OCEA manager: E-mails forwarded, not intercepted


Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino has clarified a statement he made at the 2011 California Democratic Convention a few weeks ago, where he said his union had “intercepted” e-mails from Republicans.

Someone videotaped Berardino’s comments and posted them online, where lawmakers and bloggers quickly dispersed the news that Berardino was “caught” admitting covert political maneuvering against conservatives.

“We’ve had e-mails forwarded to us,” Berardino said this week. “We didn’t intercept. Someone hit the forward button.”

Berardino has become the face of Orange County organized labor as it battles a majority of the Costa Mesa City Council, who in March approved potentially outsourcing nearly half the city’s work force to private contractors. City leaders argue they need to offload the employees’ pension costs before they become too burdensome on the budget.

On March 17, city employees had to restrain Berardino as he cursed out Chief Executive Tom Hatch in the City Hall lobby shortly after one worker jumped to his death from the roof at about the time he was due to receive his layoff notice.

“They chose the battle, they brought Wisconsin to California,” Berardino said in the video. “We know exactly what they’re planning to do. We have information. We have intercepted their e-mails, somehow.”

Berardino declined to say what was in the e-mails, who forwarded them to him, and who the e-mails were between, saying only they were Orange County Republicans. He said the video is just clouding the outsourcing issue in Costa Mesa.

Scott Baugh, head of the Orange County Republican party, said the GOP isn’t behind the council’s austerity program but does support it.

“Costa Mesa is ground zero,” Baugh said. “I fundamentally believe if labor wins, it’ll be difficult to have reform in any city. If labor loses in Costa Mesa, the reform will spread through all cities … that’s why it’s ground zero.”

He added, “My goal is not to outsource jobs. I’m not the policy maker. My point is these guys have the courage to say no to an abusive process and labor doesn’t like that.”

OCEA has fought back with its own message, criticizing council members in print, TV and online ads. In a recent press release, OCEA claimed the council receives thousands in meals and dinners and paid $8,000 for a new carpet in City Hall.

But those claims, which appeared on the Forum page in Thursday’s Daily Pilot, were called out of context and inaccurate by Councilmen Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, both of whom were criticized in the piece.

City officials got rid of their meal budget in July — before Righeimer and Mensinger began serving on the council — and the new carpet came after flooding in the building, said city spokesman Bill Lobdell.