GOP questioning Leece's vote

COSTA MESA — The Republican Party of Orange County's ethics committee held a hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss whether Councilwoman Wendy Leece broke a promise by voting for new terms and contracts for city employees this week.

Leece did not attend the hearing, which was closed to the public.

The committee, which is made up of members of the Orange County Republican Central Committee, received a complaint about Leece's City Council vote Tuesday, which allowed the city to implement new terms and contracts for its employees.

The Orange County GOP had expected Leece to vote against the contracts in exchange for endorsing her re-election bid. The GOP views the new contracts as continuing a trend of generous pay and pensions to union employees.

But Leece defended her vote, saying the city needed the savings made possible through the new contracts.

"I am disappointed that Mr. [Scott] Baugh has made this decision to go ahead with the meeting," Leece said, referring to the O.C. Republican chairman. "I do not plan to attend as the city attorney is unable to attend on such short notice. I continue to stand by my vote to do what I believe is in the best interests of Costa Mesa residents. The public's safety is my priority. The vote on Tuesday assures we will continue to be a safe city."

Details of the meeting had not been made public Thursday evening.

Because the city's negotiations with its employee are confidential, Leece had asked that the hearing be postponed until she can receive legal advice about what she can and cannot say.

"These confidential meetings should give the committee great pause considering the great harm that could be done to my city or me regarding my 'telling my side of the story,'" Leece wrote to Baugh in an e-mail.

Baugh said that when a complaint is filed, the ethics committee is obligated to hold a hearing within 24 hours of the vote, especially when so soon before an election.

The city is struggling to close a $9.5-million budget gap. Negotiations with employee bargaining groups led to a savings of $3.6 million for this year and a total savings of $7.2 million over the life of the pacts.

Leece issued a news release Sunday saying that party leaders had sent her e-mails and left her voicemails warning her to vote against the deal when it came before the council.

The callers also promised consequences if Leece voted for the new contracts, she said.

Baugh said that Leece had asked the GOP for its endorsement and promised that she would only support defined contributions for new hires, a plan that would cap the benefits paid out by the city.

Costa Mesa, however, is a member of CalPERS, and cannot switch to defined contributions, city officials said.

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