On Thursday, PublicCEO ran a short story originally published in the Daily Pilot, outlining the cost savings that Costa Mesa has realized since outsourcing its legal services in 2005. While we do not doubt the veracity of the cost savings claims made by the Daily Pilot or Costa Mesa, their acceptance was not universal.

Receiving feedback from PublicCEO’s readers is one of the great joys of being Editor, so today we present a “Reader’s Rebuttal” to those claims.

On June 2, Public CEO published a story (Contracted Legal Duties Saved City Millions) regarding the outsourcing of legal services in the City of Costa Mesa saving an aggregate amount of $3.2 million over a period of five years. In the story you claim that an apples to apples comparison of costs during the five years prior to and after contracting out shows the savings. While the total numbers do reflect savings, deeper analysis shows they are not due to the contracting out of core legal services.

The total annual legal costs are not a valid comparison when you consider that the year the base services of the City Attorney’s office were outsourced, the outside legal fees had already significantly dropped. In fact, those fees have remained relatively stable for the last 5 years.

Comparing the Jones and Mayer costs to in house legal (5 years out on both sides) shows a difference between Jones and Mayer and in house costs to be a net savings of $74,153. The corresponding difference in other outside legal costs during the corresponding periods shows a savings over the past five years of $2,707,864. This represents the bulk of cost savings is in the area of outside legal services (other than provided by Jones and Mayer). During the prior five year period there were significant litigation expenses, which were unique and have subsided.

The Daily Pilot article, referenced here, simply repeats verbatim a press release from the City of Costa Mesa that was crafted specifically to counter public objections to the proposed outsourcing of all city services other than police and management. The problem with numbers, as most of your readers already know, is that numbers can tell many different stories depending on how they are framed.

~Chris Prevatt is a Supervisory/Management public employee with the County of Orange and the Publisher of TheLiberalOC.com, an Orange County political blog.