Moorlach aims to make COIN ordinance countywide

Costa Mesa's Civic Openness in Negotiations, or COIN, ordinance could soon be tested on a bigger stage, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said Tuesday.

Near the end of this week's board of supervisors meeting, he told colleagues that he hopes to bring a modified version of the law — which aims to increase transparency in what have become reliably fractious public employee contract negotiations — before the full panel in late May.

"We're busy putting it together, working with county counsel," he said by phone Wednesday. "We're enjoying sort of a lot of intrigue in our current negotiations [with employee unions] that could be corrected or addressed with COIN."

The Costa Mesa ordinance, adopted in 2012, sets new standards for negotiations with employee unions that require each side to make its offers public.

Among other provisions, the ordinance requires an independent financial analysis and independent labor negotiator to bargain on the city's behalf. Previously, a city executive would fill that role.

Additionally, communications about negotiations between council members and union representatives must be disclosed under the law.

Moorlach wrote in an email that several components of Costa Mesa's COIN ordinance are already in place in some form at the county level, such as the use of an independent negotiator rather than a county employee, and the public release of reports that detail fiscal impacts of each proposal.

But the proposal he plans to bring to the board on May 20 would bulk up the county's negotiation transparency requirements by taking a few pages out of Costa Mesa's book.

In an email, he wrote that his proposal will likely include provisions requiring board members to tell the public about any ideas from closed-session talks that are taken off the table, and requiring an independent auditor to analyze an employee group's current contract in a report published at least 30 days before negotiations begin on a new agreement.

Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, who spearheaded efforts to pass the measure, said that although the city is still in the midst of its first set of COIN-regulated contract negotiations, the idea seems to be catching on in cities around the region.

"Candidly speaking, COIN is clear and obvious to anybody that wants to give the taxpayer a seat at the table," he said.

Steve Greyshock, spokesman for the Assn. of California Cities Orange County, said the organization has been approached for guidance about implementing similar measures.

While the association will not take a position on whether it's good government for jurisdictions to have a COIN-type process in place, he said the ACCOC board is expected in coming weeks to consider recommendations for cities that want to take that route.

"One of the fundamental principles is that all parties involved in the negotiations have an understanding of what's happening," he said. "That's something that's mutually beneficial to all involved."

Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., wrote in an email that although she hadn't heard about a county version of COIN, the county's largest employee union would "welcome being part of a process to develop a comprehensive transparency policy for the county."

But she echoed concerns the association raised as Costa Mesa built its ordinance.

Agreements with for-profit contractors, she wrote, should be subject to the same rigorous processes as those with municipal employees.

"We think it's critical for an effective policy to cover contracts with the outside, for-profit companies that receive public money — often with the help of politically connected lobbyists," she wrote, "as well as contracts with the county's public workforce."

Ultimately, though, she wrote that OCEA leaders were looking forward to working with Moorlach.

Still, it may be some time before OCEA would try out a COIN-type process; the association recently approved a new contract that will be in effect through June 2015 — after two years of contentious negotiations with the county.

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