Community Commentary: Council cannot justify legal, PR costs

The hypocrisy that has become the hallmark of the Costa Mesa City Council majority was reinforced repeatedly at Tuesday's council meeting. While continuing to cry poor about the city's financial condition, the majority voted to authorize unlimited spending for two high-priced law firms in furtherance of its failed outsourcing scheme.

Jones Day, the third firm retained to defend the city against a lawsuit filed by city employees, will charge $495 per hour while HansonBridgett from San Francisco will charge $295 to $325 per hour to advise the city's outsourcing agenda. Just for Jones Day's services, that's almost $4,000 for every eight-hour work day, not including "costs" and other extra charges.

At that rate, the city's $3,000-per-week spokesman Bill Lobdell, who was hired on a no-bid contract, could have been a bargain. Except that at the same meeting the City Council also approved the creation of two new public relations manager positions at an annual cost of $182,424 each. So if Lobdell is hired for one of those jobs, which is apparently the plan if you listened to Councilman Steve Mensinger's gushing endorsement, the new position would amount to a $30,000-a-year raise for Lobdell.

A $30,000-a-year raise for a PR man, yet at the same time the city loses police officers at the rate of one per week, permanently grounds its ABLE helicopter program, and eliminates its nationally-respected emergency medical services coordinator — all because it can no longer afford them?

But the council majority's transgressions weren't limited to hypocrisy. Their increasingly arrogant and combative behavior toward the public signaled a simple truth — they have no intention of listening to the residents who elected them, and they will shamelessly divert city funds to build a moat teeming with lawyers and public relations consultants to protect their castle of self-interest.

That's not all. At a time when police department staffing is at an all-time low and the council continues to slash services across Costa Mesa, it won't stop spending taxpayer dollars on its own perks. This week it approved five new positions in the CEO's office with salaries totaling nearly $634,000 a year, including the addition of an executive secretary assigned specifically to the City Council.

Some budget crisis, right?

All this spending was approved despite the protestations of dozens of residents who spoke out against the wasteful and unneeded contracts and new positions, just as they have protested against outsourcing and layoffs for months.

This council rails about transparency. But it's clear that the only thing transparent about them is their obvious willingness to denigrate the public and lavishly spend taxpayer money to promote their own selfish agenda, while at the same time lamenting the city's financial condition. As the residents who watched or attended the Tuesday's meeting now understand more than ever, arrogance + self-interest + wasteful spending does not add up to transparency.

Real transparency means following their own rules and the law, telling the public who is influencing their decisions and putting aside ideology to do what's best for the residents of Costa Mesa. It's time to cancel the layoffs and stop this wasteful spending.

JENNIFER MUIR is the spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn. in Santa Ana.

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