COSTA MESA — Councilman Eric Bever has called on his fellow council members to cease negotiations with the city's employee unions until after the November election.
Bever, who announced his decision to temporarily suspend his participation in employee contract negotiations during Monday's special City Council meeting, said three council members are under pressure from unions because they are running for office, and he doesn't want campaign season to interfere.
"I'm stalling the process until we have a council that's not conflicted with the issue," Bever said Tuesday.
After his announcement, Bever declined to participate in that evening's negotiations and left the meeting, drawing criticism from at least two peers on the council and a local blog, A Bubbling Cauldron, which was first to report his exit.
"I don't believe it's appropriate for the City Council to be discussing union contract negotiations in the middle of a council campaign," Bever said.
But at least two council members have fired back, arguing that such negotiations go with the job of being a council member, whether or not it's an election year.
"I think it's irresponsible," said Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who is running for school board. "If he doesn't like what we're negotiating, his option is to vote no. There are elections every two years. You're always going to hit some kind bargaining negotiations."
There's a good chance that Foley will not be on the council after the November elections, and she
received union support during her reelection to the City Council in 2008, which could influence her decision-making, Bever asserted.
But halting negotiations only costs the city more money, Foley said.
The 5% salary cuts implemented through furloughs last year to help close the budget deficit expired at the end of August, she said, and employees are being paid their regular salaries.
But Bever said he's willing to absorb a few months worth of costs if it means getting it right for the next four years.
"In this case, we may be trading a short-term saving for more costs over the long run," he said.
Bever also criticized Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who is running for reelection, and he said, might not be making the best decision, given that she's in a position where she can be swayed into either direction by the unions.
Leece said Bever's decision is unfair and unreasonable.
"We can't stop. That's ridiculous," she said. "He's making a misstatement and assumptions based on no facts that I'm on the receiving end of the union's support, which is unknown to me"
In addition, Bever said, the police union might also influence Mayor Allan Mansoor's state Assembly race campaign.
Mansoor, a former sheriff's deputy, has drawn criticism from law enforcement unions because he favors a reduction in what he considers generous retirement packages paid to public employees.
Bever's latest move only adds to the speculation and the increasing tension between the police union and public officials.
Planning Commissioner and council candidate Jim Righeimer is already in the middle of a public battle with the police and fire unions after threatening to work on cutting their salaries and pension, if elected to the council in November.
Those tensions increased after Righeimer got out of his car during a recent DUI checkpoint to question police officers about the wisdom of conducting a checkpoint during rush hour on a busy boulevard.
Allen Rieckhof, president of the Costa Mesa Police Assn., said Bever's decision is nothing more than a political ploy.
"If he's trying to say that any candidate shouldn't have any support from any special party or group, that doesn't make any sense. That's part of the democratic process," he said.
Asked if he spoke to Righeimer about his decision to boycott further negotiations, Bever said, he came up with the decision on his own.
He also said the unions "know that Bever, Monahan and Righeimer will do what's right for the city."
"I don't think that we're going to be intimidated," Bever said. "We understand the financial situation and will make appropriate action to ensure the continued financial stability of the city."
Bever's decision to boycott negotiations would have no impact on the end results, as long as a majority of the council members agree on a position.