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Daily Pilot

Fitzpatrick decries sign vandalism

Head of taxpayers' group criticizes city employee suspected of damaging campaign banners. Incident was caught on tape.

By Bradley Zint

5:56 PM PDT, October 25, 2012

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In a small news conference Thursday morning, the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. president repeated concerns about the level of violence against campaign signs and union influence in the city.

Jim Fitzpatrick, speaking outside City Hall before a table filled with photos of destroyed signs, called the month's incidents "not your average sign vandalism."

The destruction — reportedly by knife, paintball, tearing, stomping and bicycle — has been prevalent among all sides of this year's election.


FOR THE RECORD:

An earlier version of this story implied that Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. President Jim Fitzpatrick was disappointed with the potential charges against a city employee. In fact, he was disappointed that a city employee was allegedly involved in the sign vandalism.


The fiscally conservative CMTA supports the "3Ms" City Council candidate slate — Councilmen Steve Mensinger, Gary Monahan and Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy — and the passing of Measure V, the city's charter initiative, in the Nov. 6 election.

In response to the Orange County district attorney's consideration of misdemeanor charges against a Costa Mesa city employee suspected of vandalizing campaign signs, Fitzpatrick said, "As an individual representing the taxpayers, we find that [a city employee was allegedly involved] very, very disappointing."

The Daily Pilot is withholding the employee's name because he has not yet been arrested or formally charged with a crime. City officials with knowledge of the incident said the employee has been suspended from work, pending a personnel investigation.

"When is the union influence on our city going to stop?" Fitzpatrick asked, adding that he is questioning the degree of city employees possibly involved and if there is a culture that encourages such behavior.

Over the weekend, the CMTA posted a video of the man vandalizing two campaign signs: one in support of Measure V and another for the 3Ms.

Fitzpatrick said the man in the video was "acting with impunity, that's him out there walking, that the police aren't addressing this issue."

Costa Mesa police have said the video was taken by a private investigator working for a councilman who's running in the election.

Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., which opposes the charter measure, has said the council majority is trying to distract voters with the issue of sign vandalism.

"It seems to me that the council has tried to jam through this charter with limited public input behind closed doors, and now that their charter plan is not doing a good job of standing public scrutiny, they're trying to focus on a diversion," she said.

The OCEA also objects to destruction of signs and agrees the actions are "wrong and petty," Muir said.

Earlier this week, Costa Mesans for Responsible Government reported between 200 and 250 of their signs were stolen or destroyed — an estimated value of $500 to $600.

Robin Leffler, president of CM4RG, said the same weekend that video was shot about 40 of her side's anti-Measure V signs along Mesa Verde Drive were destroyed too.

"If we had a PI to cruise around at night, maybe we'd find something," she said.

She said both sides are at fault regarding sign destruction, that blaming unions is "hypocritical," and that, "When you point a finger at someone, there's three fingers pointing back at you."

The CMTA offered to create a joint reward with CM4RG for information on sign vandalism, Fitzpatrick said.

Leffler turned the request down, citing having no money and that it would not be a good motivator.

"If somebody's going to be a good citizen, they're going to be a good citizen," she said.

Fitzpatrick said the reward process worked for his group, and that if this kind of agreement doesn't work out with CM4RG, "we're open to partnerships in the future."

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint