Commentary: McCarthy’s Anti-Union Piece Missed the Mark

The following appeared in the July 13, 2012 version of the Daily Pilot.

Costa Mesa City Council candidate and Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy’s commentary is chock-full of the kind of false and misleading statements and half-truths that give politicians a bad name.

Nearly everything in it that is not mere opinion is skewed against the truth.

In his very first sentence, McCarthy falsely states that attorneys John Stephens and Katrina Foley “initiated legal action against the city of Costa Mesa to prevent voters from voting on a proposed city charter in June.”

As a lawyer, McCarthy should know that the city initiated the legal action against the Orange County Registrar of Voters to try (unsuccessfully) to force the registrar to accept a filing after the deadline had passed. Only then did Stephens and Foley get involved; they argued to the court (successfully) that the registrar had no duty to accept a late filing and the court had no power to require him to do so.

McCarthy continues his departure from reality by attributing to Stephens an opinion he has never expressed, that Costa Mesa “shouldn’t become a charter city … for fear of lawsuits from employee associations and unions.”

Stephens’ commentary discusses the California Supreme Court’s opinion in the Vista case regarding under what circumstances charter cities may hire contractors who pay below prevailing wages. He reviews the impact of that decision on Costa Mesa if it adopts the proposed charter.

Stephens has never said he would oppose Costa Mesa’s adopting a proper charter, only that he opposes the one proposed for several reasons, including the fact that the charter contains provisions that are vaguely worded, subject to varying interpretations and likely to lead to litigation.

McCarthy claims that a charter would “emancipate” Costa Mesa from laws passed by the Legislature, but he doesn’t say which ones. The laws concerning elections? The laws requiring that public works contracts be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, as opposed to friends of public officials?

McCarthy alleges that it is absurd for Stephens to suggest that public safety may be endangered by hiring the cheapest labor to construct public works. He should tell that to Oceanside, which recently adopted a charter similar to that proposed for Costa Mesa.

Oceanside hired a nonprevailing wage contractor who walked away from a major project, leaving it partially constructed. Now Oceanside is stuck with a half-built project and is relying on the insurance company to complete it.

McCarthy makes a general reference to “employee unions whose generous compensation and pension plans have cities, counties and states on the verge of bankruptcy.” Has he failed to notice that Stockton and the other California cities that have recently gone into bankruptcy are charter cities? And that they have gone belly-up because of major public works projects that went bad, and not because of employees’ wages or pensions?

McCarthy bitterly claims that employees have sued the city “for taking a stand for residents.” Yet the court hearing the lawsuit has issued an injunction against the city suspending the layoffs, not for taking a stand for residents, but for failure to abide by its own policies and procedures and by its contracts with employees.

And dozens of residents turn out meeting after meeting to try to persuade the councilmen to reverse course and keep providing quality services, especially public safety, and not to dismantle the city government. Residents do not have union-busting on their agenda; they just want to keep their homes and families safe, and provide themselves and their children life-enhancing opportunities in their hometown.

ELEANOR EGAN is a longtime Costa Mesa resident.

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