Charter committee OKs outsourcing language

The Costa Mesa Charter Committee voted Wednesday evening to support an initiative that would allow the city to outsource most services.

Eleven members voted in favor of including outsourcing in the proposed charter, which would require voter approval. The document is expected to go before the City Council for consideration sometime this year and then to voters in November.

Committee member Harold Weitzberg dissented; Mary Ann O'Connell was absent.

Most of the document's wording was crafted by the group's legal counsel, Yolanda Summerhill, who wrote that any city service can be outsourced unless disallowed by the state Constitution.

The proposed language states that when the council considers an outsourcing proposal, the outside party should provide the service "as or more efficiently and effectively" than if it had remained under the city .

Committee member Hank Panian said outsourcing worked well at the Mesa Water District, where he served as an elected board member.

Weitzberg said he wanted language ensuring that those chosen for outsourcing had not donated to a council member's campaign.

Such a limitation would help "make the playing field level," he said, and avoid cronyism and "pay-to-play" scenarios.

Committee member Tom Pollitt said he agreed with the principle but wanted similar language to apply to unions.

"If we're going to penalize contractors … we should also say the unions shouldn't be able to contribute," he said.

Some of his colleagues said it was a false comparison because unions don't directly seek or bid on contract work as businesses do.

Committee member Kerry McCarthy added that the city's competitive bidding process, in and of itself, should be a sufficient tool to weed out cronyism to council-favored business interests.

Summerhill said irrespective of Costa Mesa's charter, the state's laws on conflicts of interest for politicians would apply.

Outsourcing has been a hotly contested topic at Costa Mesa City Hall over the past few years. In March 2011, the council majority failed in an effort to outsource as many 18 city services. The move led to pink slips for more than 200 employees — nearly half the city's workforce — and the filing of a lawsuit by the employees union.

A preliminary injunction later prevented city officials from outsourcing. By January 2013, a judge lifted the 18-month injunction. The month before, the council had rescinded the remaining 70 pink slips.

Last June, the council voted to outsource the city's jail, a move that didn't create any layoffs and was expected to save more than $3 million over five years. The council had attempted to do so a year before, but it ultimately failed because of the preliminary injunction.

The day of the council's jail vote, the Orange County Employees Assn. sought a temporary restraining order, though an Orange County Superior Court judge denied it.

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