Costa Mesa council heats up during police pension talks

What was to be a brief talk about Costa Mesa’s top-ranking police officers contributing more to their pension funds turned into a heated argument during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with one council member accusing another of illegally disclosing confidential communications.

During the first of two discussions about the Costa Mesa Police Management Assn.’s offer to continue paying an extra 5% into its eight members’ pensions for about 50 more weeks, Councilman Gary Monahan noted that the rank-and-file’s union hasn’t agreed to do the same.

As of Feb. 21, the Costa Mesa Police Assn. stopped paying that extra 5%, he said.

On Wednesday, a representative explained that the union had offered to pay the 5% but only as part of a new overarching contract. The management association, on the other hand, is following through with the extra contributions before settling the rest of its contract.

Both unions are in the midst of figuring out new contracts, which expired in June.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Katrina Foley strongly objected to Monahan’s comment, alleging that the union’s refusal was a detail revealed during closed session and therefore should not have been shared publicly.

City Atty. Tom Duarte disagreed, contending that not every comment made in closed session is a piece of confidential communication.

Monahan said it’s a matter of public information anyway.

“It’s public record,” he said. “Check the payroll records.”

Foley said she doubted Monahan perused payroll records and other documents. She also disagreed with Duarte’s analysis, saying he turned “a blind eye” to a problem.

“I’m really shocked that the city attorney thinks this is not a violation,” she said.

Foley repeated an earlier allegation that Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Mayor Steve Mensinger have created a “back door” into the police association’s negotiations by openly participating in the management association’s contract.

In January, Foley said she felt it was wrong for the two councilmen to participate in any management association negotiations because they have filed a lawsuit against the rank-and-file union. Their lawsuit has precluded them from any Costa Mesa Police Assn. negotiations, leaving the discussions up to Foley, Monahan and Councilwoman Sandy Genis.

The city attorney’s office has said that the councilmen do not have a conflict of interest because the management association is not named in their lawsuit.

The councilmen have alleged that the police union, its law firm at the time and two private investigators conspired to illegally surveil and intimidate them during the 2012 election season, including placing a GPS tracking device on Mensinger’s truck. Two private investigators have been arrested in connection with the incident. The police association has denied any prior knowledge of illegal activity.

Righeimer said he was offended by Foley’s “back door” remarks.

“You constantly attack myself and the mayor over negotiations we have nothing to do with,” he said. “You talk about ‘back-dooring’ something.”

Discussions became heated enough that Mensinger called for a five-minute break to settle things down.

“Clearly we have a contact sport in politics here,” Mensinger said.

After the break, Foley apologized for her “passion,” but added that anyone revealing closed-session details “really degrades the process and it degrades the good-faith efforts.”

The council then voted to have the management association’s pension proposal come back to them on March 17. Should the council approve it at that time, the vote is expected to save the city about $69,000 through June 2016.

—Daily Pilot staff writer Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.