COSTA MESA — Tensions in the city are so high that police and firefighters can't have a meet-and-greet event with the community without the fear it could become politically divisive, city officials said this week.
With hundreds of city jobs hanging in the balance as city leaders consider outsourcing public services, Costa Mesa Chief Executive Tom Hatch canceled the weekend event when word spread that residents might show up with a political agenda.
"There were various people from various sides of the community and issue that indicated it may turn into more of a political event," said city spokesman Bill Lobdell.
There were concerns that the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. and Orange County Tea Party would show up and distribute fliers on workers' pensions or literature supporting outsourcing jobs. Colin McCarthy, a founding member of the taxpayers group, said this week the group wasn't planning on attending.
At the heart of the city's political climate is a majority of the council's move to possibly outsource nearly half of the city's jobs to private companies in an effort to offload their pension costs. Proponents argue they want to reinvest in capital improvements, while opponents, including Orange County's organized labor organizations, argue the move is politically motivated.
National media has portrayed Costa Mesa as a mini-Wisconsin, as the governor there was portrayed as trying to break up unions by stripping away their collective bargaining rights.
Some local officials apparently aren't viewing Sunday's event on such a grand scale.
Councilman Steve Mensinger approached Hatch with concerns that the officers and firefighters would get paid overtime for the event, Lobdell said.
"There were concerns of use of overtime and the [police] department being shorthanded," Lobdell said.
For the time being, the city has put a kibosh on outreach events by both departments until "we get past the budget issues and the political event calms down," Lobdell said.
He said city leaders would consider such events on a "case by case" basis.
It's not clear when tension in the city will lessen, given that the budget is being introduced next week, the city is beginning to send out its requests for proposals on city services and workers could get laid off in September and November. Then there's the Orange County Employees' Assn. continued Repair Costa Mesa ad campaign criticizing the City Council, and some residents calling for a recall of a majority of the council.