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Daily Pilot

Charter Committee to examine outsourcing

Language on privatizing city services could go before voters.

By Bradley Zint

5:43 PM PST, January 20, 2014

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A topic that not long ago generated considerable debate is making its way back into the Costa Mesa civic dialogue: the outsourcing of city services.

The 13-member Charter Committee, appointed to craft the constitution-like document in time for a vote by residents this year, will discuss outsourcing Wednesday evening.

Proposed within the charter is language allowing the city to "contract out for any services" unless limited by the state's constitution.

Doing so "should be considered as a prudent way to manage the resources of Costa Mesa," the proposal reads. "There should be a periodic review of the city's operations and services to assure that [processes] that service the residents are done in the most expeditious, responsible manner."

According to material given to the committee by its legal counsel, Yolanda Summerhill, the language provided thus far doesn't specify particular municipal services that could be subject to outsourcing.

If Costa Mesa became a charter city, however, it would have broader discretion in outsourcing services, she wrote.

Summerhill suggested alternative outsourcing language that includes City Council approval.

The Charter Committee will also examine language that stipulates no employee pension increases without majority approval from city voters during a general election or an amendment to the document.

Summerhill wrote in response that before such pension language could be added to the charter, city officials would have to meet with the employee associations.

She specified that changes to the "terms and conditions" of employment would be subject to the collective bargaining negotiation process before being placed on a ballot.

Pensions and outsourcing have been hotly debated topics in recent years. The council majority, led by Mayor Jim Righeimer, has contended that the pension system is unsustainable in the long run and that outsourcing some city services — such as parks maintenance, payroll and street sweeping — is a financially preferable option.

A dramatic proposal from March 2011 that could have led to half the city work force, or some 200 employees, being laid off was eventually rescinded by December 2012.

The city's organized labor groups and community activists fought the idea, filing a lawsuit in response.

They also campaigned heavily ahead of the November 2012 general election. On the ballot was a Righeimer-led charter effort, Measure V. The measure was soundly defeated, with about 60% of voters rejecting it.

The Charter Committee meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Police Department's Emergency Operations Center, 99 Fair Drive.