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Costa Mesa may cancel plans for mass layoffs at City Hall

November 20, 2012 | 12:55 pm

Costa mesa
The architect of Costa Mesa’s controversial plan to slash the city’s budget and trim pension costs by laying off hundreds of employees says he’s prepared to lobby for canceling the austerity push.

Jim Righeimer, the city’s mayor pro tem, on Monday expressed interest in working with employee associations to see where outsourcing municipal jobs makes sense, such as those in the city jail, street sweeping and park maintenance.

"I wasn't looking for a reaction. ... It was just in my head that I would do it," Righeimer said Monday. "I mentioned it before to one of the staff, and I thought, 'You know what? I'll bring it up tomorrow [Tuesday].'"

The Orange County Register first reported Righeimer’s change of heart.

The council majority, led by Righeimer, approved the radical layoff measure in March 2011 to help curb city spending, rope in pension costs and redirect money into capital improvement projects. At the time, employees were told they could be terminated within six months if a private company could do their jobs instead.

The move raised the ire of organized labor, which filed a lawsuit that has since temporarily halted the layoff effort. At one point, a city worker who had received notice that he might be in line to lose his job jumped to his death from the roof of City Hall.

Nick Berardino, general manger of the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents about 200 Costa Mesa workers, said the move — which Righeimer said he would introduce at Tuesday’s council meeting — will be "positive for everybody," though he had not received official word of the proposal as of Monday night.

"We really are welcoming the opportunity to begin to have a dialogue about many issues and the opportunity for the parties to begin talking in a cooperative and collaborative way," he said.

Councilman Steve Mensinger, who voted in favor of the layoffs, said he tends to agree with Righeimer and that now is the time "we really look at redefining how to save money and deliver better service" to residents.

 "I believe both sides need to move forward," he said, adding that while he does not yet have all the facts of Righeimer's proposal, he generally would support the idea of canceling the layoffs.

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— Lauren Williams and Bradley Zint

Photo: City worker reacts during 2011 layoff discussions. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

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