Community Commentary: City Council should not 'jump the gun'

Editor's note: This article appeared first on Councilwoman Wendy Leece's blog, OC Public Square, and is being reprinted with permission.

Why are we such a great city? Because for more than 25 years outgoing City Manager Allan Roeder has been the leader, through many, many council members, who came and went, he was there for continuity.

His integrity. His humility. His love for our city. His love for our residents.

The way he listens to you and helps you understand everything, even pensions and pension reform. All of that stuff matters. It really does.

His legacy? Our employees who serve our residents with respect, regardless.

I am not opposed to analyzing how we deliver services, which may lead to outsourcing. I just don't think we need to jump the gun and send pink slips to our employees before we do our homework. I agree with the principles, just not the tactics.

Out of respect for our residents and employees, we always have, under Roeder's direction, asked staff to gather all of the facts, present the options, listened to the public, then vote. We were prepared before we made our decisions.

In the last four years that I have served on the council, it has not been "us" versus "them." All residents were equal, in my opinion, and I have tried to go out of my way to listen to other viewpoints.

Everyone knows I am a conservative Republican, but I understand we have residents who have other ideologies, and as an elected official who wants the best for Costa Mesa, I feel it is my duty to listen to their viewpoints and try to understand and take that information into account when I vote on issues impacting residents.

We are all taxpayers and want the best for our city.

In the past, although I may have disagreed with residents and public input, I was respectful and honored those who had different ideas. Sometimes, after public input, I have changed my mind on a matter. (I voted for the city manager-CEO name change, for example.)

That's what the "public hearing" is for. As a public official, I have been reminded many times that I should not make up my mind on any matter before I come to the meeting.

However, now a new process has begun whereby one or two council members present some item to the mayor to be put on the agenda, and voilà! It happens and takes on a life of its own.

The facts will be gathered later. The input from residents doesn't matter, and there is a bigger picture here to which only a few are privy. There is a condescending attitude toward our residents and employees.

There is an unwillingness to be flexible and study issues before voting. I think we are micromanaging and doing things the city manager should be doing or delegating. Being on the council is not a full-time job.

What's the rush? People have asked me about how I plan to solve the budget issues; I will continue to work with staff as I have always done. We have a standard budget process. I do not believe our situation is as dire as others believe.

We are not running out of money. There are some exaggerations of the projections — the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) numbers after next year, for example. The chart "Pooled cash investments by fund" shows we are trending back with $66 million total in the fund. Pension projections vary also.

There is not just one way to look at something. Outsourcing could be more expensive.

In the last two budget cycles we have cut about $35 million, and employees have helped us by offering solutions, including paying for their retirement benefits. I don't think we should put the blame on our employees — it is what is — but rather, we need to work together to find solutions, and I will continue to do that.

But at this point the council is not willing to even meet with them. I can't understand why staff was not brought in to discuss adding paramedics. I am concerned about legal challenges to the layoff notices as well. We might end up spending more on legal costs when we intended to save money.

With sadness, I bid goodbye to Mr. Roeder and thank him for all he has done for our city and to help me be a better public servant. He has set the bar very high as an example for us, and to honor him I believe we all will continue to maintain that bar as we go forward.

Wendy Leece is a Costa Mesa city councilwoman.

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