Orange County supervisors on Tuesday debated implementing an ordinance aimed at increasing transparency in labor negotiations, but voted unanimously to put off a decision until next month.
Supervisor John Moorlach proposed the measure, which was modeled on Costa Mesa's Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance. COIN, adopted in 2012, set new standards for the city's negotiations with employee unions.
Under the proposed county ordinance, each side would be required to make its offers public. It would also require the county to post an analysis of the economic effects of each offer, among other provisions.
The county already hires an independent professional negotiator to bargain on the county's behalf, and the ordinance would keep that practice in place.
Moorlach has said that a COIN-like ordinance could lessen the drama associated with employee contract negotiations by opening up aspects of the bargaining process for public scrutiny.
The decision to hold off on moving the item forward came after a lengthy discussion, which — ironically, as Supervisor Todd Spitzer pointed out — started out with a 15-minute back-and-forth over whether to move into closed session to talk about legal issues that could arise from the ordinance. Ultimately, a portion of the debate took place behind closed doors.
Union representatives blasted supervisors for considering a rule that they said would have a chilling effect on an already sensitive, difficult process.
Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., echoed concerns that his organization raised before Costa Mesa implemented its COIN ordinance. He said transparency is great as long as it applies "across the board," including contracts negotiated with outside companies.
Tom Dominguez, president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, took issue with the fact that, according to the proposed ordinance, the county's internal auditor would be responsible for determining the fiscal impact of contract offers.
That, he said, would pose a conflict of interest, since the auditor reports to the Board of Supervisors.
"This ordinance is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to further politicize an already political process," Dominguez said. "It is solely intended to mislead the public."
He added that the use of an outside negotiator is expensive.
Documents compiled by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore — the same firm that Costa Mesa hired to negotiate on its behalf — showed that from January of 2012 through March of this year, the county had been billed $755,121, about 13% of which was for travel time to and from Los Angeles.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mena Guirguis, who spoke as vice president of the Orange County Attorneys Assn., warned that the county could face litigation if it didn't clarify many of the ordinance's terms. As written, he said, the ordinance could have a harmful effect on contract negotiations.
"You are making a big mistake by rushing into this," he said. "If we need to go to court, we will."
Supervisors asked staff members to explore ways of amending the ordinance to address the concerns of Dominguez and Guirguis, such as including explicit language to keep the ordinance from taking effect for contracts currently up in the air and having someone other than the county's internal auditor complete the financial analyses.
The board is expected to consider a more finely tuned version of the ordinance June 17.