City Council OKs contracts with two law firms


COSTA MESA — The City Council on Tuesday approved contracting with one law firm to see the city through its workforce outsourcing effort, and a second law firm to defend those contentious outsourcing plans in court.

In a 3-1 vote, the council approved continuing to consult with Northern California-based HansonBridgett law firm at $295 to $325 an hour as Costa Mesa puts city services out for bids. Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented. Councilman Eric Bever was absent.

Costa Mesa also tapped the Jones Day law firm at $495 an hour to defend itself against a city employee group’s lawsuit that challenges the proposed outsourcing.

Neither contract puts a cap on how much the city can spend with the firms.

The contracts are among the latest developments in the city’s broad restructuring that started more than six months ago. Since issuing layoff notices in mid-March, city Chief Executive Tom Hatch has brought in several consultants to manage everything from the city’s finances to its public relations and layoff process.

The council made some of those positions permanent, and added others Tuesday.

Costa Mesa eliminated three positions, saving $540,000 and reclassifying two others. The council also rearranged city services under different departments.

Its most controversial move Tuesday night, however, may have been adding five new positions to the tune of $633,000.

Among the new jobs were two public relations positions, each with more than $180,000 in total compensation, and two secretaries: one for the city manager’s office (the position was recently vacated and needed to be back-filled) and one for the five council members.

“I didn’t see the workload then, and I don’t see the workload now” to require a secretary for the council, former Costa Mesa Mayor Jay Humphrey told the group.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer indicated that he would be willing to reduce the pay for the PR positions.

On the another financial front, the city shouldn’t look at the amount the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) asks them to pay every year as a cap on what they can contribute, said John Bartel, of Bartel & Associates LLC.

He told the council to consider paying more than what’s required to the state’s pension fund, similar to paying more than the minimum payment on a credit card.

The CalPERS expert was brought in earlier this year to discuss the city’s annual costs to its workers’ pensions. He repeated much of the same message Tuesday.

Poor investments and a poor economy were major factors in the recent financial woes of the state pension fund, he said, and pension contributions are projected to rise for Costa Mesa.

But if the CalPERS’ investments don’t perform as expected and the city’s financial liability grows, it’s not the end of the world, Bartel said.

“I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t worry,” he said. “I’m suggesting you shouldn’t panic.”

Bartel will come back to an October council meeting to detail Costa Mesa’s pension contributions and its options.

In other action, the council deadlocked 2 to 2 in Leece’s attempt to require council members to record who they discuss agenda items with when leading up to a vote.

The city also approved a 33-unit housing residential development on the northeast corner of Harbor Boulevard and Merrimac Way, at the former site of a Lincoln-Mercury dealership.