Union Influenced Fullerton City Council Guts Proposed COIN Ordinance

This is my first opportunity to compare an excellent law, the Costa Mesa Ordinance on Civic Openness in Negotiations (C.O.I.N.) vs. the Fullerton Draft C.O.I.N Ordinance.

Costa Mesa’s Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance was designed to make public employee salary and benefit negotiations open and transparent to the public and to all members of the city council as well.

First, the Costa Mesa ordinance makes it clear that “the city shall have prepared on its behalf, by an independent auditor, …. a study and supplemental data upon which the study is based, determining the fiscal impacts attributed to each term and condition of employment.”

More importantly “the above report and findings of the independent auditor shall be completed and made available for review by the city council and the public at least thirty days before consideration by the city council of an initial meet and confer proposal to be presented to any recognized employee organization regarding negotiation of an amended, extended, successor, or original memorandum of understanding.”

Finally, “the above report shall be regularly updated by the independent auditor to itemize the costs and the funded and unfunded actuarial liability which would or may result form adoption or acceptance of each meet and confer proposal.”

The draft Fullerton C.O.I.N. ordinance includes none of the above specific steps to ensure the public is being kept informed with accurate and timely data and information.

What does our draft ordinance include? It includes the following: “Staff shall prepare an annual analysis of cost and liabilities related to each Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a recognized employee association and the city of Fullerton …”. “The annual fiscal analysis shall be submitted to the City’s independent auditor during the course of the annual City financial audit.”

Please notice ladies and gentlemen that this audit takes place annually, probably after the conclusion and the signing of the labor agreements. Learning of an error after a 3- or 5-year agreement has been signed, sealed and delivered is meaningless. How convenient for all city employees that City Manager Joe Felz and staff would rewrite this ordinance in this fashion. The auditing required under the Fullerton Draft Ordinance is a waste of money because it is not completed on a timely basis.

Second, the Fullerton draft excludes the Report Format, which provides the framework and necessary detail to understand the impacts of various items in the proposals.

Third, if the two items above do not derail the true purpose of C.O.I.N. then a simple majority of the council can do away with the requirement to have an independent negotiator. This part of the draft ordinance is ridiculous on its face. You take a cornerstone of the concept of C.O.I.N. and you make it optional with the vote of 3 out of 5 members of the council. Section B.1 entitled Principal Negotiator, states “The requirement for an outside negotiator may be waived by a majority vote of City Council.”

Fullerton city leaders have taken an open, fair and effective law for all parties and made it into a paper tiger.

This is my first review of the Fullerton C.O.I.N. draft ordinance and you can see by the length of this critique that the two ordinances have far more differences than key points in common. In fact, I would be hard pressed to see any of the Costa Mesa key points being brought forward to our Fullerton ordinance. Based on all the above facts, it would not be far from the truth to state that our Fullerton ordinance literally guts the effectiveness of the Costa Mesa law.

My recommendation is that we throw out this draft in its entirety. We start again with the Costa Mesa Ordinance as our draft ordinance as originally brought before this council some 7 months ago by Council Member Whitaker. If any council members want to change any of the Costa Mesa requirements they should have documented, valid reasons why their change would be for the better and each change should be voted on separately by our council.

In my humble opinion, the Costa Mesa Civic Openness in Negotiations Ordinance is an excellent law. The only fault that some may find with it (certainly not me) is that it will actually accomplish its proclaimed purpose.

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About the Author:  Barry Levinson has lived in Fullerton for 25 years with his wife, Susan, and his son, Brett. He currently serves as Chair of the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Commission. He has been an advocate for the restoration of both sound fiscal policies and accountability in government. He has worked as an internal auditor and manager in both private industry and with the CPA firm Ernst and Young.

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