Employee association launches program to critique spending in Costa Mesa

COSTA MESA — If the city is really looking to trim fat from the budget, Orange County’s organized labor claims to have a few ideas on where to start.

Friday morning the Orange County Employees Assn. introduced its latest front on the campaign against Costa Mesa layoffs. Waste Watchers targets supposed wasteful spending in the current city’s budget.

“The City Council didn’t do any study before they decided to lay off half the workforce and outsource all those services,” said OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir. “Waste Watchers provides some alternatives for places to cut in the budget that the City Council may have not considered.”

In its first e-mail, the OCEA is taking aim at a $445 expenditure for two City Council badges listed in the warrants in Tuesday’s council agenda.

OCEA calls them “jewel-encrusted” though the lone “jewel” is a tiny stone at the top of the badge. The city issues them to City Council members, so the city bought two, one each for Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger.

If the city can spend that much on something so little, the campaign notice says, there are ways to save money without laying off nearly half the city’s work force.

“It’s not like they ask you if you want one. They give you one,” Righeimer said. “It shows you’re a city official.”

In the theme of transparency, city officials are welcoming the Waste Watchers effort.

“Any citizen of this city should look at the budget, should understand what we’re spending money on,” Mensinger said. “Every citizen has a right to question and review city costs.”

“The reason anybody has anything is the City Council is releasing everything,” Righeimer added. “The city wants complete transparency and we’ve released every single check we write. If they find something inappropriate, tell us. We’re only five council people and we really do want the help of the community.”

The council recently voted to outsource more than 40% of its work force as part of broad city restructuring to lower pension costs and reinvest in capital improvements.

Waste Watchers is the latest front the OCEA has opened on the council. The group is also funding Repair Costa Mesa, an online, TV and print ad campaign that could lead to a recall effort of some council members.

Costa Mesa recently responded to OCEA’s efforts with a campaign of its own, sending out “Fact Check” e-mails to the media that highlight misleading information and misstatements in Repair Costa Mesa’s ads.