Mensinger files complaint against teacher

COSTA MESA — City Councilman Steve Mensinger filed a conduct complaint Monday with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District against an Estancia High School English teacher following an altercation between the two at a weekend community run.

Mensinger argues that the teacher confronted him Saturday on an athletic field at Estancia, boxing him in making verbal threats. He called the teacher's behavior concerning, saying it made him feel uncomfortable.

The teacher, Joel Ruben Flores, has a different take. He argues that Mensinger boxed him in, yelled at him, and at one point pressed his weight against him. In addition, the teacher told the Daily Pilot that the councilman "chest-bumped" his right shoulder.

Mensinger denies there was any physical contact between him and Flores.

Flores said he will press charges if the police decide to take action against Mensinger. The men were arguing about the city's plan to lay off city workers and outsource their work to private firms. Mensinger voted in favor of the plan, which Flores opposes.

Mensinger denied that there was any intentional physical contact and said he certainly never chest-bumped Flores.

Flores filed a police report alleging assault and battery; police are still investigating.

A spokeswoman for Newport-Mesa Unified confirmed that Mensinger lodged a complaint against Flores.

The incident happened about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, at a Costa Mesa fun run to help local schools, according to the police report. Flores spotted Mensinger and made critical remarks about the council's decision to lay off workers.

"He shoved his chest into my right shoulder, then he stoops down to my level," Flores said in a phone interview Sunday. "And as I tried to get away, he swooped down and chest-bumped me, put a finger in my face and shouted me down. I was so traumatized that I immediately left the campus."

Mensinger claims Flores was baiting him into an altercation. Flores said in response to the allegation that he thinks "any person should be able to speak to a public official without fear of harassment or intimidation."

Flores, who lives in Costa Mesa with his wife and children, would not say whether he intended on filing a restraining order against the councilman, but did say that he felt he was being intimidated by Mensinger, who "has hundreds of people around."

"Joel's got a perfect right to do whatever he wishes to do," Mensinger said, referring to Flores possibly filing a restraining order. "What Joel claimed didn't happen. Clearly Joel was trying to initiate, provoke me to respond. I was there for my kids. I was there for a community run."

Flores is active in Repair Costa Mesa, a group opposed to the layoff plans. He and his wife have also appeared in ads supportive of the city employees. The argument over fiscal reforms has reached a fever pitch, with the council majority and employee associations regularly clashing over the plan.

Flores said he is supportive of the workers but is also acting as a resident who likes the way the city has been managed.

"I've raised my kids here in Costa Mesa, and I love this city and care about my city, and to see what the City Council has done deeply saddens me," Flores said Sunday.

Mensinger released a statement Sunday evening, saying the incident was political.

"This is the kind of thing that occurs, when outside interests attempt [to] take control of local government," he said. "They will do anything to disparage our city leaders, even if it means fabricating incidents. No matter what they do, I remain committed to balancing our budget."

— Editor John Canalis contributed to this report.

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