Chip Espinosa's "Listening Report"
One of the interesting facets of taking a long vacation when you normally spend most of your waking hours following city activities and reporting on them, is that all kinds of stuff happens when you are away that, for a variety of reasons, you just cannot respond to until you return. Such is the case of the much-delayed Chip Espinosa "Listening Report". So, here's my take on it...
MASSAGED REPORT FINALLY DISTRIBUTED
A couple minutes before the close of business on Wednesday, October 9th, - about the time my wife and I found ourselves finally extricated from the blizzard that killed more than 100,000 cows, closed over 300 miles of Interstate Highway and knocked power out over a multi-state area for much of a week - City CEO Tom Hatch transmitted the final report to the entire city staff via an email transmittal. You can read the text of the document HERE.
In his transmittal email Hatch acknowledged that most of what is in that report - which apparently gathered dust on his desk for four months while it received a little massaging - will not be news to most city employees and council members, but he says it identifies areas where "we can improve". He also says he would be forming a team of "managers and employees to discuss the next steps we need to take as an organization to build on this report".
UNREALISTIC RESULTS EXPECTED
He acknowledged that "not every concern that was raised can be accommodated or addressed specifically to everyone's satisfaction". Near the end of his transmittal he wrote this paragraph:
"My hope is that this process will serve to promote a better sense of unity in our organization. I strongly encourage those who read this report to challenge themselves to use the report to improve upon our current circumstances and move forward and focus on our legacy of top notch public service we have embodied for generations. This will mean, as Mr. Espinoza pointed out, that we lay aside self-protecting behaviors and embrace self-giving behaviors that consider varying points of view, encourage vulnerability and promote accountability. I also want to highlight what Mr. Espinoza stated on page one of the report – 'The report’s power will be severely compromised if turned into a tool for creating discord or greater polarization.'" That emphasis is mine.
The Daily Pilot reported on this publication HERE.
EMPLOYEES NOT HAPPY
As you might expect, the reaction from employees was less than enthusiastic. The Costa Mesa City Employee Association (OMCEA) published entry in their "Costa Mesa Works" web site on the Listening Report, HERE, and CMCEA President Helen Nenadal published a commentary in the Daily Pilot this weekend, HERE.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT...
I must say that this is familiar territory for me. During my working life I've participated in more than a few of these exercises, both as an employee and manager. Based on my personal experience on both sides of the equation, these kinds of programs can be very valuable tools, but should not be undertaken lightly. In every case, when one of these exercises is undertaken it creates an anticipation - and expectation - in the minds of the employees that something positive is going to come from it... that their working lives will become substantially better as a result. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I fear that this will be the case with the City of Costa Mesa.
CHANGE POSSIBLE? PROBABLY NOT...
In order for their things to get "better" there needs to be "buy in" at every level - management, employees and at the executive level - in our case, the City Council. Based on recent past history with this council, I just don't see that happening. Read that sentence above I highlighted in red. Do you see this council participating in that part of the exercise? Nah, neither do I, particularly since I understand that one of them didn't bother to take part in the exercise at all.
Why do I say that? Well, this exercise was completed before the council presented its offensive contract offer to the CMCEA - certainly not a conciliatory move on its part, for sure. Neither was their rejection of the CMCEA offer to partner with The City in new processes to help make things work better. I fear that the toxic, divisive nature of the relationship between the employees and the City Council majority is so pervasive that significant change is not possible without a change in the council make-up. When it comes to employee relations, the council majority - in just about three years - has done almost everything wrong. They violated their own rules when they issued layoff notices to more than 200 employees, forcing them to sue The City to protect their rights. Two of them have actually sued all the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department, for goodness sake!
HOPING I'M WRONG...
I hope I'm very wrong about this. The City certainly needs some healing to take place, but it's a two-way street. Nothing good will happen if this council majority continues to run roughshod over their own rules and make unreasonable demands of the employees. I just don't see a couple of them "laying aside self-protecting behaviors and embracing self-giving behaviors", do you? It won't take long for us to find out. Hatch will form his committee, they will meet and we'll see.