Jim Righeimer has been appointed mayor of Costa Mesa two years after being elected to the City Council and leading a controversial outsourcing effort that triggered an intense November election, nearly overthrowing his council majority.
Righeimer secured the appointment Tuesday night on a 3-2 vote with Councilwomen Wendy Leece and Sandra Genis opposed. City Councilman Steve Mensinger — Righeiemer’s main ally on the council — was appointed mayor pro tem on a 4-1 vote with Leece in opposition.
Given the election results — 60 percent of residents rejected a pro-outsourcing city charter plan and the council majority came within several hundred votes of losing two seats — some residents called on the City Council to show a new spirit of cooperation and divide the mayor and mayor pro tem titles between the opposing factions.
More than 35 public speakers spoke on the issue, many supporting giving t one of the titles to Leece, who has been the lone voice of opposition against the council majority.
Genis, appearing at the first council meeting of her new term, backed the Leece appointment. Genis and Leece now constitute the council’s minority bloc.
The city has been divided since the council majority decided to issue 213 layoff notices to city employees last year. That day a city employee leaped to his death from atop City Hall and political warfare erupted between the council majority and its opponents, the Orange County Employees Association and a host of local activists.
The council on Tuesday also approved rescinding the layoff notices, a move seen as an olive branch to labor and council opponents.
Sharing the titles between Leece and Mensinger would have shown that Righeimer was serious about recent declarations to work with those who had opposed the outsourcing drive, some residents said.
“Mr. Righeimer, you said it’s time to turn over a new leaf, and I agree with you," said 20-year resident Bonnie Copeland. "I would like to see Wendy Leece be that new leaf.”
Those who spoke in favor of Righeimer and Mensinger, including Righeimer’s wife, praised their financial acumen as a talent necessary to reduce the city's unfunded pension liability, which the council majority argued is unsustainable.
Supporters also said the two are known for standing up for their principals.
“Jim’s a quick study; he understands financial issues. You don’t have to tell him twice. All you have to do is put the spreadsheet in front of him and he gets it,” said Eric Bever, who stepped down as mayor and addressed the council as a resident.
Righeimer, in pitching his bid for mayor, apologized for forcing issues like adoption of an aggressive pro-outsourcing city charter.
Some residents had said that the charter — which would have made it easier for the city to outsource services but was overwhelmingly rejected at the ballot box — was being jammed through too quickly and without enough community comment.
Mensinger argued that the mayor and mayor pro tem appointments going to members of the council majority is just how politics works when a majority wins an election. But he also said it doesn’t prevent the two council blocs from working together.
“Whatever happens as a result of the vote, I think we need to work together,” Mensinger said. “I don’t think this is something we need to be polarized on.”