Moorlach: Leece ‘not qualified’

COSTA MESA — Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach on Thursday confirmed that he had heard rumors about an effort to recall Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece based on her recent support for public employee contract extensions, but he stopped short of saying he would back such an effort.

“She’ll always be a friend, but she’s not qualified to be a City Council member,” said Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident. “The point is we need some leadership and someone who understands finance. She shut the door on this opportunity to negotiate with the unions with these contract extensions.”

Moorlach said it was too early for him to entertain support for a recall effort, but that removing Leece from office was something he would consider backing in the future.

Six months is the earliest an official can be voted out of office in Costa Mesa. A recall of a member of the City Council would require a petition and a vote of the people.

Leece, a Republican, seemed unconcerned about the recall rumors, feeling that she has a mandate from the community to hold a non-partisan office.

“I just got reelected,” Leece said of winning her second four-year term on Tuesday. “More than 8,000 voters decided that I was doing a good job and wanted me to continue. The people of Costa Mesa have spoken. They want me to continue. I don’t know what I’ve done that would justify putting the city through a recall.”

Orange County Republican leaders are unhappy with Leece’s recent decision to break ranks and vote in favor of extending new city employee terms and contracts for police, firefighters, managers and executives.

The GOP is exerting pressure countywide to convince municipal governments to reduce pay and retirement packages for public employees and move toward private-sector 401(k) programs, which are generally less costly.

Leece said she voted for the contracts based on confidential information provided during negotiations that she cannot publicly discuss.

“There was no other plan presented, other than the one that would have caused daily losses for the city, and there were never any ideas or plans presented that would have stopped the bleeding if this did not pass,” she said.

Scott Baugh, chairman of the O.C. Republican Party, said that the GOP is not working to recall Leece and that any such movement would have to start at the local level.

“I know there are a lot of people that are upset with Wendy, but if there’s a recall of Wendy Leece, it has to start in Costa Mesa,” Baugh said.

Baugh also pointed out that it was Leece that sought the GOP’s support in the first place.

“The party did not come searching for her to give her an endorsement,” he said. “She came to the party seeking an endorsement. Had she not sought our endorsement, we would’ve expected her to vote that way.”

Baugh said Leece was near tears and begged for the endorsement and then supported contract terms the party found risky for taxpayers.

“She betrayed her word, and that’s all I know,” he said. “She’ll never be trusted in any Republican circle again.”

Moorlach said it was an unprompted Leece who said during an interview with GOP leaders that in the future she would not support defined benefit pension programs for municipal employees.

“That’s not what everybody was asking her to do,” Moorlach said. “She made that statement. You’re either not bright, misspoke or obfuscated when you begged for an endorsement.”

Councilman-elect Jim Righeimer, a Republican with close ties to the party, said recalling Leece would only harm the community.

“I think people are just talking, it’s kind of goofy,” he said. “I want nothing to do with something like that. I think a lot of people are upset. I can understand that, but she just got reelected; that would not be a positive thing for our community. We got a lot of work ahead of us here. We don’t need any distractions.”

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who championed the contract extensions as the lone Democrat on the council, expressed outrage that anyone would discuss recalling Leece.

“On what basis? Because she was serving the residents of her community and putting the city first? That’s the basis? Good luck with that,” Foley said, adding that Republicans are employing “bullying tactics” countywide. “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”