City Council appeals outsourcing ruling

An injunction that temporarily stopped Costa Mesa from privatizing some city services will go to the state Supreme Court, city officials said Wednesday.

The City Council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to appeal a lower-court ruling that has prevented the city from outsourcing workers to private companies until a lawsuit filed by employees is heard. Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented.

It is up to the state's high court whether to hear the petition or let the lower court's decision stand, said attorney John Alexander Vogt, private counsel representing the city.

The petition will likely be filed by Tuesday, the city announced.

An Orange County Superior Court judge initially halted the city's efforts to privatize when the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. (CMCEA) filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2011.

Costa Mesa appealed the Superior Court decision, saying it was imperative that the city begin its outsourcing plan, but a three-judge appellate panel upheld the lower court's ruling until the lawsuit is resolved, saying in part "job loss is always a serious matter, and in this post-recession era of high unemployment, it cannot be taken lightly."

The council majority appealed the decision at the urging of other general law cities that were impacted by the appellate court's published ruling, the city announced.

Critics say the move is the latest attempt to further a political philosophy.

"It's so clear that [Mayor Pro Tem Jim] Righeimer and the council majority are much more focused on their broad political agenda than what's best for the residents of the city of Costa Mesa," said Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir. "It's just disgusting."

The CMCEA represents more than 100 Costa Mesa employees who are suing to block the outsourcing plan.

Leece said she is tired of the costly fight.

"We need to just stop and take a deep breath and accept the decision" to temporarily halt outsourcing, Leece said. "I'm tired of wasting money on $500 [an hour] attorneys. We live with the decision and move on."

The city's methods were flawed from the beginning, she said.

"We should have met with our employees and abided by the [memorandum of understanding] and the policy which requires that the staff discuss with the employees of a particular department other ways to find efficiencies … so employees can continue to work with the city," Leece said.

Costa Mesa's legal battle with the employee union caught the attention of two statewide organizations that lobby on behalf of cities.

"We are very much aware of the case. We were aware when it percolated up to the court of appeals," said Tony Cardenas, the League of California Cities' Orange County public affairs regional manager.

The California Contract Cities Assn. is siding with the Costa Mesa council.

"Our interest, of course, is the protection of home rule and decision-making process of elected officials," said Sam Olivito, the group's executive director. "We think the courts haven't really reviewed all the issues involved."

The city's proposed charter, listed as Measure V on the Nov. 6 ballot, aims to address outsourcing and prevailing-wage issues.

If passed, it could make one part of CMCEA's lawsuit moot because the group argues that it is illegal for general law cities to outsource some services, said city spokesman Bill Lobdell. The charter, however, doesn't address the other component of the CMCEA's lawsuit, which says the city violated employees' contracts in its outsourcing plan.

If the charter passes, the city would have to wait until memorandums expire to fully implement its outsourcing plan.

In the meantime, the city can still legally outsource services by contracting with other public entities, such as the county.

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