Anniversary Of A Tragic Day Approaching
THE PAIN HAS NOT LEFT
The anguish felt by most City employees, and many residents, persists to this day. The lawsuit filed about this move remains unsettled four years later. With this entry I offer you a chance to revisit that day and the next few weeks that followed as presented on these pages. Perhaps it will help you recall those events and some of the positive elements of them. I provide them to you today, Friday the 13th, because it seems appropriate and you'll have the weekend to wade through the various entries listed below if you choose to do so. Click on the title to view the entry.
March 17, 2011 - Suicide At City Hall
March 18, 2011 - Costa Mesa Issues Press Release About Huy Pham
March 18, 2011 - Press Conference Pending on Thursday's Tragedy
March 18, 2011 - Mohahan's Prepared Statement Released
TWO VIDEO CLIPS
Next comes two video clips. The first is the KCAL 9 news clip on the event and the press conference. It runs about 2:46. The second is a 10 minute clip of the entire press conference - maybe the most ill-advised and poorly conducted such event I've ever seen.
March 19, 2011 - Of Loving, Lameness And Losers
March 20, 2011 - CMCEA Statement & Memorial Gathering
March 21, 2011 - Two "Healing" Events Scheduled Today
March 21, 2011 - Today The Healing Began - Or Did It?
March 24, 2011 - Lobdell As A Lightning Rod
March 31, 2011 - Geoff & Steve - Conjoined Twins
April 3, 2011 - "Outsourcing" Polarizes Community
April 5, 2011 - Tonight's Council Meeting Could Get Rowdy
April 5, 2011 - Mandoki Resigns!
April 6, 2011 - "The People" Spoke - Did The Council Listen?
Remembrances have been held in Pham's honor, including a tree being planted in his name near the rear of City Hall.
THE BEGINNING OF THE SLIDE
Since that time we've seen a dramatic shift in the governance of our city. Those who have been continuously in charge since that tragic date have systematically dismantled one of the best city governments in the county, and maybe the state.
DISMANTLING OF THE CMPD
Perhaps the most cataclysmic change has been with the Costa Mesa Police Department - one of the most highly-regarded law enforcement organizations in the state. This group arrived and two of them promptly told then-Interim Chief Steve Staveley - a man with more than four decades of law enforcement leadership under his belt at the time - that he didn't need 144 officers to police the city - he only needed 125! They also completely ignored the consultants hired to perform an assessment of the CMPD, the result of which was an opinion that the proper staffing level was 136. An interesting sidebar- current Assistant Chief Executive Officer Tammy Letourneau was a consultant and part of that team.
STAVELEY TOSSES A GRENADE ON THE WAY OUT
That was the beginning of the downfall of the CMPD. It wasn't too long until Staveley had enough. On June 20, 2011 abruptly resigned, leaving in his wake a scathing memo outlining just why he was taking his action. You can read my entry, including his entire resignation letter, HERE. However, perhaps the most memorable segment of that letter reads as follows: "I have never, however, seen a council such as this one. They lack skill, training, education, knowledge, they fail to study (or at least learn). The majority either lies or are so lacking in the necessary skills that they actually believe the junk they say. They act as if they are owners of the business that is the municipal government of the City of Costa Mesa, but they are not, they are merely trustees of these public assets both human and physical and they fail in that role completely. They are in my opinion incompetent, unskilled and unethical." These words have proven to be right on the money. Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch, who had only been in his job a few months, rejected Staveley's characterization of the circumstances and hired another highly-respected law enforcement leader, Dennis Kies, as another Interim Chief while the search continued for a permanent leader for the CMPD.
The first of July the council majority summarily disbanded the Airborne Law Enforcement (A.B.L.E.) organization - the joint venture between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach which had served the communities for four decades and had been the model for municipal airborne law enforcement organizations throughout the country. Read about A.B.L.E.'s final day HERE. The loss of that organization - a force multiplier in law enforcement parlance - made the job on the streets just that much more difficult, and it only got worse.
Early in September Hatch hired Tom Gazsi, a nearly life-long Costa Mesa resident, who brought with him three decades of experience with the Newport Beach Police Department, as the new Chief of the Costa Mesa Police Department. His choice seemed to be the answer to the unstable leadership in that organization and he went about trying to rebuild morale and making changes - including a revamping of the entire command staff - to return the organization to it's once-proud position. However, that was not to be.
He was handcuffed by the interference, meddling and the toxic atmosphere caused by the current council majority that created great unrest within City government and, in particular, within the CMPD. Senior officers resigned to other venues or opted for a much earlier than planned retirement. Over one 12 month period we saw nearly 50 members of the CMPD depart. That number has grown. And, the council majority refused to let Chief Gazsi recruit new officers for most of a year, so the department kept falling farther and farther behind the curve. And the mayor and mayor pro tem sued the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department - a case that is still pending.
LACK OF SUPPORT CHASES HIM AWAY
After three years trying to manage the organization with virtually no support and with promises made to him going unfulfilled for years, Gazsi finally retired from the CMPD and took a new position as Deputy Chief of Operations at the Port Of Los Angeles Police Department, protecting "America's Port", HERE. As it stands today, there are fewer than 100 officers able to report for duty - in recent weeks that number has actually slipped to 85. Specialty units, like the Gang Detail and Narcotics, have been abandoned due to staffing shortages. The Narcotics unit brought in nearly $1 million per year in asset forfeiture dollars - a revenue source that is all but lost now. This can be laid right at the doorstep of Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and the lamest of lame ducks, Councilman Gary Monahan. Another outstanding law enforcement leader, new Interim Chief Ron Lowenberg, will try to hold the pieces together while a new permanent chief is identified.
TURMOIL CREATES APPREHENSION
Meanwhile, the turmoil throughout City government continued. Months passed without labor contracts being resolved and when the so-called "Miscellaneous Employees" - the members of the CMCEA who had received those layoff notices nearly four years earlier - finally signed a contract it was an agreement that took them back decades. It's no wonder at all why so many employees who CAN leave are doing so, and it's not a surprise that recruitment - particularly for public safety positions - is so difficult for The City.
DON'T FORGET WHO IS RESPONSIBLE
So, as we mark the anniversary of the event that actually lit the fuse on this destruction of City Government in Costa Mesa, remember just exactly who is responsible for this debacle - the council majority, who would rather fill potholes than provide adequate public safety. This is the majority who refused to listen to the will of the people, who resoundingly rejected Jim Righeimer's Charter scheme, and put another such document on the ballot two years later, only to see it also fail dramatically. On their watch we've spent millions of dollars on legal fees, defending their stupid, ill-advised actions. On their watch Costa Mesa has become the "Rehab Riviera" of Orange County, with more than a quarter of all sober living facilities in the county falling within its borders. And, it appears that we will soon become the Medical Marijuana center for the county as well.
HIS PASSING WAS THE BEGINNING...
When poor Huy Pham jumped to his death it was not the exclamation point at the end of a terrible day. His death was the capital letter at the beginning of the first sentence in a drama that chronicled the beginning of a terrible time in Costa Mesa. The young man is missed by his peers and family and friends. Sound government seems to have died with him. Please do not forget Huy Pham... mourn for him, and for the government of our city, too.