City Council Approves Rescinding Last Layoff Notices

Costa Mesa's City Council Tuesday night authorized CEO Tom Hatch to rescind an estimated 70 remaining layoff notices that had ignited court battles and an ideological war between the council majority and the city’s general employees association.

At a council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Jim Righeimer, considered the council-majority leader, called the decision “just the right thing to do.”

The move is seen as an olive branch to labor after the council majority lost a seat -- and nearly lost the majority -- in a tight council election.

“It’s a new year, we need to move on from this issue over here, we need to work with our association,” Righeimer said.

The city has faced a contentious divide since the council majority decided to issue 213 layoff notices to city employees last year, part of a drive to privatize much of city government as a solution to what the majority says is a looming fiscal disaster that will arise from the city’s ballooning unfunded pension liability.

The council majority hasn’t entirely dropped the outsourcing push.

Council members also directed Hatch to negotiate with the Costa Mesa City Employees Association to potentially outsource jail, street sweeping, parks and landscape maintenance, graphic design and payroll services, but also avoid layoffs by retraining employees for other job duties.

Outsourcing those services could save the city more than $2 million annually, with an additional $1.1 million in one-time savings in the first year, according to Hatch.

Council members also directed that the city officials work with the employees association to come up with creative ideas to produce long term savings for the city but also deliver quality services.

Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, the parent group for the city’s general employees association, has already offered a few ideas.

Berardino writes in an op-ed for the Orange County Register that LEAN – an organizational efficiency model adopted by companies like Boeing and Toyota – could make Costa Mesa “the next success story.”

Righeimer said the next step is to begin stitching together a framework for bringing down costs.

Yet those kinds of comments, along with the city staff report on the issue, had prompted some council observers to question whether the council was attempting to tie together pulling the layoff notices and outsourcing negotiations.

However, before Tuesday night’s meeting Righeimer said there is no connection between the two.

“We’re directing the CEO to sit down with the associations but there’s no tie,” Righeimer said Monday night.

OCEA Assistant General Manager Jennifer Muir, reacting to Tuesday’s post-midnight council action, said that she is encouraged by the opportunity to discuss with city leaders new ideas for delivering city services.

-- ADAM ELMAHREK AND NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

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