Screen capture from Righeimer.com. (Daily Pilot / October 5, 2010)

COSTA MESA — The Costa Mesa Police Assn. ratcheted up its rhetoric against City Council candidate Jim Righeimer on Tuesday by launching a website critical of his financial woes in the 1990s and his record as a city planning commissioner.

Paid for by the association's political committee, http://www.righeimer.com lists 21 liens Righeimer faced in the early to mid-'90s, lawsuits he's been involved in, and his voting record on hot-button issues such as Banning Ranch development and the proposal to light up Triangle Square with LED signs.

"This is just the same smears and attacks by the police association because I have a lot of concerns about the pension pay and benefits," Righeimer, a former Pilot columnist, said. He added that he’s paid off all the liens.

Righeimer had been expecting as much. The Planning Commission chairman and the association have clashed as of late, namely over Righeimer's opinions regarding the escalating cost of public employee pensions, which public safety officer want to preserve.

His attorney and brother-in-law, Mark Bucher, sent a letter last week to the association and a local blogger threatening legal action if they publish any misinformation or falsehoods about his financial, real estate or legal past.

Falsehoods referred to in the letter did not appear to be on the website.

The domain name used by the police union used to belong to Righeimer. He said he lost the domain name after missing a payment.

"Somehow, we missed the renewal on it, and it was bought by a group based out of Sacramento," he said.

Police association officials confirmed that their group was behind the site, which also states that it is hosted by them, but declined to comment further.

"I'm not going to respond on the issues they are bringing up," Righeimer said. "It has nothing to do with pay, benefits and pension. This group does not want to talk about any of these issues."

Among the issues cited on the site are old tax liens and lawsuits.

"During the economic downturn in the late 1980s, times got very tough for my business, and I chose the honorable path of dealing head-on with the money I owed," Righeimer said in a prepared statement. "I never once considered bankruptcy. After nine years, I was able to resolve each financial claim and I am proud of my record of coming back from the brink of economic disaster."

The candidate said he believes the union's campaign against him is rooted in his political stances and that his family is falling victim to the attacks.

"The public employee union that represents Costa Mesa's law enforcement personnel has chosen to use my family's financial hardship from decades ago to smear my character," he said. "My family went through tough times in the '80s, much like many Costa Mesa residents are going through today.

"The real issue for Costa Mesa is the desperate need to get the pay, benefits and pensions of public employees under control and the police union just doesn't like to hear that."

The relationship between Righeimer and police has been tense and looks to only get worse in the lead up to Election Day.

Tension between Righeimer and the union intensified last month when Righeimer pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, identified himself as a planning commissioner and questioned officers' wisdom of the timing and location of the stop, which was staged during weekday rush hour and backing up traffic before a Estancia High football game.

Two union members, Det. Dana Potts and Officer Allen Rieckhof, publicly criticized Righeimer for the incident and claimed he was trying to use his political clout. The tension centers around Righeimer's platform that public safety pensions and pay are draining local and state budgets.

It didn't appear that the election would have a bearing on negotiations between the city and the association. However, Councilman Eric Bever has acknowledged that he's trying to delay any agreement until a new council is sworn in.

A City Council and a Newport-Mesa Unified School Board of Education candidates' debate is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center.

The group will have a billboard with Righeimer's history, similar to what is on the website, outside of the center.