Feet to the Fire, Take Two

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The news this week that Newport Beach is sending layoff notices to two dozen employees has brought to the fore here the issues that have consumed Costa Mesa already this year, and that are also dominating state and national politics:

  • How should governments deal with the financial stress of a deep and prolonged recession?
  • What is the city’s responsibility to its taxpayers, to all its citizens, to its employees and to the future?

Swirling alongside these philosophical or ideological debates are the practical and political questions:

  • Is there really a financial disaster looming, or is that a scare tactic to get voters to accept otherwise unpopular policies?
  • Is privatization of services more cost-effective, or will that lead to less service at little or no saving?
  • Are city employees feeding at the public trough, or fairly compensated for providing needed services?

And we hear often from critics of city government that cities should be run “more like a business.” But what does that mean, exactly? And should they really?

All of these questions are due to be brought up at Monday’s second Feet to the Fire Forum, as a panel of local journalists, including your humble editor, ask the tough and hopefully illuminating questions of a panel of local leaders on both sides of the raging Costa Mesa debate.

Quick background: The Costa Mesa City Council majority – with Councilmember Jim Righeimer taking the lead publicly – last month ordered layoff notices to go to more than 200 city employees, about half the city’s workforce. The notices were not terminations, but advisories that the workers’ jobs may be outsourced in the coming months.

Councilmember Wendy Leece was the sole dissenter on the five-person council, saying the action was overbroad and not warranted.

A firestorm of controversy immediately erupted, tragically compounded by the suicide of one of the notified workers, who leapt from the roof of the Cost Mesa City Hall.

Now, some of you may remember the first Feet to the Fire Forum back in October, in which council candidates were grilled in a free-form and lively 90-minute discussion by a panel of local journalists.

Well, on Monday we’re coming back. Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Voice of OC editor Norberto Santana and myself, with moderator Barbara Venezia, will take the stage at the Costa Mesa Community Center on Park Avenue and have a conversation with Righeimer, Leece, OC Employee Association General Manager Nick Berardino representing the employee and union viewpoint, and  Colin McCarthy, president of the Costa Mesa Taxpayer’s Association, which supports the council majority’s decision.

The event is slated to start at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but the room is limited to 300 attendees.

The forum will be recorded for video and broadcast on the Costa Mesa municipal channel and streamed on the city website. We’ll link to it as soon as it becomes available.

But there’s nothing like actually being there, so come on up to Costa Mesa on Monday evening for what promises to be a hard-hitting and illuminating evening.

And if there’s a question you would like the press panel to ask, drop me an email at [email protected].

I’ll report back to you next week on the Feet to the Fire Forum.

And watch this space for the F2F Forum to come to Newport Beach in the coming months!


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