County COIN proposal hits roadblock

A proposed county ordinance aimed at increasing transparency in traditionally closed labor negotiations hit a stumbling block this week when supervisors opted not to finalize its passage.

After voting last month to approve a first reading of Supervisor John Moorlach’s Civic Openness in Negotiations, or COIN, ordinance — modeled on a similar law adopted in Costa Mesa — the Orange County Board of Supervisors decided not to vote on a second reading, sending it backward in the approval process.

The ordinance, among other things, would require both sides in labor contract negotiations to make their offers public and allow for comment. It would also require the release of a fiscal analysis of each offer.

The measure will return before the board in modified form later this month, county officials said.

At issue in Tuesday’s discussions were two provisions of the proposed ordinance: a sunsetting clause that Supervisor Janet Nguyen requested, as well as the provision that requires formal offers to be released during bargaining but not what are known as “supposals.”

Essentially, Supervisor Todd Spitzer said, these supposals — hypothetical situations used by negotiators that don’t rise to the level of formal offers — could belie the terms of contract proposals.

He said that without a requirement that supposals be made public in addition to formal proposals, the county’s ordinance as written, as well as Costa Mesa’s, represent “a farce” of transparency.

In explaining his position, he accused Moorlach of backing in closed session some of the terms of the labor contract for sheriff’s deputies that the board had narrowly approved earlier in the meeting, while publicly bashing the agreement.

Moorlach responded that he tried to respect closed-session discussions.

Spitzer said Wednesday that while he supported the ordinance all along, he didn’t think it went far enough.

“I hoped to enlighten people about the fallacy that COIN is the savior in fair and open negotiations,” he said.

Ultimately, the full board, including Moorlach, agreed to move ahead with the ordinance, removing the sunsetting clause and adding a provision that would require the terms of supposals be released as well as formal offers.

But the idea that Costa Mesa’s system was ineffective left the architects of the city’s COIN ordinance — which they say will become a standard statewide — bristling.

“A supposal is a hypothetical,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger when reached Thursday. “In a negotiation, there are thousands of hypothetical questions.”

Mensinger said that from a logistical standpoint, it’d be impractical to expect all supposals to be reported unless negotiation sessions were televised — an idea he said he wouldn’t oppose.

He added that if the financial analyses were available to cities and counties years ago, they might have been less generous with pension benefits.

Labor leaders, however, have disputed any contention that COIN sheds an accurate light on the collective-bargaining process. The proposed ordinance, they have added, unfairly targets for scrutiny negotiations with public employees over talks with private contractors.

“It is selective transparency designed to manipulate the process,” said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., the county’s largest union.

Furthermore, Muir said, the way the county’s version of COIN has been debated violates the state laws governing collective bargaining rights for public employees.

In an unfair-labor-practices claim that the association filed last week with the California Public Employment Relations Board, the association alleges that the county violated a provision of the law by changing negotiation processes without meeting in good faith to discuss them.