Commentary: Mayor, faced with intimidation, had no choice but to sue

Joseph Heller once famously wrote, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."

That line could apply to the situation in Costa Mesa, where Mayor Jim Righeimer has filed suit against the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. and others.

If you don't understand why a lawsuit is necessary, put yourself in the shoes of the mayor.

Before Righeimer was even elected, a few police officers who work for the city but don't live here were out to get him, using the gravitas and respect that comes with their jobs to try to smear him. At the same time, they were trying to get some easily manipulated puppets elected to the City Council to keep buttering their bread in the form of more raises and increased benefits.

They knew that Righeimer wanted to start shifting city funds into fixing our long-neglected infrastructure — our roads, sidewalks and parks — instead of using most of it for ever-increasing raises and benefits for employees.

Then, after Righeimer was elected, smears notwithstanding, a private gumshoe who works for the law firm used by the police union — a guy who spent years as a cop and knows his way around, and, who, presumably, still has many friends in many police departments — tailed the mayor and called in a bogus report of driving under the influence. Of course, Righeimer passed the DUI test because he hadn't been drinking.

If you were Righeimer, wouldn't you be concerned about other attempts to intimidate you into voting certain ways on the City Council? Wouldn't you want to feel safe in your own home and not wonder every time you see strange people on your street if they have been sent to intimidate you and your wife and kids?

Wouldn't you want to simply do the job without worrying about what might happen if you vote on council matters in a way that some police officers might not like?

As the mayor, you'd be thinking of these fears as you prepared to vote.

Faced with that level of intimidation, would you roll over and give the rogue cops what they want? You know that would stop the attacks on you, and that's what many previous council members have done. They've just gone along to get along. They have smiled and rubber-stamped pay increases and benefit packages that have put the city in the position of having many millions in unfunded liabilities.

But maybe you were serious when you took your oath of office, and maybe you know that you have a fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Costa Mesa.

So what do you do to make sure there is no more intimidation? Call the police? You've got to be kidding. The only means you have is to file a lawsuit.

But if you're the mayor, you have respect for good police officers. Your brother is even a cop in a different state. So in the very first few sentences of your lawsuit, you do something unusual and clearly proclaim that you are not suing the rank-and-file cops, because you know that police departments are mostly made up of good cops with just a few bad ones.

That was a quick look at the genesis of Righeimer's lawsuit, which some people are trying to spin in ways to further harm the mayor and his reputation.

If police officers who work for Costa Mesa want to play politics, they should do so in the cities where they actually live, where they have their families and their hearts and where they can vote.

When city employees, including police officers, come in from far-flung homes and punch the time clock in Costa Mesa, they should be focused on doing the best and most professional job they can do for the great salaries and benefits that we pay them.

They should not be trying to influence votes on the council.

M. H. MILLARD lives in Costa Mesa

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