Proposed Costa Mesa hiring spree could include four cops

In what Costa Mesa city officials are calling "modest increases" to staffing levels, the City Council on Tuesday will hear a proposal that could boost City Hall ranks by 12 positions.

The annual payroll would increase $1.64 million.


Four of the positions are for sworn police officers, who, in addition to supporting all the department's activities, will specifically help monitor early release prisoners, probationers, parolees and registered sex offenders living in Costa Mesa.

If accepted by the council, the move would allow the police department to employ a maximum of 136 sworn officers, excluding the reserve force, an annual salary and benefits cost of $572,000.


Police Chief Tom Gazsi and Mayor Jim Righeimer have been meeting to "better understand and resolve conflicts that exist between the Police Department and members of the City Council," according to a news release.

"I'm pleased with this proposal to provide additional protection to the citizens of Costa Mesa," Gazsi said in a prepared statement. "All communities are having to deal with the negative impacts caused by the state's early release of prisoners. This will help us better address the issue."

Also in a prepared statement, Righeimer said the four officers will help with problems "associated with the state prematurely dumping prisoners throughout Orange County. We can then be more proactive with dedicated resources to appropriately monitor early release prisoners and others with a criminal history to deter crime."

California has been complying with a U.S. Supreme Court directive to ease prison overcrowding with an early release program called "realignment."


Tuesday's recommendation, which is supported by city CEO Tom Hatch, comes amid a reputedly antagonistic rift between the council majority and Police Department. A Daily Pilot investigation in August reported a difficultly for the city to fill its police vacancies, with few experienced officers seeking transfers into Costa Mesa.

They also cited the ongoing debate over compensation and, according to one officer, an unwillingness to jump into a "political hotbed of controversy."

Righeimer and his council ally, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, are also suing the police union, its former law firm and a private investigator in a civil-action lawsuit that claims political intimidation and harassment.

The councilmen's claims stem from an August 2012 incident when the investigator, Chris Lanzillo, followed Righeimer home from a bar one night and reported him for drunk driving. That night, Righeimer passed a field sobriety test. He later called the ordeal "a setup."

Mensinger told local media last year that a GPS monitor was placed on his truck in 2012 and was used to track his whereabouts.

Soon after the August 2012 incident with Lanzillo, the police union stopped using the law firm, Upland-based Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir. The union has denied any wrongdoing and said it had no knowledge of the DUI incident or GPS tracking.

As of September, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir was en route to dissolution.



Other potential jobs

The other positions include two senior maintenance workers, an assistant chief executive/administrative services director, a Fire Department administrator, human resources analyst and deputy city clerk.

City officials say another deputy clerk is partly needed to help handle a 241% increase between 2010 and 2013 — 90 to 307 — in public records requests.

The human resource analyst will help with the 130% increase since fiscal year 2009-10 in employment applications, from 3,010 to 6,931.