The Costa Mesa City Council this week, more than a year after igniting a political firestorm with plans to outsource a multitude of city services to private firms and other governments, finally approved its first outsourcing contracts this week.
The moves, however, are largely symbolic at this point, because a judge has issued a temporary court order that prevents the city from engaging in outsourcing.
At a meeting that lasted until early morning hours Wednesday, the council majority voted to outsource its jail staff to U.K.-based G4S Secure Solutions and street sweeping service to City of Industry-based Athens Services, both private companies. City management says the move would save the city about $600,000 per year in jail costs and $88,000 on street sweeping.
“Today is a momentous day. It’s a great day,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, the council’s most outspoken supporter of outsourcing efforts.
However, there are already questions about whether the city would actually realize the projected savings and about the record of G4S, the potential jail contractor.
The council decided Wednesday to have a city police sergeant oversee jail operations for the first six to 12 months of the contract, which would cut the projected savings for that period by as much as a third. And the projections do not factor in the city’s legal bills related to outsourcing, which are expected to exceed $1 million by midsummer.
The Daily Pilot report this week that G4S lost the keys to a jail in England and was the subject of a misconduct report by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Also, three G4S guards are under criminal investigation in Britain regarding the death of an Angolan asylum seeker they restrained on an airline flight.
Witnesses on the plane say that for 10 minutes during the confrontation, the asylum seeker, Jimmy Mubenga, said “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” and “They’re going to kill me” before passing out, The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported.
City spokesman Bill Lobdell declined this week to speak directly with a Voice of OC reporter regarding any city matters.
As has been the case with just about all outsourcing-related decisions by the council, Wednesday’s approval came on a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting.
“I’m not in a hurry to support this, because I don’t think that the savings [are] remarkable to switch from our own trained, experienced jailers,” said Leece.
And despite the fact that Leece’s colleagues are in a hurry to proceed with their outsourcing plans, they must wait at least until the end of July, when a state appeals court is expected to rule on the city’s appeal of a court order that bars outsourcing. The order resulted from a lawsuit filed by the city’s employees union.
The council also voted Wednesday, this time unanimously, to end its efforts to outsource building inspection, animal control services and video production and lifted layoff notices to those staff members.
The five items before city leaders this week represented about a fourth of the services it ultimately plans to review for outsourcing potential.
The council majority ended its efforts to outsource the city’s fire department last month after determining it could instead save more than twice as much by restructuring its existing department.
Also at the meeting, Councilman Gary Monahan recused himself from voting on a financial auditing contract, though he didn’t explain why at the time. Asked during a break, Monahan said he’s a client of the firm, Mayer Hoffman McCann of Irvine, but has no financial stake in it.
Under state law, city council members with a financial stake in a company receiving a city contract are usually required to explain the conflict when recusing themselves. Council members can also voluntarily recuse themselves when a conflict doesn’t meet the legal standard.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Costa Mesa spokesman Bill Lobdell declined to comment on any city matters. While Lobdell refused to speak directly with a Voice of OC reporter, he did ask that questions be submitted via email.