Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Sad Day Of Remembrance

Today, Sunday, March 17, 2013 - St. Patrick's Day - marks a very sad anniversary for many Costa Mesans.  This is the second anniversary of what is arguably the darkest day in City government history - the day young maintenance worker Huy Pham leaped to his death from the roof of City Hall just prior to being handed a six-month layoff notice just as more than 200 of his fellow-workers had received that day.

Pham's death was not the beginning of difficult times for city employees, but it certainly was the exclamation  point on the events that day, so I feel it is appropriate to re-visit some of the events that occurred just before and subsequent to that day, so we don't forget what's been going on in our city for the past couple years.  I'm going to provide you with links back to some of the things I wrote during that time, and to some news reports, too.

On February 6, 2011 I wrote an entry, HERE, that discussed items on Study Session on February 8th included, among other things, the Mid-year budget review, the dissolution of the A.B.L.E. program, abandoning two vacant police officer positions, unfunded pension liabilities and outsourcing.  I was concerned - appropriately so.  I subsequently wrote on February 9th, HERE, my observations from that long, painful meeting.  As it turned out, that meeting was a wake-up call for those of us that watch city events closely.  But nobody could have predicted what happened next.

Late in the evening of Thursday, March 17, 2011, I wrote one of the most difficult entries on this blog in all the years I've been publishing it, HERE.  After more than six hours of trauma and angst, including three at City Hall where I spoke with many friends who worked in the building as they grieved at the death of Huy Pham, I gave you my account of events that day.

The next day I presented entries about the City-issued press release, HERE, and then-mayor Gary Monahan's prepared statement on the tragedy, HERE in which he tried to excuse his despicable behavior the day before when he refused to leave his pub on what he was quoted as saying was, "The biggest day of my life" to travel one mile to City Hall to comfort the employees and oversee the emergency response That same afternoon City officials held what may well be the lamest press conference in history, which you can watch in it's entirety HERE.  Local news media covered the tragedy and press conference HERE and HERE.  That night there was a spontaneous gathering of employees and residents at a candle-lit vigil at the parking lot of City Hall where Pham took his life.  I covered it HERE.
The following Monday, March 21st, I published an entry titled, "Today The Healing Began - Or Did It?", HERE, in which I covered the prayer vigil held by more than 100 residents that circled City Hall in a cold drizzle in honor of Huy Pham and the official City remembrance of Pham later that evening, after the skies had cleared.  Unfortunately, much as we hoped that healing was beginning that day, it didn't.  


In the wake of the tragedy of St. Patrick's Day two years ago the City hired former Daily Pilot editor, Bill Lobdell, as a PR consultant and CEO Tom Hatch charged him with making Costa Mesa the most transparent city in the country.  I wrote about that HERE, mentioning that he had become the lightning rod for criticism.  That has not changed.  Lobdell had his contract extended a couple times, then was hired as an employee - one of many new positions in the Executive Offices on the 5th Floor of City Hall that caused many to speculate that the building might topple from being too top-heavy.  It was compounded by the departure of many, many senior staffers to other cities.  They took with them not only their expertise, but decades of institutional knowledge.  That trend continues to this day.


A couple weeks later some idiot tossed a brick through Monahan's door, HERE, and the nation-wide media began to pay close attention to what was going on in our city.  An entry I wrote a few days later, HERE, chronicled the attitude of then-appointed councilman Steve Mensinger seemed to have about the people who spoke - many times angrily - before the councilOn May 5th I provided several quotes from the most recent council meeting that showed the growing anger in the community, HERE.  On May 12th The City issued even more layoff notices and the Orange County Employees Association demanded they be rescinded.  I wrote about it HERE.

June turned out to be an even more contentious month.  As I observed HERE, Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit signed in and Los Angeles Times award-winning columnist Steve Lopez also began paying attention with the first of several columns on what was happening in our city.  On the 16th I reported the second investigation of Pham's death being launched, HERE.  On the 20th Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley - a man with more than 4 decades of police command experience - abruptly resigned in a huff, leaving behind a scathing indictment of the Costa Mesa elected leadership, HERE, and CEO Tom Hatch fired back at Staveley's accusations, HERE.  History has validated Staveley's criticism.  On the 21st I reported that an auditor the OCEA hired to assess Costa Mesa's financial situation reported that there was no "crisis", HERE and on the 26th I reported that the AirBorne Law Enforcement (A.B.L.E.) organization - the prototype for all civilian law enforcement helicopter programs - was shut down by the Costa Mesa City Council as a cost-cutting measure, HERE.  It was a VERY difficult month.

In July Judge Barbara Tam Nomoto Schumann affirmed the Preliminary Injunction on outsourcing, HERE.  She retired and the injunction was recently lifted by the successor judge.

August brought more pain.  I wrote HERE and HERE about the events of the most recent council meeting, where the tenor of the community as measured by the parade of angry comments to the council gave us a measure of feeling in our city.  On the 4th I reported, HERE, that the second investigation in to Huy Pham's death confirmed the first one - he jumped to his death.  On the 15th I told you about how the council, in their haste to purge employees from the roster, ignored Council Policy 100-6, which prescribed EXACTLY the procedure to be followed for shuttering of departments and laying off employees as a result, HERE.  And, on the 29th I reported that The New Yorker Magazine had dispatched one of their ace writers, Tad Friend, to Costa Mesa and that his report was available for reading, HERE.


And the beat went on and on, with council chambers regularly being filled by anxious employees as the lawsuit lingered and the council continued to find ways around the rules.  A year ago I wrote a piece recognizing the first anniversary of that sad day, HERE and HERE and the City planted a tree in Pham's honor.

Righeimer, in a rush to change the very fabric of Costa Mesa Govenment, pushed too hard to get his self-serving Charter scheme before the voters on the June ballot.  Due to a series of gaffes that effort failed and, when the larger electorate was given the chance to consider it in November it was resoundingly defeated.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about what has happened in Costa Mesa over the past couple of years in all forms of media.  An election happened last year that affirmed Mensinger's position on the council, but also gave us former mayor Sandra Genis - a hard-working person who does her homework on issues and shows up prepared to make good decisions based on facts, not dogma.  And Righeimer was elected mayor and the atmosphere at City Hall has not improved.  It remains a hostile workplace for many, despite the recent observation by Righeimer at a police department celebration that "this council supports the police 100%".

Activist Tom Egan provided a recent observation of our situation in a commentary in the Daily Pilot, HERE, which has generated much kickback in the forms of comments.

So, as we mark this sad anniversary, we expect Monahan will have booming business selling green beer without worrying about another employee leaping to his death.  Many of the rest of us will mark it with a moment of silence in honor of Huy Pham and for the beleaguered employees of the City of Costa Mesa.  Labor negotiations are about to begin using Mensinger's curious "COIN" ordinance for the first time - an ordinance which seems destined to bog-down negotiations.

I think it's appropriate to close this much-too-long entry with a link to a song by the amazing Amanda Marshall that articulates how I feel about my friends who work for the City.  Thanks to them for continuing to soldier on, doing their jobs in a professional manner despite the hostile atmosphere in the building.  Click HERE and listen to the words as you contemplate the future of our city.   

Remember - I Believe In You.

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Anonymous barb otch said...

egan and stavely. thanks for making me laugh so early.

3/17/2013 06:50:00 AM  
Anonymous History Channel said...

"...In the days of Napoleon the same wind which would have carried his transports across the Channel might have driven away the blockading fleet...

..We are assured that novel methods will be adopted, and when we see the originality of malice, the ingenuity of aggression, which our enemy displays, we may certainly prepare ourselves for every kind of novel stratagem and every kind of brutal and treacherous maneuver. I think that no idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered and viewed with a searching, but at the same time, I hope, with a steady eye. We must never forget..

...we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
-Sir Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940

3/17/2013 07:25:00 AM  
Anonymous April Hooper said...

Two years ago today my friend Huy Pham committed suicide while we were at work together. It began a horrific saga of how an employer (City of Costa Mesa) badly treated it's employee's and how it continued to handle the aftermath. We weren't even allowed to place flowers where he died. Not even one. The City of Costa Mesa made his immediate co-workers job to throw the flowers, remembrances away in the trash. Each day, I would place one daisy on the spot, knowing it would be thrown away, and I possibly punished for my misdeed; however, I did it anyways along with a 3 x 5 ft. sign in my car that stated "City Council equals Worker Suicide." The sign and my car appeared on CNN with the story and subsequently- I was ((gasp)) "laid" off a year and 4 months later. Our City Council was predominately Republican and from that day forward I decided I did not want to be associated with Orange County Republicans ever again.

3/17/2013 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger just wondering... said...

April,, I had no idea that remembrances we not allowed or I would have been there with a truck full... In remembrance and defiance.

It was initially Fitapatrick that drew my attention with his crap, and figured that water finds its own level. If the council was friends of his, then they are no good also. Their actions continue to prove that theory.

We will not forget young Huy Pham. We will not forget that day, nor will we forget the horrible actions of our council, and especially that alcoholic embarrassment that is Monahan.

3/17/2013 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Fred Cisco said...

@History Channel:
Great quote! "The days of Napoleon (Righeimer)" messing up CM will come to an end as good people like S.Genis stand up to his tricks. RIP Huy Pham, we'll never forget.

3/17/2013 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous The Hills Have Eyes said...

Is it true that bully Mensinger was part of the "no flowers" thing? Up in the Central Valley they just plow under..

3/17/2013 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Linda Burnett said...

Today is the two year anniversary of the Costa Mesa tragedy. This is a day that remains dark for many of us. We cannot forget this horrible day, but I fear some have forgotten. Thank you for remembering Huy today.

3/17/2013 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

April, like Just Wondering, I had no idea that remembrances were not allowed. That makes this debacle even sadder.

Geoff, thanks for reminding us what a disastrous roller coaster ride our city has been on for two years.

The ultimate cruelty is that all this was based on a lie - we were facing financial ruin - and now we have funds for sports complexes and park acquisition. Boys cried "wolf", one man lept in fear and the rest of us won't forget.

3/17/2013 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Geoff, thank you for a great writeup on Huy Pham, our city employees and the events of the past two years. You have worked tirelessly to keep us informed of the events and news in our city. Thank you!
I take solace in the fact that many of us see today as a day of mourning, not celebration.
April, I heard about the flowers being removed and I replaced them every time I came to CM City Hall. The councildudes may have ordered the flowers removed but we will never forget Huy Pham or what happened today, two years ago.
I visited that spot earlier today as well as his tree, praying for his family,friends, coworkers and our city.
We have not healed and we will never forget.

3/17/2013 02:53:00 PM  
Anonymous April Hooper said...

To Wondering and any other's: The employee's were "not" allowed at the time to complain about the "No Flower" policy. You may not have heard because each person was scared (and still afraid) for their job. I was a 12 year veteran of the City when I was laid off and now I am happily employed elsewhere; therefore, I don't have to keep quiet. What we must remember is the memory of young man who worked hard and will always have a place in our heart. Huy Pham.

3/17/2013 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Gloomy future for our city said...

All is very sad. And yet, things are still not getting better for the city employees. Any employee so much as speaks the truth in public, on their own time, and Riggy with his cronies goes after them one way or another. Whereas, Riggy can spout falsehoood and lies while acting in an official capacity with no consequences. And now, he's going after our decimated, under staffed overworked police department. He should be ashamed of himself, but he is not. He really does not care for us citizens. What is going to happen when there just are not enough officers? Who do we call then?

3/17/2013 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

April, I'm shocked to learn that placing flowers was not allowed. How cruel! I'm sad and sorry.

3/17/2013 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

April, I am sorry that we lost good employees like you and many others due to the miserable, oppressive treatment you received (and sadly continue to receive) at the hands of the council majority.
It is bad enough that the councildudes tried to sully Pham's memory, to then order the removal of memorial flowers and FORBID employees to speak out against this insane, malicious act reminds me of dictatorships and book burnings.
They behave like bullying brats, not councilmen.
Hence, there is a big lack of trust and respect for the councildudes.

3/18/2013 12:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Mesa Mustang said...

So sad that people like West continue to exploit this poor guy for their own political advantage. It was sick three years ago, it's still sick today. Decency on this blog left a long time ago.

3/18/2013 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

So, Pathetic Pony, you're OK with what transpired two TWO (2) years ago? I have no political ax to grind... it's not a matter of right or left - it's a matter of right and wrong. Your pals were wrong with that move TWO years ago that it makes one's head spin just thinking about it.

If you don't like what you read here I invite you to stop - right now.

3/18/2013 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Talk about sick! said...

Mesa Mustang you have a twisted sense of what is sick. Actually the truth is you know what is sick. Sick is the actions of your council friends so you want to try and project the sickness elsewhere as a distraction to cover for your sick pals.
What is sick follows.
Dancing and celebrating at the gin mill the day one of your workers commits suicide.
Ordering the removal of flowers, candles and other items placed at the site of tragedy by the caring community and fellow workers.
Holding a press conference doing damage control saying oh look how much we really care about Huy and his family when all they really showed is what cowards they are when they couldnt control the real media not the flunkies like Macadiet, Serna and this new bootlicker Zint. Sick is right Mesa Mustang and you can throw yourself on the pile of sickness too.

Huy was a good kid no matter how they tried to portray him!

3/18/2013 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Whole Truth said...

Hey West...I didn't see a word in your hankie wringing about the amount of cocaine that Pham had in his system.

3/18/2013 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Huy R Phamily said...

No matter how hard THEY tried. Huy never forgot YOU...Rest in Peace.

3/18/2013 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger just wondering... said...

Mesa Mustang, Steve, or Fitz or whoever you are, there is NO defense for the behavior displayed by this council regarding Pham's death. Of all the vile, Hitleresque things I've seen and heard of them doing, this is by far the worst.

You should be ashamed even trying to defend that behavior, much less trying to deflect it.

3/18/2013 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Hole Truth- and just what do you have in your system? Impacted fecal matter, it appears, for using the fact that he had cocaine in his system as a deflection and detraction from the deplorable actions of the RIGmeister and his RIGhead followers bever, mensinger, monahan! Which one are you anyway?

3/18/2013 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Judgement Day is coming! said...

@ whole truth:

The whole truth is if not for the illegal actions of Riggy and his pals issuing layoff notices, Pham never probably would have committed suicide. Pham probably would still be alive today.

The simple truth again: Riggy and friends triggered/caused Pham's death. It's really that simple.

I cannot wait until they have to stand in front of a jury of 12 and be held accountable.

3/18/2013 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Despite the extremist POV, my recollection is that the toxicology tests on Huy Pham only indicated that compounds related to cocaine were in his system. That's a far cry from a positive finding. Regardless, a young man is dead and improper acts by a misguided council majority helped trigger the event.

3/18/2013 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Joe, you are correct. He was taking medication for his injured foot. I let those posts through to demonstrate the vile nature of some folks. What sad, sad human beings they are.

3/18/2013 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Heart for Costa Mesa said...

I thought about Huy many times yesterday, and as I remembered I prayed for his co-workers and friends who keenly felt the pain of losing one of their own that way. The cheap shots appall me. The people closest to him had every right to mourn and remember him however they wanted to. They were already dealing with hurt and uneasiness from getting mass lay-off notices, in spite of the fact that the City Attorney had said it would not be legal to proceed as the councilmen did. There was no counseling to help deal with the tremendous changes looming, because there was really no planning or preparation for consequences or even analysis of whether lay-offs would profit the City. It was just a show to these guys, a headline-grabbing gesture with no thought for fiscal or human realities.

Counseling might have helped Huy. I can’t judge him. It’s irrelevant whether he should have or not, whether it could have been prevented or not. It affected a lot of people who still haven’t gotten over the shock and loss. They were alive and hurting. At a time like that one looks to their leaders. The City Council failed to react humanely. And you know, after all this time, they still have no remorse or compassion to offer, only blame and defamation. Their mouthpieces writing here should take a deep look into their own hearts, because some of the things posted here are way beyond human decency.

By the way, time has proven former Chief Stavely to be quite an accurate prophet.

3/18/2013 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Bootlicking Pilot said...

The Daily Pilto appears to have eliminated the comments regarding the Hangover 3 article.

Probably because many of those comments were making fun of Costa Mesa Councilman Mensinger.

Geoff could ask your friends at the Pilot why they do this kind of favortism? On second thought never mind because we don't need to hear the BS Canalis or whoever tries to spin it.

It's really apalling a local newspaper would be so in the pocket of certain people they editorialize by deleting nagative comments against those they slobber over.

Which makes me say thank you for your blog and allowing both sides to make their points.

The Pilot and it's so called reporters (Zint) are pathetic.

3/19/2013 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

No, I won't. It's been my experience that when an entire thread disappears it's a temporary glitch in their system. Usually it will re-appear.

If it bothers you just pick up the phone and call John Canalis and ask. Nah, you'd have to identify yourself, you gutless anonymous whiner.

3/19/2013 12:43:00 AM  
Anonymous April Hooper said...

The most frightening aspect of Huy's death was the lack of compassion and humanity shown by the City of Costa Mesa and City Council. It was apparent many of the employees suffered tremendously from the horrific events. As time heals all wounds; I pray the City of Costa Mesa takes steps to ensure their employee's won't suffer again from their inept and callous behavior.

3/19/2013 06:10:00 AM  
Anonymous hangover said...

Mensinger , riggy like diet coke, a much safer alternative. riggy even had receipt for two of them in his pocket. i mean, really, who has ever kept a receipt in his pocket? sounds like riggy set it up right alf? i mean, a receipt in your pocket, never has happened to anyone

3/19/2013 06:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Charge a Friend said...

Troll hangover said...
".. riggy even had receipt for two of them in his pocket. i mean, really, who has ever kept a receipt in his pocket? sounds like riggy set it up right alf? i mean, a receipt in your pocket, never has happened to anyone"

Yea, everybody has a Diet Coke receipt from a close friend, sycophant, and bootlicker at the moment they're questioned about alcohol. All my close friends charge me whenever I have a soda or food at their home or business. Why just the other day I visited an old friend. Within 72 hours I had a neatly itemized bill for $36.00- $6.00 for some popcorn, $20.00 for dinner, and $10.00 for two Diet Cokes. Yes, $5. for each soda since my friend doesn't get soda at wholesale like Riggy's pal the bar owner does...

3/19/2013 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

A follow-up for "Bootlicking Pilot",
Checked this morning. The Pilot doesn't recall posting ANY comments on the Hangover article. I think you're talking about the Register comment thread, which includes snarky comments about certain people.

Comments on the Daily Pilot are controlled by Facebook. The Pilot cannot block comments, except as a normal user, in which case they can flag them and let the Facebook algorithm take over.

Please pay attention!

3/19/2013 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

I'm glad everyone here gets to see the "chairman" for who he truly is, ridiculing and mocking the saddest day in the history of our city.
It speaks to his vile, cowardly demeanor and those who support him.

3/19/2013 02:29:00 PM  

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