Suicide At City Hall
How do I begin this one.... there's no easy way to start what I have to say, so I'll just take a deep breath, give you the facts and my views and let you sort it out.
YOUNG EMPLOYEE COMMITS SUICIDE
Early this afternoon a 29 year-old maintenance worker, identified this evening as Huy Pham of Fountain Valley, who had reportedly been with the City of Costa Mesa for a little over 4 years, leaped to his death from the roof of City Hall. He apparently had been called into work from home, where he had been recuperating from an injured foot, to receive a 6-month outsourcing layoff notice. He never received the notice, choosing to take his life instead.
A friend called me shortly after this happened and told me something terrible had happened at City Hall and that I needed to come over immediately. I had no idea what awaited me when I pulled into the parking lot.
HUGE POLICE PRESENCE
When I arrived I found the entire east side of the building taped off and no fewer than fifteen police officers stationed at strategic points. Near the rear of the east side of the building was a makeshift shelter and a tent covering the site where the young man landed when he jumped from the roof. He was still there and his body would not be removed by the coroner until more than two hours later.
Shortly after I arrived Public Services Director Peter Naghavi, who had been at the Maintenance Yard delivering the layoff notices, came to a screeching stop beside me and sprinted under the tape to the site. He had not yet delivered the layoff notice to the young man - his was the last one in Naghavi's stack when he received a call from City Hall. I spoke with Peter several times over the next couple hours as he sought out his staff and did his best to console them.
FROM GRIEF TO ANGER
I went into City Hall to console some of my many friends who work there. As I spoke with different people their moods shifted from extreme grief and despair at this tragic situation to almost uncontrollable anger at what they felt was the reason. This attitude grew as the afternoon passed. Without exception, the employees I spoke with blamed the death of their friend on the current elected leadership of our city for the pace at which they seem to be trying to deconstruct the city.
I walked around outside to a vantage point where I could view the scene. I saw Les Gogerty - who recently stepped away from his temporary job as interim police chief - with Steve Staveley - who was just named to that position this week - along with Tim Starn, the commander of the about-to-be-defunct ABLE helicopter program, all providing leadership on this tragedy.
I saw new Chief Executive of the City Tom Hatch being consoled and later spoke with him briefly. There really are no words for this kind of a situation. Hatch was trying to manage this situation the best he could.
MENSINGER AND RIGHEIMER
Later I saw Councilman Steve Mensinger arrive, followed shortly by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer. They stood with the command staff and were apparently briefed - we were 30 yards away. As they left and tried to enter City Hall they were accosted by an angry city employee and the taunts of at least one other. The angry employee had to be restrained from attacking Righeimer and Mensinger. That was the last I saw of them for the afternoon. The word floating around outside was that they were going to be given a police escort home later in the evening.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece arrived and immediately began consoling distraught employees. She remained outside with them for quite awhile - at least an hour before I finally left just before 6 p.m. She also gave interviews to the media.
Former councilwoman Katrina Foley arrived in tears and also consoled employees outside.
Councilman Eric Bever was nowhere in sight.
The media was everywhere. There were at least 4 television crews plus radio and print representatives. Fox News dispatched it's helicopter for an aerial view of the scene.
Nick Beradino, head of the Orange County Employees Association, was on the scene with some of his associates. Sadly, he chose to politicize this tragedy. Taking a page right from Rahm Emanuel's playbook, he found himself in the midst of a crisis too good to waste. When he heard that Mayor Gary Monahan was at his pub dressed as a leprechaun he apparently dispatched someone to snap a photo of him in that regalia, then shared the cell phone photo with the assembled media. I just saw it on KCAL 9 news.
Monahan had not shown up at the scene during the time I was there, but a very brief press release was issued shortly before 7 p.m. tonight with this statement attributed to him.
"Our hearts and prayers are with the family, friends and co-workers during this tragic time. In addition, crisis counselors have been brought in immediately to provide support to the City Hall family and will continue to be on-site for as long as needed."
I have no illusions that he actually wrote that message and understand why he didn't show up at City Hall. Today is the biggest day of the year at his pub and the last thing anyone in the city needed was a guy dressed in a leprechaun suit wandering around the scene of this tragedy - even if he was sober.
A BAD DAY GONE WORSE
Several times earlier in the day I thought about my many friends at City Hall because today was the day of the distribution of the layoff notices. I worried for them and the impact of simply receiving these slips of paper. Even though there is a lot of analysis to be done before outsourcing would actually happen, the pace with which this process was jammed through has made every city employee anxious - understandably so. This would have gone down as one of the darkest days in the history of this city. Now it will stand alone.
I understand the anger and despair I saw at City Hall today. Employees, and many of us observing recent events, thought the new City Council majority was moving much too fast in their attempts to re-organize the city. The focus of most of the anger was at Righeimer and his pal, Mensinger. I cannot repeat some of the epithets I heard about those two men today, when emotions were highest. There was also anger reserved for Monahan, too, because he has been a willing accomplice in this new re-structuring - and because he failed to show up at City Hall today. He's shown the employees very clearly where his priorities lay.
I don't know what lays ahead for our city in light of this tragedy. How CEO Tom Hatch handles this situation and how he guides the city through it will tell us much about the man. Today he was clearly distraught. As mentioned in Monahan's memo, crisis counselors are on site and were working hard with staff members all afternoon. I suspect they will be at City Hall tomorrow, too.
WHAT OF RIGHEIMER AND MENSINGER?
I wonder, too, how this event will affect Righeimer, and Mensinger. I watched both of them today for the half hour or so they were outside. I saw no signs of emotion from either of them. Mensinger was preoccupied with his cell phone, texting most of the time before they went inside. For some people this kind of an event is life-changing. It causes some to step back and re-assess their priorities. I know that Righeimer lost a young daughter, so he knows the pain the employees are feeling right now. My question is, how will he and Mensinger react to this tragedy.
MONAHAN'S CAREER IS DOOMED
In my view, Gary Monahan has doomed his political future in this city with his callous disregard for for the feelings of the employees of our city at their time of need. You find out about leaders when the chips are down. We found out about Monahan today.
A TIME FOR GRIEVING AND SUPPORT
I feel tremendous sadness for the employees of the City of Costa Mesa. The double-whammy they received today of the layoff notices followed by the suicide of their friend and co-worker is going to be difficult to handle. I encourage them to use this time to grieve for their friend and to try to push the anger they are feeling aside - at least for the time being. One never knows what is in a person's mind when they take their own life. From all reports this young man had a bright future, was a hard worker with many friends and a loving family. I hope his friends will take the time now to console each other for his loss and reach out to his family to give them the support they certainly need at this time. As I type this the news on television behind me shows images of employees gathered at City Hall for a candlelight vigil.
FRIENDS WISDOM GUIDES ME
As I drove home from City Hall today many thoughts swirled through my head. I worried for the future of our city. I wondered what I would write when I got home, filled with the emotion of the past couple hours. I arrived to find dozens of emails and many voice mail messages from friends and strangers, wanting to be sure that I'd heard the bad news and to offer their condolences. I answered the emails and returned the calls, hearing the wisdom I've become accustomed to with my friends and sat down here to capture my thoughts.
ANOTHER TOUGH DAY TOMORROW
Tomorrow will be another difficult day for my friends at City Hall. I hope they all know that the residents of this city feel the pain they are all sharing right now. I hope they know we want to support them at this time. Short of giving every one of them a big hug, those hollow words are the best I can do under the circumstances.
IS THIS THE FINAL STRAW?
I close this tonight wondering if this terrible tragedy will be the trigger to finally get some complacent residents off their collective couches and begin to pay attention to what's going on in this city. Will those more than 100,000 people Jim Righeimer thinks support his plans finally step up and say STOP!? Will he and his majority step back and realize that their actions have consequences? And, most of all, will cooler heads prevail in the wake of this horrendous event? Time will tell.