Costa Mesa City Council members flipped the city’s COIN ordinance into a new transparency policy Tuesday night, saying the revised requirements will make negotiations with public employee associations more efficient while continuing to provide a public window into the process.
The 5-2 decision — with council members Sandy Genis and Allan Mansoor opposed — repeals the 2012 Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance and replaces it with a Transparency in Labor Negotiations policy containing similar but not identical provisions.
For instance, the new policy allows the council to adopt a memorandum of understanding with a bargaining group after one public meeting rather than two, as COIN called for. It also does away with the requirement that the city’s lead contract negotiator be outside counsel — allowing an executive staff member to fill that role instead. In addition, it eliminates a 30-day waiting period to start negotiations after the council chooses a chief negotiator.
Other COIN requirements, including that proposals and offers be posted online during negotiations and that council members disclose when they communicate with representatives of employee associations, will remain.
The primary rationale given for the change is to free the city from the burdens of a 2015 law called the Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act, also known as CRONEY. That state law applies specifically to jurisdictions that have COIN ordinances and essentially requires city contracts worth $250,000 or more to have an independent auditor review and report on their costs. It also mandates the release of detailed information about negotiations pertaining to such contracts.
Costa Mesa apparently was the only city to which CRONEY still applied, according to staff.
“I think if two sides are able to reach an agreement quickly and efficiently and fairly — as they should in a city where we have good … trustworthy, open relationships with our employees associations — then we shouldn’t overly burden the process or make it more expensive just so we can say we did,” said Councilwoman Andrea Marr, who was elected in November.
Mansoor, on the other hand, said he felt some aspects of COIN, such as the requirements for a second public meeting and an outside negotiator, should have been retained.
“Yes, we want good public employees, good police and fire, but there are costs and we have to be upfront and you have to know what these things are costing you,” he said. “That is the purpose of COIN.”
Genis asked whether the city could tweak COIN in a way to avoid CRONEY but retain it as an ordinance. She said she was concerned that the council could waive the policy in the future by a majority vote.
Acting City Manager Tamara Letourneau said staff thoroughly vetted the issue and determined the chosen tactic was the best way to “maintain the things that are good and important about COIN but to relieve the burden of CRONEY.”
Police contracts approved
Just before the COIN decision, council members wrapped up the city’s latest round of labor negotiations by voting to officially adopt new employee contracts with the Costa Mesa Police and Costa Mesa Police Management associations.
The agreement with the management association, which consists of higher-ranking Police Department personnel, runs through June 30, 2022, and covers eight employees. It will provide them a series of four 3% salary increases between now and July 1, 2021 — the first pay raises for those workers since 2008, according to city staff.
Those employees also will gradually boost their retirement contributions until they are putting 14% of their pay into their pensions by July 1, 2020. They also will be entitled to flexible benefit contributions of $2,119 per month for health insurance and a $75 monthly technology allowance, with lieutenants eligible to receive $1,000 per fiscal year for professional development.
The overall cost of the agreement is anticipated to be $1.7 million, according to the city.
The biggest change in the contract with the Police Assn., which covers 127 rank-and-file officers, is increasing the flexible benefit contribution for health insurance from $631 to $1,375 per month, and then to $2,119 per month on July 1. The resulting cost to the city will be about $4.5 million over the life of the contract.
“I think this is a good deal and it addresses the issue of not increasing our underfunded pension liability,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens.
Mansoor was the lone vote against approving the agreements Tuesday. He said he objected to a clause in the rank-and-file pact that he believes will make it more difficult to address specific issues in the contract should the need arise.