Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 2:45 p.m.
By the time the Costa Mesa City Council was finished with its farewells to its outgoing City Manager and City Attorney Tuesday evening, every seat in the council chambers was filled. More than 250 people had turned out for various items on the agenda, but the majority were there to be heard and witness the vote on the final item: outsourcing city services.
One by one, city employees, those who represented them and members of the community stepped to the lectern to express their concerns. Some received applause; those who supported the move to outsource heard the hiss of disapproval.
Shortly before midnight, after all the voices were heard, the council pointed to the dire financial crisis, which Mayor Gary Monahan admitted was nearing "rock bottom." Councilwoman Wendy Leece voiced her support of the city employees, but it was to no avail, as the council voted 4-1 in favor of beginning to issue notices to city employees.
The evening didn't turn into the cage match some had anticipated, but emotions were high. Billy Folsom, a mechanic in Costa Mesa, was the final civilian to confront the council. The previous year, he was involved with a group that presented nearly 120 ideas of ways to cut costs, but he received a blanket "no" in response. The group then asked the council for suggestions of what it needed to balance the budget. The group met every suggestion, including wage concessions, pension reform and eliminating floating holidays. Now the council is asking for more.
After public comments were complete, Councilman Eric Bever was the first to react. "It irritates me," he began, alluding to the public response, before shifting blame to previous councils, specifically under ex-Mayor Sandy Genis, who was among the outspoken opponents to the move. Councilman Jim Righeimer wasn't fond of the "insinuations" made by the public, who worried there may be some under-the-table dealings with private companies that could be motivating the move.
In the end, the vote came swiftly, the four "Yes" votes declared confidently. The crowd rose and left the chambers just as quickly.
Afterward, Folsom stood outside the chambers, speaking with those who had sat through the marathon session. His disappointment and frustration was clear: "They're telling us, 'It's not your fault; it's our fault--but you need to pay for it.'"
The complete list of the city services identified for outsourcing by the City Council:
Fire Department Operations
Parkway and Median Maintenance
City Jail services
Special Event Safety
Employee Benefit Administration