Council contracts security firm to run city jail

The Costa Mesa City Council voted late Tuesday night to outsource its jail after a judge earlier in the day denied a request to block that move.

The council's 4-1 decision, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting, approved a contract with G4S Security Solutions that officials say is projected to save city coffers more than $3 million over five years compared to the current setup.


The Orange County Employees Assn., which represents a contingent of Costa Mesa workers, had sought a temporary restraining order against the contract Tuesday morning in Orange County Superior Court. Judge Luis Rodriguez denied the request on the grounds that the council had not yet voted on the contract with the international security firm.

OCEA representatives said they will continue to seek a preliminary injunction. City officials have a cited a state appellate court opinion from September 2012 declaring their "statutory outsourcing authority" for the jail.


Unlike a highly contested council decision in 2011 that proposed nearly 200 layoffs of city employees — the layoff notices were eventually rescinded by December 2012 — the G4S contract proposes none. Once the 32-bed jail is outsourced, the full-time custody officers, overseer sergeant, part-time officers and court liaison officer are expected to be transferred to comparable positions.

The sergeant is a sworn officer, but the custody officers are nonsworn employees.

The G4S contract had received approval from the council in May 2012 — with Leece casting the lone dissenting vote — but because of a preliminary injunction that stopped outsourcing efforts, the city could not move forward. The injunction, which lasted 18 months, was lifted in January, after which time Costa Mesa officials began speaking with employee representatives.

The Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. and city officials met seven times between February and May, according to a city news release.


OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir spoke to the council before the vote urging the members not to outsource the jail.

She said that "it soon became apparent that while the city was willing to enthusiastically engage in discussions regarding the outsourcing it wanted, it absolutely refused to discuss anything else its employees wanted. The discussions thus became simply another verse of the council majority's all-too-familiar tune: 'Our way or the highway.'"

Muir called the council majority's direction "politically motivated." It uses "misleading" numbers and exaggerated outcomes for a for-profit company that's accountable to shareholders, not the community, she contended.

Councilman Gary Monahan praised city staff's "overboard" effort working with the employee groups. He called Muir's statements "propaganda."

"We have been very upfront and honest about what we wanted to do with the jail," Monahan said, adding that "we're not going to have any layoffs, no jobs are going missing, and yet we basically have been against brick walls over the months."

Mayor Jim Righeimer said the overall setup with city employee salaries, pensions, sick days and other benefits are too expensive.

"The problem with government and with government employees, as good as they are, is they are pricing themselves out of the picture," he said.

Righeimer said he has "all the faith in the world" that Police Chief Tom Gazsi will effectively lead the transition process.


"I would hope that within a year or two from now, it'll be so seamless you won't even know this happened," he said. "Unless you get arrested a lot."