MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — November 5, 2010

Endorsing candidates can be an interesting business.  The tough ones are when you get approached every week by someone who says, “Why did you endorse Wendy Leece?”

Wendy Leece and I go way back.  I served as her campaign treasurer in her first run for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees in 1989.  I predicted that she would win her second effort in 1994 in an editorial submission to the Daily Pilot (see MOORLACH UPDATE – LA Daily Breeze – September 29, 2009).  I helped her in her successful campaign for Costa Mesa City Council in 2006.  I even served as a keynote speaker for one of Wendy’s campaign fund raisers this summer.

Things became awkward when Wendy voted for “3% at 50” for the city’s firefighter union.  That vote resulted in my editorial submission to the OC Register, “Short-term gain, long-term pain—Trading budget concessions for pension boosts is a bad bargain” (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — September 15, 2009).  Wendy apologized for that vote and informed everyone that she had learned the error of her ways.  Regretfully, she did not.  And the emotional response that results from a “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” scenario is not a pleasant one.  It is one of utter and complete disappointment that has caused me to grieve.

When someone mentioned the idea of pursuing a recall in six months, that idea certainly deserved further discussion (we had to wait six months before initiating the successful recall of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003).  I mentioned the idea during an interview with KOCE on election night for coverage provided by Rick Reiff and Maria Hall-Brown.

When the Daily Pilot called, the question was “Why should Wendy Leece be recalled?”  Here were my seven reasons:

1.        The main argument for agreeing to the negotiated contract proposal was that it would cost the city $250,000 every month the vote was delayed.  This point was hammered ad nauseum.  The basic problem facing the city of Costa Mesa is a $9 million annual deficit.  The contract proposal remedied only $3.6 million of the problem.  Negotiating for another $6.5 million in concessions should have been the end game strategy.  If this would have been accomplished, the city would have saved $26 million over the next four years.  Spending $250,000 to save $26 million is a one-hundred-fold return on investment.  Thus, my lament that the vote was penny-wise, pound-foolish.

2.       Wendy Leece publicly lamented her previous pension related bargaining agreement vote and garnered the endorsement of the Orange County Republican Central Committee on that premise.  She made it some six weeks before the election, not ten years ago, but six weeks prior.

3.       I had the privilege of watching the city council meeting on television at home.  The pledge that Wendy Leece made to the Republican Party was a pursuit of defined contribution pension plans in the future.  Currently, CalPERS and 1937 Act Pension Systems only offer defined benefit pension plans.  Consequently, she abrogated her defined contribution option on the dais for that reason.  The point here is that you shouldn’t make a pledge if you don’t fully comprehend the law.

4.       By continuing the negotiations, the employee portion of the defined benefit plan contributions could have been increased.  The city was paying the employee portion and the proposed contract provided a change in direction on this liberal policy, but it could have been better.

5.       The unions stated that they would not agree to such a move.  But, management can impose it after reaching an impasse.

6.       The reason Wendy Leece did not wish to pursue this difficult strategy became clear after the vote.  It now looks like she received a significant assurance of independent expenditure money, based on newspaper accounts, from the city’s public employee unions the day before her vote.  Wendy did not receive union contributions to her campaign, so she can claim she followed that Republican Party commitment.  But, I did not see one article or mail piece where Leece disavowed the use of union funds to support her campaign through the use of an independent expenditure committee.  She now has the appearance of having been bought.  Using the Jerry Brown strategy of campaign finance, just have the unions pay for it, is not a mantle a Republican would want to wear.

7.       In this time of fiscal turmoil at every level of government, the voters are looking for a Margaret Thatcher, an Iron Woman.  We need someone to stand up to the self-interested unions and say “No—it’s our turn to ask for more—the taxpayers have been bullied by the public employee unions long enough.”

By approving a four-year contract, it negates the benefit of having elected someone with financial savvy like Jim Righeimer.  His hands will be tied.  He has to work with a city budget that looks more like a school district budget, almost entirely comprised of salaries and benefits.  The hands of the remainder of the city council will also be tied.  The unions will simply state “We had our reopener and you voted to agree to our terms.”  This is a brilliant move and it was made possible by Wendy Leece.

What Wendy should have done is very simple.  She should have voted against the proposal, waited until after the election, and allowed Righeimer to weigh in.  If Righeimer was successful in garnering more concessions, even another million dollars per year, Wendy would have won.  If Righeimer couldn’t find any room for improvement, then the burden of explaining that would have fallen on him.  Wendy would have been covered to then vote for the contract.  She would have avoided the frustrations that are now being vented by so many, even by someone like me.  So now we have the disappointment on the front page of the Daily Pilot.  I don’t have the time or desire to pursue a recall.  However, I do understand why the idea is floating around.  Let’s hope we’ve all calmed down after this campaign season’s heart breaks by mid-2011.

We also have another small article in the Daily Pilot on a fun recognition event tomorrow morning at the Muth Center.

Moorlach: Leece ‘not qualified’

Reelected councilwoman appears unfazed by rumor that GOP party is trying to oust her for her recent support of employee contracts.

By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach on Thursday confirmed that he had heard rumors about an effort to recall Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece based on her recent support for public employee contract extensions, but he stopped short of saying he would back such an effort.

"She’ll always be a friend, but she’s not qualified to be a City Council member," said Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident. "The point is we need some leadership and someone who understands finance. She shut the door on this opportunity to negotiate with the unions with these contract extensions."

Moorlach said it was too early for him to entertain support for a recall effort, but that removing Leece from office was something he would consider backing in the future.

Six months is the earliest an official can be voted out of office in Costa Mesa. A recall of a member of the City Council would require a petition and a vote of the people.

Leece, a Republican, seemed unconcerned about the recall rumors, feeling that she has a mandate from the community to hold a non-partisan office.

"I just got reelected," Leece said of winning her second four-year term on Tuesday. "More than 8,000 voters decided that I was doing a good job and wanted me to continue. The people of Costa Mesa have spoken. They want me to continue. I don’t know what I’ve done that would justify putting the city through a recall."

Orange County Republican leaders are unhappy with Leece’s recent decision to break ranks and vote in favor of extending new city employee terms and contracts for police, firefighters, managers and executives.

The GOP is exerting pressure countywide to convince municipal governments to reduce pay and retirement packages for public employees and move toward private-sector 401(k) programs, which are generally less costly.

Leece said she voted for the contracts based on confidential information provided during negotiations that she cannot publicly discuss.

"There was no other plan presented, other than the one that would have caused daily losses for the city, and there were never any ideas or plans presented that would have stopped the bleeding if this did not pass," she said.

Scott Baugh, chairman of the O.C. Republican Party, said that the GOP is not working to recall Leece and that any such movement would have to start at the local level.

"I know there are a lot of people that are upset with Wendy, but if there’s a recall of Wendy Leece, it has to start in Costa Mesa," Baugh said.

Baugh also pointed out that it was Leece that sought the GOP’s support in the first place.

"The party did not come searching for her to give her an endorsement," he said. "She came to the party seeking an endorsement. Had she not sought our endorsement, we would’ve expected her to vote that way."

Baugh said Leece was near tears and begged for the endorsement and then supported contract terms the party found risky for taxpayers.

"She betrayed her word, and that’s all I know," he said. "She’ll never be trusted in any Republican circle again."

Moorlach said it was an unprompted Leece who said during an interview with GOP leaders that in the future she would not support defined benefit pension programs for municipal employees.

"That’s not what everybody was asking her to do," Moorlach said. "She made that statement. You’re either not bright, misspoke or obfuscated when you begged for an endorsement."

Councilman-elect Jim Righeimer, a Republican with close ties to the party, said recalling Leece would only harm the community.

"I think people are just talking, it’s kind of goofy," he said. "I want nothing to do with something like that. I think a lot of people are upset. I can understand that, but she just got reelected; that would not be a positive thing for our community. We got a lot of work ahead of us here. We don’t need any distractions."

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who championed the contract extensions as the lone Democrat on the council, expressed outrage that anyone would discuss recalling Leece.

"On what basis? Because she was serving the residents of her community and putting the city first? That’s the basis? Good luck with that," Foley said, adding that Republicans are employing "bullying tactics" countywide. "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

Groups to celebrate bay dredging project completion

Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony comes after 2.35 million cubic yards of sediment was removed.

By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — In the wake of the midterm elections, when most of the country has been talking about bipartisan divisions in the House and Senate, a Republican congressman and Democratic senator are coming together.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-California) will be in Newport Beach Saturday to celebrate the completion of the Upper Newport Bay Dredging, a $47-million public works project that required cooperation among politicians of different levels and colors.

With federal and local funding, the operators of tugboats, barges and cranes dredged day and night, eventually moving 2.35 million cubic yards of sediment that had been trapped in the Back Bay. They freed up two catch-basins that can now collect material before it reaches the harbor, and they restored moats to protect rare and endangered birds.

"It’s a significant investment in the long-term quality of life for the area," said Leslie Daigle, the city councilwoman who represents portions of the east side of the Back Bay and was instrumental in coordinating the project. "Simply said, it’s a very big deal."

The ribbon-cutting event, at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center in Newport Beach, will also feature Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach and officials from the various agencies involved: the city of Newport Beach, the Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish and Game and the Coastal Conservancy.

The event will be held at 10 a.m. at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive. Seating is limited.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

November 5

2005

Daily Pilot Columnist Steve Smith jumped into the school bond measure debate with “B is for ‘bad idea.’  Steve caught the message of my grade.  Here were his thoughts in full:

Two days ago, the Orange County Treasurer’s office, headed by county savior John Moorlach, gave the Measure F bond a grade of B.

That grade is not the same as a B grade in algebra. In bond-speak, a B is a low grade.

The fact is, you have to work hard to get a bond rating this low.

The B grade from Moorlach’s office was influenced by the absence of a list of specific projects per school with the specific costs.

The absence of this list of expenses drew a sharp rebuke from the treasurer.

"The bond measure’s use of proceeds is intentionally less specific," Moorlach wrote.

The absence of a detailed list of improvements and costs means that if you vote yes on the bond Tuesday, you will be giving a blank check to a tax-and-spend school board that has mismanaged the $163 million you gave them five years ago.

Moorlach’s office also took issue with the broken promise made by your school board. Five years ago, your school board promised that it would fund an endowment that would help prevent taxes such as the one you are now being asked to extend. But the board has saved very little money — $559,460 to be exact.

But the treasurer also noted how the bond is going to place an even greater burden on ever keeping that promise: "With the issuance of the proposed bonds, over and above the original $110 million [from Measure A five years ago], the target for the Endowment Fund balance increases by the amount of the new debt." And: There "is concern as to the viability of the District meeting this future stewardship goal."

Moorlach expressed concern about the Measure F campaign accepting money from people and companies who have profited from Measure A and who may profit from Measure F.

From the treasurer’s analysis: "When reviewing the finance disclosure statements, one observes a trend that causes some concern. Of the 98 individual donations, 52 are connected to the school district as a direct beneficiary, either as an employee or recipient of a contract."

Despite the half-truths you have been reading in the pretty brochures, your taxes will go up if you vote yes on Measure F. The $282 million has to come from somewhere, and it is coming from an increase in your taxes. This money is not free.

Measure F does not promise that anything will be built at a reasonable price.

Here’s the exact language from the bond: "The final cost of each project will be determined as plans are finalized, construction bids are awarded, and projects are completed."

The translation is: "We haven’t done the homework to determine just how much all this is going to cost. Just give us the money and maybe later we’ll tell you what you bought."

Measure F does not guarantee that any of the work will ever be done, including the sports facilities in Costa Mesa.

Here’s the bond language: "Inclusion of a project on the bond project list is not a guarantee that the project will be completed."

Measure F is neither a guarantee of better schools nor better student performance.

Measure F should be voted down on Tuesday and resubmitted when:

1. There is a detailed list of what is going to be done at each school, how much it will cost and approximately when it will be completed.

2. Taxpayers are being told the whole truth on a regular basis.

3. The school board has demonstrated that it has earned the right to tax you. A good first step would be to present a plan to fund the endowment it promised five years ago.

This is not a tough list.

You have a choice Tuesday: You can hold your nose up and vote yes on Measure F, or you can hold your head up and vote no.

When you vote no Tuesday, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. Don’t let anyone make you feel anti-school, anti-teacher, anti-education, anti-kids or even anti-tax.

When you vote no Tuesday, you will be voting to restore accountability in government.

Finally, when you vote no Tuesday, you will move a giant step closer to providing an even better future for our children through a new, better bond that replaces the blank check in this one.

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