The Costa Mesa City Council passed two measures Tuesday that make significant changes to city employees' compensation.
The Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, or COIN, will expose future labor contract negotiations to added public scrutiny.
In the other, the city's firefighters agreed to a new contract that eliminates minimum staffing requirements, reduces retirement benefits for future employees and freezes pay until 2017.
Both items fit into the council majority's larger plan to shift power away from organized labor and to reduce the municipal employee payroll. They each passed with a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Eric Bever absent.
"The issue here tonight is, 'How do you provide the best possible service for the most affordable cost?'" Councilman Steve Mensinger said of the firefighter contract. He also authored the COIN ordinance.
The COIN ordinance requires an independent auditor to estimate the cost of each contract's individual terms and conditions. For example, if the police officers association requested more special pay for bilingual officers, the auditor would report the total cost to the city. This information would be on the city's website before the council could vote on the contract.
Another provision mandates that the council publicly report on offers and counteroffers after they are made. Also, council members will have to disclose any communication with labor association representatives that takes place between meetings.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece and a handful of residents complained that COIN didn't go far enough. They said that other contract negotiations, such as those to privatize city services, should be subject to the same transparency.
"It's a good thing, but not enough of a good thing," said resident Perry Valantine.
Leece said she would reintroduce a broader proposal that would require council members to disclose more communication with outside parties. The Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. relayed the same position to city administrators as they were finalizing the ordinance.
"CMCEA supports any effort to improve transparency, but we believe transparency should be applied evenly," CMCEA President Helen Nenadal wrote in a letter to the city.
Negotiations between the council and firefighter associations were tense, representatives from both sides said.
The council majority has criticized the 2010 firefighter contract amendment, which increased retirement formulas and stopped employee pension contributions in November 2011.
In the new contract, firefighters will again contribute 5% of their earnings toward their retirement fund, although the city will still pay for the majority of their retirement costs.
New employees will be subject to a less generous retirement formula, which allows someone at age 50 to receive up to 60% of their highest earnings, averaged over three years. Current employees can get up to 90% of their annual earnings at age 50, depending on how long they worked for the city.
"We recognize that there's a crisis out there," said Battalion Chief Fred Seguin after the hearing. "We all have common ground."
The city also plans to restructure the Fire Department so it can respond to medical emergencies — which are the bulk of its calls — with fewer employees. This required lifting a minimum staffing requirement for each fire station.
In exchange, the city guaranteed that it would not lay off any employees if some of the Fire Department services are outsourced. The new contracts, which apply to the Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. and the Costa Mesa Fire Management Assn., expire June 30, 2017.
Officials said they had not yet analyzed the firefighter contract to determine how much it would save the city, although Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said it would save at least $500,000 per year in retirement costs.
"I am delighted that someone in this city has compromised," said resident Susan Shaw.