Reports on Costa Mesa councilmen's decisions, in this case the "need" for more layoffs, usually tuck in an obligatory quote from Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir.
What needs to be made perfectly clear is that it's not just, or even primarily, employees who object to the councilmen's budget priorities. The anger and dismay of a growing number of Costa Mesa residents is about the prolonged attack on vital public services.
What the councilmen seem not to understand, or not to care about, is that it is the residents who will suffer. Crime is up, while the number of police officers is below not just optimal staffing, but below the minimum staffing recommended by the previous police chief. It's even below what the councilmen's bought-and-paid-for consultants stated as minimum staffing requirements.
Muir summed up the situation succinctly when she said that "when it comes to executive pay, pet projects, high-priced lawyers, there's plenty of money. But when it comes to the community, there's nothing left."
One example of this is executive pay. Two new public relations positions with salaries of $135,000 per year, plus generous benefits, along with several other new positions with similarly generous salaries; high-priced lawyers, including some at $495 per hour, adding up to more than $1.7 million in seven months and counting, much of it spent on unnecessary and unsuccessful litigation driven by council hubris and errors.
Pet projects go from the frivolous, such as changing the title of city manager to CEO; to the nice but not necessary, such as new sports fields where the councilmen are trying to turn over some existing fields to a private operator who will rent them to out-of-town leagues; to the murky, $1 million for a contingency fund that can be dipped into whenever and for whatever desired; to the questionable, for example, $500,000 set aside to buy motels which Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, the leader of these strategies, has stated we'll sell at a loss.
Some of the pet projects, totaling millions of dollars, are nice ideas that many of us would applaud when the treasury is full and our basic needs for safety and service are met. This year is not such a time. We need and can afford well-chosen, well-trained and well-rested safety personnel. We can afford properly-staffed regulatory departments, such as planning and building inspections.
But we can't afford to fund such a long wish list at the same time, and certainly not at the expense of vital services.
TAMAR GOLDMAN lives in Costa Mesa.