Court denies employees request to stop jail plan

SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court judge on Tuesday declined a request by the Costa Mesa Employees Assn. to block a city proposal to privatize its jail.

Judge Luis Rodriguez denied the association's request because the City Council had not yet voted on a contract with G4S Secure Solutions.

"We will continue to seek a preliminary injunction because we believe it's unlawful for the city to outsource the jail to the private sector," said Jennifer Muir, the spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which also represents CMCEA.

Supporters of the outsourcing plan claimed victory following the court ruling ahead of Tuesday night's council meeting.

"I am pleased with the court's decision, which ... keeps on track our plan to save millions of taxpayer dollars without any layoffs," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said in an email.

The council is expected to vote Tuesday night on the contract, which would save the city up to $3.2 million over a five-year period by using the company's "cutting-edge" technology, according to a city news release.

However, Muir said she was skeptical of those savings, saying there are many small caveats, such as whether a police sergeant runs the jail, that could reduce those savings over time.

The council had approved a contract with G4S in May 2012, though the deal couldn't be finalized at the time because a preliminary injunction prevented the city from outsourcing certain services to private entities.

Costa Mesa's outsourcing talks resumed soon after Rodriguez ended the 18-month injunction in January.

City officials said that between February and May, they met seven times with CMCEA representatives — who represent about 200 employees — about the jail outsourcing, "including the transfer of the affected jail personnel to other positions within the city."

While CMCE wants to work with the city, "it seems as if the council majority has decided on a course of action calculated to deliberately sabotage those efforts," Muir said.

During talks about keeping city services high and reducing costs, "it became apparent that while the city was willing to talk about the outsourcing it wanted to do, it was not all interested in discussing any ideas the employees had or anything else they wanted," she added.

"We really do think it would be much better if we could work together," Muir said. "We remain open to that."

If the 32-bed jail is outsourced, it would affect eight full-time custody officers — including one overseer sergeant — three part-time officers and a court liaison officer.

The custody officers are non sworn personnel. The sergeant is a sworn officer.

No layoffs are projected for city employees under the G4S contract. The workers would be transferred to other positions.

In the preliminary 2013-14 fiscal year budget, $1.38 million is proposed toward staffing the jail. The contract with G4S would help the city cut that cost about 46% to $743,000, according to city staff.

G4S also performs jail services for other Southern California cities, including Irvine.

The CMCEA's lawsuit from 2011 that sought to prevent outsourcing and any associated layoffs is still wending its way through the court system. The litigation stems from a controversial council proposal from March 2011 to lay off nearly half the city work force.

The move initially targeted 213 employees, though by November 2012, that number was whittled down to about 70. The following December, the council unanimously approved rescinding the remaining layoff notices.

Mayor Jim Righeimer has said he's still interested in outsourcing divisions, such as payroll, park maintenance and street-sweeping.

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