Righeimer proposes rescinding layoffs

Jim Righeimer at this year's Feet to the Fire event in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

The driving force behind Costa Mesa’s sweeping austerity measure to lay off city workers called for guidance Tuesday night in rescinding the move.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer asked city CEO Tom Hatch at the City Council meeting about the next steps needed to cancel the employee pink slips, which, when first approved in March 2011, numbered nearly 200 — or about half the city’s workforce.

The council majority had hoped to privatize those employees’ jobs as part of a comprehensive cost-saving measure that would address costly worker pensions. Organized labor responded by filing a lawsuit that has temporarily halted the layoffs.

“We’re not asking for anything more than just to rescind those notices, just to be done,” Righeimer said. “We’re not looking for a trade. There’s no other deal. There’s nothing there. This is just the right thing to do at this point in the process over here.”

Righeimer still expressed an interest in some outsourcing, such as for the jail, payroll and street-sweeping services.

“In the end, our pension problem hasn’t gone away,” he said. “It hasn’t changed.”

In a reversal of previous hard-line tactics aimed at labor representatives, Righeimer said he wants to reach out to them and find common ground for a “good, clean year” ahead.

He said the last two years have had their “bumps in the road,” but that a money-saving dialogue from city departments has emerged as a result.

“It may not be the most perfect process that we went through, but it is the process that got us here,” Righeimer said. “So let’s take that and it move it forward to whatever process we need to go ahead and deliver services to the community at a lower cost than we’re doing now.”

Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents about 200 of Costa Mesa’s workers, echoed Righeimer’s sentiment that it’s been “a long two years” for everyone involved, but that the request is a “great new start.”

“Because we strongly believe that together, there is much, much more we can do for the citizens of Costa Mesa than we can do when we’re not pulled together,” he said during the public comment period.

He said the OCEA is committed to working toward improving services and could look at other cities to see how their models might be beneficial for Costa Mesa.

“I hope we receive national attention for coming back from a raucous and acrimonious relationship to a relationship that fosters creativity, that fosters innovation, that fosters growth and a new way to deliver services in a more efficient way to the citizens,” Berardino said.

Robin Leffler, president of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government — a grass-roots group whose members have campaigned against the council majority’s policies — called Righeimer’s request the “elephant that’s not on the agenda.”

She said she hoped that canceling the layoffs would be put on a future agenda.

“When things are done decently and in order, they usually turn out better,” Leffler said.

Twitter: @bradleyzint