In a marathon meeting that concluded after 3 a.m. Wednesday, the Costa Mesa City Council pushed through plans to outsource the city jail and street-sweeping services to private companies.
"Today is a momentous day, a great day," said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer. "... I know we're going in the right direction, and I think by the time this is over I think the rest of the city will too."
Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who cast the lone dissenting vote in 4-1 splits on the jail and street-sweeping measures, said such an important decision should not be made in the early-morning hours, when most community members have gone home.
"[These] savings are not remarkable," she said. "Not enough to switch from trained jailers. I don't think we should be discussing this at 2 in the morning. There's no hurry. The appeal is coming up. It's not an apples-for-apples deal."
Mayor Eric Bever told her that because the outsourcing plan was so important to the city's future, it had to be discussed and decided upon as soon as possible.
Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir saw the nine-hour meeting as a way for the council majority to advance an ideological agenda with less dissent.
"Waiting until 1 in the morning, rushing their scheme through when there was no need to hold the process hostage like that, only serves to diminish public input in the process," she said. "Unfortunately, that's been typical of the City Council majority in the past year. They've been willing to do anything and say anything to advance their political career. I just think it's a shame for the residents of Costa Mesa."
Supporting the council were 10 members of the Orange County Young Republicans, who praised the council for its fiscal responsibility.
Although the council chose to outsource some services, the plan cannot be enacted yet because of an injunction stemming from a lawsuit filed last May by the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. An appeals court will decide whether to lift the injunction this month.
In addition, the council chose not to go with outsourcing in some areas. The council agreed to maintain a hybrid model that uses a combination of employees and outside contractors for building inspection.
For jail services, the city tapped G4S Security Solutions, which is used by Irvine, La Habra, Beverly Hills, Whittier and Azusa.
During the meeting, Police Chief Tom Gazsi urged the council to consider an attrition model, where jail employees are replaced as they retire by those in the private company. He said it would help with the transition and retain institutional knowledge.
The council adopted the jail outsourcing plan with one change. Rather than the police sergeant staying on a full year to ease the transition, as recommended in the city report, Righeimer said the sergeant should only be in the jail for six months before examining whether the position was really necessary for the full year.
Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger said the city would work to find positions available within the Police Department and the city for those displaced, if and when the outsourcing plan goes into effect.
"These [jail employees] hung with us, worked with us and should be rewarded for that," Righeimer said.
But employees are unlikely to trust that the council has their best interest and will find them jobs, Muir said.
"Do you think the employees have faith that this council is going to act in their best interest? No," she said. "It's completely disingenuous. They're not in this together. They've been constantly attacking employees for more than a year."
In the long run, the city reported that it will save about $600,000 annually by outsourcing the jail to G4S for $743,329 annually, although initially the savings will be less because the jail currently is staffed at seven employees instead of the normal 11, and because the sergeant will be on the payroll for at least six months.
As far as street sweeping is concerned, the department has two full- and two part-time employees. Under the plan, the two full-timers would go back to other jobs in the maintenance departments. The two part-timers would be allowed to apply for jobs with the outside company.
The shift to privatization could generate $10,000 to $20,000 annually by parking Athens Services' equipment on city property and save the city almost $90,000 annually in lowered costs. Costa Mesa would still need a dedicated supervisor to manage the contract, which would lower the savings between $12,000 and $30,000, members of the city staff estimated.
—Staff Writer Joseph Serna also contributed to this report.