Costa Mesa OK's Privatizing City Jail; City Workers Union Disses Weekly Coverage: Update

See the update on page 2 with the Costa Mesa City Council approving privatization of the city jail and the city workers union finding the Weekly's coverage of last night's vote lacking.

ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 4, 1:05 P.M.: Those concerned about keeping their jobs at the Costa Mesa city jail have a full day on their metal plates (better to clank against the bars, ya screws!). Attorneys for the Costa Mesa City Employees Association went to court this morning in an unsuccessful bid to get a judge to stop the City Council from outsourcing jail jobs tonight. Next stop: the Costa Mesa council chambers this evening.

These enemy combatants know one another well. The same City Council--well, pretty much the same one--attempted to slash its entire workforce by a third and privatize as much as possible before backing off after the last election.

But now the council is looking at a staff report that notes the state appeals court previously upheld the city's right to privatize its jail and that doing so will save taxpayers about $3 million over five years without layoffs.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis Rodriguez denied a temporary restraining order request by the Costa Mesa City Employees' Association to block tonight's council vote, explaining council members would have to approve a contract with a private company before he could weigh the merits of the union's request.

Here's the rub that the union fears: while jail workers will supposedly be able to keep their jobs, no mention is being made about maintaining their pay and benefits.

Observes Geoff West, stirrer of the excellent Costa Mesa city blog A Bubbling Cauldron, "I don't find any reference in the contract language that talks about the pay for those employees who might 'transition' to G4S," the city preferred jail contractor.

Yeah ... but ... come on ... $3 MILLION IN SAVINGS!!!, city staffers are essentially saying. G4S, they further note in a statement emailed this a.m., is a company with 45,000 employees and $2.5 billion in revenue in North America that already runs jails in Irvine and Beverly Hills. Costa Mesa do-gooders always play the Irvine card (as in "Why can't we be like OC's Stepford, sniff-sniff?"). But Beverly--Hills, that is--is a new one. Can I move next to Zsa Zsa?

Truth be told--a far stretch in municipal politics, fo' sho'--it's difficult to comprehend what exactly the city is thinking given the language in the report West points to:

While Costa Mesa, for some time, has believed that contracting out jail services was likely to be the best option--particularly inasmuch as it could result in over $3 million in savings to Costa Mesa and its residents--Costa Mesa, with the input of the CMCEA, has given due consideration to all of its options regarding the on-going operation of its jail. After considering CMCEA's input and weighing it options, the CEO has concluded that it is in the best interests of the residents of Costa Mesa to contract out the operation of Costa Mesa's jail including, of significance, the real fiscal benefit this approach will return to Costa Mesa in these difficult economic times.


And:

At this time, the CEO does not recommend that Council layoff any employee currently working in Costa Mesa's jail. Costa Mesa remains open to the possibility of allowing any employee currently working in Costa Mesa's jail to transfer into other Y-Rated positions (if they so desire), and Costa Mesa will continue to work with the employee-representatives of such employees to achieve those transfers (if requested).


As well as:

[G4S is] dedicated to hiring and retention of current City employees into their private service model. The plan will be to do whatever is reasonable and possible to help employees transition either by holding positions with G4S, through utilizing an attrition model or retraining city personnel to work in other areas of the City organization.


Are you utilizing your attrition model, or are you just happy to see me?

Tom Hatch, the city's CEO, sounded as if he wanted to whip out his attrition model to punish those union rabble rousers who dragged the city to court this morning.

"It's unfortunate that the employees' association would initiate more litigation to stop this California Appellate Court-approved action that would save Costa Mesa residents millions of dollars and would provide a plan to keep our current jailers employed by the city," he fumed in a statement.

A final point in favor of G4S, according to staffers: the company has vowed to implement "three new high-tech systems."

Should the push to privatize fail, West wonders why those systems can't be implemented anyway. "That would be good to know," he writes.
 
UPDATE, JUNE 5, 11:51 A.M.: As expected, the Costa Mesa City Council last night approved handing over operation of the city's 32-bed jail to G4S--expected because the council OK'd a contract with the private company in May 2012 but could not enforce it due to a court injunction obtained by the union representing city workers.

After the injunction was lifted in January, the city re-entered talks with employees about privatizing the jail, with the administrative staff again recommending moving forward with the plan despite union opposition.

"The problem with government and with government employees, as good as they are, is they are pricing themselves out of the picture," explained Mayor Jim Righeimer, citing rising salaries, benefit packages, sick days and other benies. (Begging the question, who negotiates with the employees and adopts those contracts? Hmmm ...)

Speaking of the other side with which the city tangos/tangles, Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, just emailed me about my preview of the council vote (the original post beginning on the first page). "Your blog this morning only reflects one side of this jail outsourcing issue," Muir writes.

Of the $3 million the city says it will save over five years of having a private as opposed to public jail, Muir asks, "Have you read the staff report? There are all sorts of caveats in there that reduce that projected savings."

And what of the "millions of dollars" the city has spent "since 2011 on lawyers to jam through this outsourcing at all costs political agenda?" she further asks. "How does it all pencil out?"

Muir requested, in the interest of fair and balanced coverage, that I include her remarks to the City Council last night. I have chosen to allow it, given she asked nicely, unions need all the help they can get these days and because no one has yet found Jimmy Hoffa's body:

OCEA and CMCEA continue to make every effort to work collaboratively with the City to help the City achieve reasonable fiscal objectives while at the same time preserving Costa Mesa's high quality services and ensuring economic stability and job security for City employees.

Unfortunately, to date the City Council majority has decided on a course of action that appears to be deliberately calculated to sabotage those efforts.

Since early this year representatives of CMCEA and OCEA have regularly met with City staff to discuss the City's outsourcing objectives and to attempt to find common ground. CMCEA and OCEA entered these discussions cautiously optimistic that post-election, the New Year would provide both sides with an opportunity to put the rancor and divisiveness of the past two years behind us. Yet it soon became apparent that while the City was willing to enthusiastically engage in discussions regarding the outsourcing it wanted, it absolutely refused to discuss anything else its employees wanted. The discussions thus became simply another verse of this Council majority's all too familiar tune -"our way or the highway."

Frustrated by the same, stale approach by the City, and hoping to elevate the discussion, on April 16 CMCEA and OCEA sent an email requesting a meeting to include not only CEO Tom Hatch and key City staff, but also Mayor Jim Righeimer and/or Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.

The email was sent to key members of the City's executive staff and to every member of the Costa Mesa City Council. The response? Complete silence. In fact, nobody from the City even acknowledged receipt of the request, verbally or in writing. To date, more than six weeks later, the City has yet to even extend the courtesy of a response.

Instead, the City Council majority now appears to be poised to resume the same misleading and politically motivated campaign against employees that has characterized the past two painful years at City Hall. Tonight, the Council will consider a contract to outsource jails and will seek to justify this action by citing numbers that are misleading and outcomes that are exaggerated. As currently proposed, we strongly believe this contract will expose the City to significant risk and could significantly compromise public safety.

We are confident the vast majority of Costa Mesa residents want law enforcement to be provided by City employees who are directly accountable to the community, not by for-profit companies that are accountable only to their shareholders and the bottom line. It is a very dangerous proposition to hand over control of law enforcement services to for-profit corporations and could only further compromise safety programs that have already been decimated in recent years. First, this Council dismantled the ABLE program, then they slashed law enforcement staffing levels, and now they want to turn the jail over to a private corporation. What's next, a private police force? As reported in today's paper, property crime has already climbed 15 percent in the City. This trend is alarming and we think the safety of Costa Mesa and its residents depends on reversing it.

Additionally, Costa Mesa residents should know that the proposed contractor, G4S Solutions, has a problematic track record. Just last year, G4S was hired to provide security services for the London Olympics but did not deliver as promised, forcing public law enforcement officers to cover thousands of shifts that G4S had promised yet failed to provide. Still, G4S executives refused to forfeit the $90 million management fee it charged as part of the $450 million contract. G4S has had significant issues in California as well, including in 2011 when a security guard employed by G4S was arrested for using his security badge to lure and rape victims in El Cajon.

Privatization of jails has proven dangerous with other contractors, as well. In Orange County, the City of Seal Beach cancelled a contract with its private jailer Correctional Services Inc. and brought the jail back in house on the heels of a string of incidents involving former employees, including a jail guard who conspired with a former inmate to murder the Newport Beach couple Tom and Jackie Hawkes.

Additionally, we believe outsourcing the City's jails is not permissible under California law. That is why we returned to Orange County Superior Court this morning and why we will continue to seek to ensure that the City comply with all applicable laws and with its commitments to its employees.

It is with great regret that we return to court because we remain open to constructive discussions and collaborating with the City Council. We continue to believe that by working together with a commitment to mutual respect and reasonable outcomes, we can together achieve results that will be in the best interests of Costa Mesa, its residents, and the committed City employees who so proudly serve.


Man, how the hell did she get that all out in three minutes?

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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