this past Tuesday morning, and in their email was another reminder of the City Council’s real priorities.

Costa Mesa City Employees Association members have always stepped up when the city has needed them. They were the first to do pension reform. They were the first to furlough and come up with other creative cost-saving suggestions when the city was actually talking to them like human beings.

So as the City Council considers adopting the final budget next Tuesday night, I hope this will be the time when these council members pay more than lip service to the city’s staff and community.

Isn’t it finally time, Mr. Councilmen, that each and every one of you step up for them, instead of on them?

Jennifer Muir is an assistant general manager with the Orange County Employees Association and a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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