Today The Healing Began - Or Did It?
At this time in the history of the City of Costa Mesa, when employees are being discarded like threadbare underwear and tension between the employees and our elected leaders is palpable, events of this date may mark the beginning of healing in our city. I hope so.
AN HOUR OF PRAYER, HYMNS AND REFLECTION
For nearly an hour beginning at noon - during a steady, cold rain - more than one hundred people gathered in foul weather gear under umbrellas to circumscribe City Hall and quietly pray for young Huy Pham, for the employees, for each other and for the future of our city. These folks, representing churches in the area and residents who care, stood shivering, huddled together for strength and support as they whispered prayers and quietly sang hymns together as their own particular mood struck them.
Many images of that event are burned in my brain. Some of them are shared here. Like Ed Fawcett, President of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, standing alone under an umbrella quietly praying to himself a few feet from where Pham ended his life on St. Patrick's Day.
Along the rear walkway stood a line of more than 20 soggy people and one drenched puppy, each in their own thoughts. Some rocked slowly back and forth, humming a tune I couldn't hear, while others mouthed words of some special verse.
Respectful members of the media quietly spoke with one or two of the visitors, soliciting their thoughts and feelings.
FLORAL CHAIN REMAINS
At a few minutes past 1 p.m. this quiet, caring crowd gradually dispersed, leaving behind a chain of white carnations surrounding the building as a reminder of the support they offered today.
WHAT DID THE EMPLOYEES THINK?
I know I was moved by this display today and found myself wondering how the employees within the City Hall must have felt as they looked out the windows at this human chain of compassion.
CLOUDS PART, RAIN STOPS - CEREMONY IS JUST RIGHT
Later today, under glorious blue skies with puffy white clouds in the distance, the memorial ceremony for Huy Pham took place adjacent to the spot where he took his life last Thursday. A special seating area was arranged for members of his family and City CEO Tom Hatch began the proceedings shortly after 3 p.m.
CO-WORKERS PRAISE HUY PHAM
Several co-workers spoke about their time with Huy Pham, who has been described as a stellar employee. Most described his dedication to his job and the skills he had developed. One former supervisor referred to him in glowing terms and, at the end of his short, passionate speech, barely choked out the fact that he thought of Pham as a son.
NAGAHVI GUIDES SILENCE
Public Services Director Peter Naghavi took the podium to lead the crowd in 30 seconds of silence to honor Huy Pham.
CHAPLAIN OFFERS ENCOURAGEMENT
Police Chaplain Decker - who just happened to be in the building last Thursday at the time of the tragedy - spoke to the crowd of around 250 people assembled for this service, offering words of encouragement and directed those who felt the need of some personal consultation to canopies behind City Hall where counselors were available.
Many current and former city officials were present today. I saw former councilwomen Katrina Foley, Sandra Genis, Linda Dixon and former councilman Jay Humphrey. It seemed to me that the crowd was made up mainly of employees, with about a third being residents and other concerned citizens.
Mayor Gary Monahan, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger stood in a group off to the right and moved nary a muscle during the ceremony. Once the Pham family had been escorted into City Hall, the three men also slipped into the building. That was probably a very good idea, because there was still a strong undercurrent of anger in the crowd.
Following the ceremony the crowd just seemed to hang around, commiserating with each other, sharing stories of Pham and trying to get their heads around just what happened on St. Patrick's Day. There was much conversation about the direction the city is headed now. I heard no positive thoughts about it, only apprehension about what's ahead. There were concerns about individual jobs, mortgages, families and their futures. Many of the people with whom I spoke had received 6-month layoff notices last Thursday and were uniformly somber.
TRAGEDY CHANGED NOTHING
When I expressed the view that the ceremonies today might form a foundation for healing, most replied that it didn't really change anything - that the city council has given no indication of a willingness to change their course.
Then, this evening, I heard Jim Righeimer talk with John and Ken on their afternoon radio show. Nothing he said today gave me any encouragement that he will do anything other than move full speed ahead on the course to outsource at least half of the city staff. Quite the contrary. Despite the terrible emotional impact the death of Huy Pham has had on the staff and that the elected leadership has come under fire for major gaffes in the wake of this tragedy, Righeimer seemed unmoved by this issue.
I'M CONCERNED FOR OUR CITY
Tonight, as I wrap this up, I'm very concerned for our city. I continue to hear rumblings of imminent departure of more senior staffers and a growing discontent among city employees. I saw consultant Bill Lobdell in the crowd today - shown here with new City Attorney Tom Duarte (right). I'm sure he now realizes just what a big job he has ahead of him. I find myself wondering if he will actually be allowed to do what they've hired him to do. He's probably going to advise them to do things that are against their nature - and these guys don't respond well when asked to do something they don't want to do. I guess we'll see very soon.