COSTA MESA — Promising political consequences, the Republican Party of Orange County has warned Councilwoman Wendy Leece to vote along party lines Tuesday when the city employee contracts go before the council, she has stated.
Costa Mesa council seats are non-partisan. But Leece, a Republican, sought her party’s endorsement, and there are plenty of Republicans in Costa Mesa who require advocacy, GOP officials said.
Leece, who is running for her second council term, issued a news release saying party leaders have sent her e-mails and left her voice mails reminding her to vote against the contracts. In the GOP’s opinion, the contracts would continue to provide unsustainable pension packages for
three of the city’s employee unions, as well as the city’s executives.
“This vote could possibly cost me the election,” Leece said. “I have two very strong groups to consider. I never envisioned having to say this about my own party, but Republican outsiders are trying to control the city of Costa Mesa and its public safety.”
Leece declined to name on the record the Orange County Republican Party officials but assured that they were well-known.
Scott R. Baugh, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, told the Pilot that when Leece sought the party’s endorsement, she promised that going forward she would support defined contributions for new hires to make into their retirement programs.
“If this vote is contrary to that, I can see why she’s getting so many calls,” Baugh said. “The bottom line is she stood before our party in order to get our endorsement and said for new hires she would only support defined contributions.”
By extending their contract, he said, she’s extending a defined benefit plan for new hires.
The Republicans would rather see new hires pay into a program similar to a 401(k) retirement program seen in the public sector rather than be guaranteed pensions.
Leece said one caller told her that if she thinks she got grief for voting for last year’s firefighters’ contract, which allowed them to retire with 3% at 50, “I’d be very cautious about this one.”
Instead of collecting their full benefits at age 55, the council last year voted to approve early retirement, which allowed firefighters to collect their benefits and retire at age 50. The amendment was part of a 10-point plan put forward to help close the city’s budget deficit. It allowed some firefighters to retire early, and it saved the city $1.1 million.
“Frankly, I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I find it very disconcerting that I am getting this pressure on how to vote by non-Costa Mesa residents who would not be affected by the contract,” Leece said.
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, said Leece’s support of the 3% at 50 unsettled many Republicans.
“She was calling me for help and I finally said to her, ‘You’re trying to defend this vote, and it’s indefensible,’” Moorlach said. “What you should do is apologize to the Republican Central Committee and let them know you’ve learned your lesson.’ She made that commitment to the central committee. If they’re calling her and saying they are concerned, they have every right.”
The Costa Mesa Police Assn. contract going before the council is set to save Costa Mesa about $4.2 million over the next four years, Leece said.
The police association members agreed to contribute 5% of their pension toward the employee portion of CalPERS for the next four years, in addition to suspending their retiree health savings accounts for at least two years.
The Costa Mesa Police Management Assn. also agreed to suspending its retiree health savings accounts for the next two years and will contribute 5% to their pension toward the employee portion of CalPERS for the next four years.
The Costa Mesa Employees Assn. agreed to collecting 2% at 60, in addition to committing 7% of employee contributions for new hires, according to a city staff report.
The city’s executives agreed to freezing their medical and health care premiums to this year’s level for the next two years.
In all, including the savings from the amendments to the firefighters’ contract that were approved by the council two weeks ago, the negotiations are expected to save the city about $7.2 million, according to the report.
Baugh, who said he was not among those who called Leece with a warning, said his party is not asking for much.
“If we don’t reform the pension situation in Costa Mesa and other cities, there’ll be nothing left to do anything else,” he said, adding that Costa Mesa and other California cities could end up filing bankruptcy.
Baugh said some members of the Republican party are Costa Mesa residents.
“We’re imposing fiscal child abuse on the next generation,” he said. “That’s why we need to move now.”
Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who supports the contracts, said the Republican party isn’t just bullying Leece, but also misleading the public.
The city is a member of CalPERS and cannot easily switch to defined contributions. Defined benefits would take a lengthy process, and the city can’t afford not making the cuts now, Foley said.
Allen Rieckhof, president of the police association, said he’s
worried that the council members are not going to put Costa Mesa first.
“They are going to jeopardize the collective bargaining process by voting along party lines,” he said.