Talks of outsourcing's potential for Costa Mesa are again making their way through the civic dialogue, but with one big exception from last time: no layoff notices.
Mayor Jim Righeimer, in an interview published Thursday with the Orange County Register's editorial board, repeated past statements that he intends to examine outsourcing some city services, but that this time around, layoffs aren't being sought as a possible solution to save the city from its budgetary woes.
In a subsequent interview with the Daily Pilot, he said staffing levels citywide are down through retirements and attrition. If a department is outsourced, workers could be moved elsewhere in the organization, he said.
Righeimer's goal is to work with the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn., which represents employees who aren't in public safety divisions, to "get our costs in line and not lay off anybody."
"That's the plan, but the employee association has to work with us," Righeimer added. "They need to cooperate."
In December, the council authorized rescinding the remaining 70 layoff notices of the initial 213 authorized in March 2011. City officials have also asked the CMCEA to drop its lawsuit that challenged the layoffs, though the association has not done so.
Street sweeping, park maintenance and the city jail are three departments that could easily be outsourced, Righeimer said.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who voted against many Righeimer-led council majority decisions, said this time around, the ideas being floated appear to be in a more agreeable direction than in recent years, but that all the details are still in preliminary stages and are being fleshed out.
"The devil is in the details, and so in concept, these are reasonable plans," Leece said. "But I think that the employees have to weigh in also and be agreeable to go in this direction."
If the city can save money and retrain employees into other positions, it's a reasonable direction, Leece said, adding that she would like to see the city maintain "quality services at the same level that we have been."
Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said her organization is continuing to work with Costa Mesa officials and is hoping for a collaborative relationship in the year ahead.
The OCEA's suggestions include resident feedback initiatives and lean-government efficiency models, like King County's in Washington state.
As for CMCEA's lawsuit, "We're sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the lawyers to sort that out, but in the meantime we continue to meet with the city and remain optimistic about some of the great things we can do together," Muir said.
Councilman Steve Mensinger said he agreed with the principle of outsourcing as a practical means of cost savings.
"The future is going to be defined by best practices," he said. "Period."
"As far as I'm concerned, I think the city is like being a public business and a public enterprise," Mensinger added. "You always have to look at your services, and the way you perform in those services, and ask yourself: 'Is there a better way to do it?' … that's the evolution of all things."
With the jail, he said, it doesn't make sense to have it staffed with the same numbers year-round, when certain months are busier than others. Summertime, he said, with city activity high as a result of an influx stemming from the fairgrounds and other activities, is the busiest time of the year for the jail.
If it were outsourced, it would still be under the auspices of the Police Department and not be done in so different a manner as other cities have achieved.
"It's not rocket science," Mensinger said.
But G4S Security Solutions — a firm Costa Mesa staff suggested in May 2012 to run the jail — may not be best option, Leece said.
While G4S may be good for cities like Irvine and Beverly Hills, Costa Mesa is none too similar to those cities. Additionally, the firm didn't have a good reputation at the London Olympics, Leece said.
"Let's make sure that we're not cutting any corners," she said, "that we provide a safe jail so we don't get sued and that things are done decently and in order."