The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday ended nearly two years of open conflict with the city’s main labor union by instructing CEO Tom Hatch to rescind the controversial mass layoff notices instituted in March 2011.
It’s not immediately clear whether Hatch has the authority to rescind the notices on his own or whether that would require council action.
Council members also instructed Hatch to begin researching the process for initiating a city charter committee that could spearhead a renewed effort to craft a new governing document for the city.
Tuesday night was the shortest and quietest council meeting in years. Councilman Jim Righeimer, who leads the council majority, offered an olive branch to labor and his critics on the council.
Righeimer endured a tough election night, losing Measure V, the city charter initiative, by a 60% to 40% margin and barely keeping his council majority intact. He acknowledged it was time to move forward in a different fashion.
Righeimer called rescinding the layoff notices “just the right thing to do.”
Acknowledging the presence of Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, at the meeting, Righeimer said, “both sides want to reach out to each other.”
Berardino, who acknowledged that the past two years have been difficult, called Righeimer’s action “great news for us.”
“We strongly believe that together there’s much more than we can do for the citizens of Costa Mesa,” Berardino said.
Many union members have spent the last two years attending council meetings to criticize the council majority, and Berardino said there was excitement over turning the page.
“We are very, very committed to sitting down with you, working with you, doing whatever we can do,” he said.
Berardino challenged both labor and the City Council to work together to craft a new approach to providing city services.
“There are models around the country that have saved enormous amounts of money by looking at every department,” Berardino said, mentioning the efficiency concept called LEAN championed at corporations like Boeing and Toyota.
He noted that despite the victories in Costa Mesa, labor needs to find a new way of partnering in the public sector with elected officials and managers to craft better and cheaper service delivery.
“There’s much of that that needs to be done in the public sector,” he said. “We’ve gotten into habits.”
While Costa Mesa received national attention because of the past year’s conflict, Berardino challenged council members to change that. “I hope we’ll receive national attention for coming back from a very rancorous and acrimonious relationship to one that offers creativity, innovation.”
For his part, Righeimer publicly asked labor leaders to cooperate on outsourcing where it made fiscal sense, mentioning things like jail services as well as park maintenance. He also promised to lower employee counts by attrition, not layoffs.
“In the end, our pension problem hasn’t gone away,” he said, noting that upcoming council meetings will include estimates of annual pension payments that are swelling.
“We have to work through those issues,” he said.
Despite the intense political battle of the past two years, Righeimer said there had been important byproducts.
“The city saved millions and millions of dollars,” Righeimer said as department leaders left the city and vacancies created savings. Departments also have devised ways of saving money, and certain services, such as the city’s website, have been modernized.
“It may not be the most perfect process, but it is the process that got us here,” he said.
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