We support the vigorous public debate taking place over Costa Mesa's future. The City Council majority and the employee associations should hash out how to address the budget crisis and pension obligations, whether through layoffs, outsourcing, sharing services with neighboring cities, reopening collectively bargained agreements, or engaging in other creative solutions.

But let's leave children out of it. As the Daily Pilot reported last week, a private investigator knocked on the doors of one or two families with high school-aged football players to inquire about missing and vandalized "Stop the Layoffs" signs.

The Orange County Employees Assn. is believed to have hired the investigator. A spokesman did not deny nor confirm who hired the P.I., but said the association wanted the facts so it could handle the matter "privately."

The union has every right to feel like vandals and thieves encroached on its free-speech rights by damaging or stealing its property. Breaking the law to silence political speech is as cowardly as it is commonplace.

But investigations into possible crimes should be handled by the police, not political operatives, especially when children are thought to be involved. Children belong on the sidelines.

"It's inappropriate because they're kids," beloved Mesa United booster Jim Scott Jr. told the Pilot. "Kids should be off limits. They're not voters."

We couldn't have said it any better.