Members of a handful of Orange County city councils Tuesday told stories of attempts by police unions to bully them into voting for generous labor contracts and said a flood of similar revelations is yet to come.
In a news conference led by Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer outside Costa Mesa City Hall, two council members from Buena Park and one from Fullerton recalled how their cities’ police associations had a councilman followed, blogged that officers should target cars belonging to council members’ children and bullied women employees at a local coffee shop that posted campaign signs supporting a councilman.
The allegations come just days after Righeimer accused unions of orchestrating a botched attempt to have him arrested for drunk driving.
The common thread, the council members said, was controversial law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, which does labor contract negotiations consulting work for police unions. The law firm had posted on its website a slew of bullying strategies to secure lucrative labor contracts, the Orange County Register reported earlier this month.
Shortly thereafter, the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association fired the law firm.
“Local control isn’t worth much if local officials are intimidated and cowed because of those tactics,” said Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker at Tuesday's new conference. Whitaker claims that the Fullerton council in a 3-2 vote rejected seeking a bid to outsource police services to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department because the city’s police association packed the council chambers and frightened another councilman.
The attempt to ambush Righeimer began when private investigator Christopher Lanzillo called 911 to report that Righeimer was driving drunk after visiting Skosh Monahan’s Steakhouse & Irish Pub, the bar owned by fellow Costa Mesa Councilman Gary Monahan, according to the Register.
An officer determined that Righeimer, who does not have a reputation as a drinker, was not drunk after asking him to follow a pen with his eyes, the Register reported.
Lanzillo, who was fired by the Riverside Police Department, has a contract with Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, the Register reported. Lanzillo issued a statement to the Register denying that he was on an assignment to ambush Righeimer but that he was on an unrelated, confidential assignment when he noticed Righeimer stumbling out of the pub.
Lanzillo also questioned the officer’s quick determination that Righeimer wasn’t drunk, saying the officer didn’t administer a breathalyzer test because he recognized the councilman, according to the Register.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who also attended the news conference, said he would be calling for investigations by both the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Labor into whether federal laws had been violated in the Righeimer incident.
Righeimer is considered the leader of a Republican council majority in Costa Mesa that is seeking to outsource a host of city services. Council members say the outsourcing is necessary to restore a healthy financial picture.
Critics of the council majority, including the city’s unions, say the severity of the city’s financial condition is overblown and that the outsourcing is driven more by ideology.
Righeimer described police union bullying as part of a larger effort to scare not only public officials but residents as well. He sought to redefine the debate over police and fire costs during the news conference, saying that police and fire aren’t really “public safety,” which is a term coined by the unions to persuade the public that voting against the unions places residents at risk, he said.
Aggressive police union tactics, Righeimer said, create “a chilling effect so elected officials vote the way these labor unions want them to vote, which is completely against the interests of our city.”
Buena Park Councilman Fred Smith said that after leaving a party for two other council members in late 2010, he was pulled over by a police officer and told he smelled of alcohol. Smith was sober and not arrested, he said, but the officer called the next day to say, “Have you had enough yet?”
Officers also blocked the parking lot at a coffee shop that had posted campaign signs backing Smith for reelection, the councilman said. The officers then entered the shop and, with one gripping his holstered gun, told the women working there that the signs weren’t allowed. “The poor girls don’t even want to work there anymore,” Smith said.
He also claimed that a public affairs consultant for the police union, Jim Freeman, had sent him threatening text messages. Smith’s phone, which he showed to reporters, had text messages saying “Guess what I listened to day… You know what this is, right Freddie? Grand Jury Indictment. (GJI) Say goodbye Freddie.”
Officials with the Buena Park Police Association could not be immediately reached for comment.
Freeman said he never sent the messages and that a disgruntled intern had infected his phone with spyware, which sent the bizarre messages. Freeman also said that he told Smith about the phone hack and Smith was courteous and understanding about it.
“It was explained to him [Smith] that our firm had a breach of security and a bunch of crazy messages were sent out,” Freeman said. “We had a very good conversation, so I don’t quite understand why he [Smith] would say something like that.”