Harlan: Exploiting DUI call harms Costa Mesans

Does anything more need to be said or written about the bizarre incident involving Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and the 911 call alleging his erratic driving as he made his way home from Skosh Monahan's the evening of Aug. 22?

Unfortunately, yes.

While I certainly hesitate to contribute to an incredible story that should have ended quietly, I think the event demonstrates why Costa Mesans should be particularly vigilant as we approach Election Day in November.

Let me state up front that I understand Righeimer's initial reaction to the situation. Being asked by a police officer to take a sobriety test after he arrived home was probably shocking. I can imagine the indignity he suffered, especially since he hadn't been drinking. I would have been justifiably angry, puzzled and slightly embarrassed.

However, seeing that no actual harm resulted — the officer's exam was quick, no one was injured, and no arrest was made — I would have probably let it go. Sure, the emotional rush would have taken a little while to wear off. But really, what more is there to do?

It's natural for everyone to want to know what really happened. In fact, it's imperative that the truth be revealed (at press time, the Costa Mesa Police Department's investigation had not reached a final conclusion). If someone had, in fact, filed a false 911 call, then I would want justice. If evidence surfaced that others were involved in a criminal enterprise, then I'd want them to be prosecuted under our legal system too.

But if you're Righeimer, unabashed enemy of union labor, you view the situation differently. We all carry biases and view the world through different lenses, and in Righeimer's case the unions are to blame for the ills we suffer today, especially in Costa Mesa. Even before any information surfaced about the 911 caller, or any of his alleged associations, Righeimer was declaring this was a "setup" by the unions.

So it should come as a surprise to no one that this incident provided a convenient platform to rail against the city's employee associations. While basking in the media spotlight — he called two press conferences and has participated in several radio and TV interviews — Righeimer seems no longer interested in justice for an alleged crime; rather, he's solely focused on campaigning against and punishing the unions.

Why should this matter to Costa Mesans?

First, he is continuing to publicly tarnish the image of our community. In his unequivocal and deeply rooted quest to cripple the unions, Righeimer consistently paints Costa Mesa in the poorest light possible.

Whether it's on the evening news, the Los Angeles radio, or on a national, cable TV program, our mayor pro tem can only grumble about union "shakedowns," scare tactics and exorbitant employee compensation.

I agree that we need to revisit compensation, but disparaging our community (including our employees) benefits no one. This may be the kind of attention that Righeimer wants, but it's not what Costa Mesa deserves.

Second, waging a war in the media against the employee groups with whom you are presumably negotiating does not encourage harmonious and productive dialogue. The council union has assured us that they're continuing to "negotiate in good faith" with our police and fire associations (we'll hear that a lot from the two incumbent candidates during the election season), but do you think Righeimer's flippant rants and playground name-calling are helpful?

Third, using this incident to obfuscate the pension issue insults the intelligence of Costa Mesa voters. Righeimer wants us to believe that his simple, read-it-over-a-cup-of-coffee charter document is the panacea that will solve our problems, including pension reform. The reality is that the proposed charter scheme does absolutely nothing to resolve the city's current pension liability. Nothing.

For months, Righeimer and his council union have declared that they put the residents first. The litigated outsourcing plan, hastily rigged charter scheme, the Banning Ranch traffic mitigation agreement — all of these decisions, apparently, have been made to put the needs of Costa Mesa residents front and center.

Is this recent media campaign really putting us first? As a Costa Mesa resident (or business person), ask yourself how you've actually benefited from any of the council union's actions so far.

One thing, however, is certain. We remain a community deeply divided, encumbered by needless drama, and willfully thrown into the spotlight for personal political gain. Let's allow the investigation to unfold, attempt to work earnestly and collaboratively, and keep our city out of the headlines.

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.

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