A Date We MUST NOT FORGET...
1096 days ago, on March 17, 2011, a young maintenance worker with the City of Costa Mesa, Huy Pham, threw himself to his death off the roof of City Hall, apparently despondent over the fact that he would be among more than 200 City employees given layoff notices that day. That tragic event was the thunder clap following the lightning strike - the announcement of the layoffs - that marked the beginning of a storm that has lasted three years... and it's not over yet.
I've written about that day and the events that followed over the next few weeks. I've marked it each year so those of us who live in this city will not forget what happened. We cannot forget who has been responsible for the decline of this city as we approach an election season that provides us with an opportunity to resolve the problem.
MY WORDS, IF YOU WISH TO RE-READ THEM
I'm not going to re-write those thousands of words that have appeared here talking about those events, but I am going to provide you with links to them if you choose to revisit any of them. Just click on the titles below.
3/17/11 - Suicide at City Hall
3/18/11 - Press Conference Pending On Thursday's Tragedy
3/18/11 - Costa Mesa Issues Press Release About Huy Pham
3/18/11 - Monahan's Prepared Statement Released
3/18/11 - The Worst Press Conference In History (video - 10 minutes)
3/19/11 - Of Loving, Lameness and Losers
3/20/11 - CMCEA Statement & Memorial Gathering
3/21/11 - Two "Healing" Events Scheduled Today
3/21/11 - Today The Healing Began - Or Did It?
4/5/11 - Tonight's Council Meeting Could Get Rowdy
4/6/11 - "The People" Spoke - Did The Council Listen?
3/16/12 - Huy Pham Remembered
3/16/12 - A Sad Day And The Aftermath
3/17/12 - To The Employees Of The City Of Costa Mesa
3/17/13 - A Sad Day Of Rememberance
A PUBLIC RELATIONS NIGHTMARE
In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy we saw a completely botched press conference when then-mayor Gary Monahan failed to answer questions about his decision to remain at his pub to pull beer taps on what he had described as "the biggest day of my life. The city hired a public relations manager (Bill Lobdell) to keep it from sinking further into the quicksand. We saw more than 100 residents circumscribe City Hall in a soft drizzle to pray for the future of The City and hundreds more gather for a Memorial Service for Huy Pham.
Later we saw The City hire a party planner (Dan Joyce) to create feel-good events to distract residents from what was really going on in The City. The disastrous 60th Anniversary Celebration fiasco demonstrated just how well that scheme went. More than a half-million of our tax dollars spent with little or no accountability. If these guys ran a business this way it would end up bankrupt and they'd get fired. We certainly don't hope for the former, but there's still time for the latter.
THINGS ARE WORSE FOR EMPLOYEES
After Huy Pham leaped to his death that sad afternoon things have not gotten better for the employees of the City of Costa Mesa. The current City Council majority has created such a toxic work environment that many of those who could leave have done so. The ranks of senior staffers have been decimated, taking with them decades of experience and institutional knowledge. Many others have also opted to leave for greener pastures or simply retire earlier than anticipated. The impact of those actions are felt throughout The City, but most acutely by the Police Department, where Chief Tom Gazsi and his command staff attempt to hold things together using smoke and mirrors.
TOO MANY SERIOUS MISSTEPS TO LIST
And things have not gotten better for the residents, either. The list of missteps taken by this current council majority is much too voluminous to list here, but it would certainly start with the botched handling of the above-mentioned layoffs. That gaffe resulted in a lawsuit that is still percolating. Their attempts to "run the city like a business" has had disastrous results, many of which ended up with legal action. And, you must include in that legal quagmire the boneheaded lawsuit filed by Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department. The City spends millions of dollars each year on legal fees - a rate that is unprecedented in its 60 year history.
JAMMING A CHARTER DOWN OUR THROATS
We have seen a Charter personally cobbled together by Righeimer to tighten his iron grip on local government and perpetuate his personal political future resoundingly defeated at the polls, only to have him arrogantly ignore the clear will of the electorate by insisting The City present ANOTHER Charter to the voters this November. He and his council majority cohorts stacked the Charter Committee with a majority of like-minded individuals who spent 10 months hammering out a document that, as written, doesn't accomplish anything that cannot be done by a General Law City - only without the safeguards provided by our current form of government to preclude abuse by those in power. Think the City of Bell fiasco.
Righeimer and his cronies have ignored the pleas of residents at General Plan meetings - where the road map for the next three decades of The City were to be formulated - to reduce their plans for higher density throughout The City and have now codified a Small Lot Ordinance that will grease the skids for their developer buddies to saturate our city with more and more dense developments, resulting in more traffic and placing greater demands on our infrastructure and services.
WE'VE SEEN BAD BEHAVIOR
In recent months we've seen a systematic attempt to stifle criticism of the current council majority by bifurcating the Public Comments segment of council meetings to discourage speakers and deny them their right to address grievances. We've seen residents treated rudely - chided and vilified from the dais by members of the majority when opposing views were put forward. The list goes on and on.
Although all other departments in the city have seen dramatic staff cuts we've seen an empire built on the 5th Floor of City Hall, where the number of people reporting to Tom Hatch, Chief Executive Officer, has more than doubled, including a special Code Enforcement organization.
A SMALL REMEMBRANCE
And, to the employees of The City of Costa Mesa who have stuck it out during this three years of turmoil and chaos, once again I ask the amazing Amanda Marshall to help me tell you how I feel.