Council withdraws layoff notices

The Costa Mesa City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to allow city staff to begin rescinding the remaining 70 layoff notices that, when first called for in March 2011, amounted to 213, or about half the city's workforce.

Jim Righeimer, who was selected as mayor at the same meeting, first suggested canceling the pink slips Nov. 19, before the next day's council meeting.

He and the council majority had authorized the widespread austerity move in an effort to control city spending — particularly the looming pension liability of employees — and also reinvest in capital improvement projects.

The move, which came after 11 p.m. in the nearly six-hour council session, authorized city CEO Tom Hatch to begin negotiations with the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. in an effort to seek "enhanced" city services and long-term financial stability.

Righeimer has said he's interested in pursuing outsourcing for divisions such as the jail, payroll, park maintenance and street-sweeping services.

The Orange County Employees Assn., which represents about 200 of Costa Mesa's employees, filed a lawsuit in response to the layoffs, which resulted in an injunction that prohibited them. The California Supreme Court last month denied the city's petition to hear an appeal of the injunction.

OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said the move toward rescinding the layoffs helped remove the "dark cloud" hovering over employees and their families.

"We are encouraged and looking forward to a new beginning in Costa Mesa," she said. "We hope it's marked by collaboration and cooperation, and we have a lot of ideas for how the city can deliver the best services at the best value for the residents of Costa Mesa."

Though she eventually voted in favor of the motion, newly sworn-in Councilwoman Sandy Genis on Tuesday questioned the legality of any plans to outsource, given the appellate court's decision to, in her words, "put the brakes on the stuff."

"To me, it was pretty clear we can't just go outsource willy nilly," she said Wednesday.

For the moment, she advocated putting aside aspects such as a charter and outsourcing, instead tending "to the basics of city business."

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