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New state law affects agencies, like Costa Mesa, using COIN negotiations rules

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill drafted in reaction to Costa Mesa's labor negotiations ordinance that will force the city to disclose more information about its transactions with private companies.

SB 331, the Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act, or CRONE, now requires city contracts worth more than $250,000 to have an independent auditor review their costs and issue a publicly made report and recommendation.

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The law, authored by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) and approved Friday by Brown, says the report must be made available at least 30 days before the contract is heard and at least 60 days before any action approving it or disapproving it is done.

Other disclosures include offers, counteroffers and who was present during negotiation meetings.

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Contracts can receive approvals after two public hearings.

CRONE targets a handful of California public agencies, including Costa Mesa, Fullerton and Beverly Hills, that have adopted COIN ordinances, or Civic Openness in Negotiations.

COIN, approved by the Costa Mesa City Council in 2012, institutes similar measures to CRONE when the council negotiates and approves union contracts. Each side's offer and counteroffer, previously undisclosed, is now made public. An independent auditor also reviews each offer's costs.

Should Costa Mesa repeal COIN, CRONE would no longer apply.

"This is nothing short of legislative vindictiveness aimed at stifling open government, and in some cases the law will grind government to a halt, as no contract will get approved, period," Mayor Steve Mensinger, COIN's creator, wrote in a recently published Daily Pilot commentary on CRONE.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) shared a similar concern Saturday. On his website, he said he was "not amused" at Brown's actions, "but I was also not surprised."

The Orange County Employees Assn., which lobbied for the bill, has praised SB 331's approval.

OCEA's General Manager Jennifer Muir called its passing a "victory for working people against discrimination" that she says boosts transparency to an area where more scrutiny is needed.

"This legislation is about fairness, taking a stand against discrimination," Muir added in an email. "[What] SB 331 says is that if jurisdictions require extraordinary transparency for labor negotiations, they have to apply that same degree of openness to contracts with private entities for goods and services.

"The COIN program was developed in Costa Mesa by the Orange County Republican machine to take aim at 'union' jobs. It was designed to make all our negotiations for the work we are contracted to perform public and open to public scrutiny and criticism, while allowing corporations and others who often compete for the same work to negotiate privately and in total secrecy until merely days before a public vote. If a local government entity seeks to impose transparency in negotiating its labor contracts, it should be required to apply the same transparency in other service contracts."

Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero said Wednesday that City Hall has not fully vetted how CRONE will affect city governance.

"Once we have completed that assessment of how the bill affects us, we'll have a formal response to it," he said.

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