Friday, December 27, 2013

The Losses Continue To Mount Up...

A week ago I attended the retirement party for Maintenance Supervisor Helen Nenadal, who also spent the last few years as the President of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA).  Helen retired after proudly serving the city in a variety of roles for thirty-two years.

Over the past couple of years I've gotten to know Helen as she became the face of the CMCEA in its strained relationship with the management of the city.  Not a trained negotiator nor a highly educated person, she has been "one of the troops" - a peer they elected to look out for their interests.  She stepped up and addressed the City Council to present their case time after time.  She did that job well.  Her story is a classic "up from the ranks" journey - she began as a part-time recreation staffer and moved on up as opportunities presented themselves.

Her party was attended by several dozen people - current employees, former employees, retirees from all levels of the organization and members of the community and her family.  Former City Manager Allan Roeder attended, as did his former Assistant City Manager, Steve Hayman and former Human Resources head Howard Perkins.

Assistant CEO Rick Francis was there, along with Police Chief Tom Gazsi - many of the CMCEA employees work for him -  and counclwoman Sandra Genis.

I also saw Orange County Employee Association General Manager Nick Berardino at the party to wish Helen well in her retirement.

When Helen spoke about her career with the city she was clearly describing a labor of love - one that has been more difficult to manage over the past three years, when the attitude about employees changed at the highest levels of city management.  The current council majority has, for the most part, treated employees like boxes of nails that could be easily replaced by simply calling the closest hardware store.

As I listened to Helen and others speak, praising her, I looked around the patio and realized that she was not the only person to retire within the past few days.  Three other people in the group also retired that day and more were to follow this week.  These are just the most recent to decide to bail out, leaving a tremendous vacuum of talent and institutional knowledge to be filled.  And, every resident of the city will suffer because of this loss.

I expect we'll be seeing a request for a huge budget adjustment to permit the Public Services Department to fill these vacancies with temporary employees and consultants within the next few weeks.  We've already seen projects slip because there is insufficient staff available to perform them.  We see even more overtime being required of the staff to complete what would have been normal assignments in better times.  And the acrimonious atmosphere continues to fester as the lawsuit between the City and the CMCEA and the suit filed by Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger against the members of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue unresolved.

As we approach the brand new year I hope more of you will begin to pay attention to what's happening to our city.  We all should be concerned when our top elected officials consider litigation just another line item in the budget - a cost of doing business - even when it involves city employees.  We should be concerned when the toxic atmosphere they've created causes folks to retire earlier than might have otherwise been the case and still others to seek lateral moves to other cities.  This is just plain bad for the city and most of it could have - and should have - been avoided.

So, when calls for service - whether for police, fire, building inspections, pothole filling, graffiti removal or almost every other service provided by the city - begin to be delayed due to staff shortages, please remember who is responsible for this.  You elected them and you can certainly show them the door starting in November.

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Anonymous Atlas Shrunk said...

Yesterday, I called the CMPD non-emergency number [714-754-5368] several times over a 45-minute period during the early afternoon. The line was busy each time I called.
The matter, an apparently homeless drunk sleeping on our lawn, was not of great urgency and I chose not to call 911. He had been there before we went to Home Depot and he was still there when we came back along with his wheel chair piled high with stuff. He was ambulatory and did not need the chair to move. He was obviously using it as an alternative to a shopping cart. He eventually woke up and moved out. He left a fairly new Eddie Bauer sweater behind (now laundered and heading for SOS) along with a trail of a smell that reminded me of a skunk. Perhaps it was his smoking material of choice. It was surprising not to be able to contact the CMPD dispatch center. Naturally, if he had appeared to be in some distress or to pose a danger to himself or others I would have called 911.
I have never experienced a busy signal a the dispatch center before.

12/27/2013 07:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

The council majority’s actions seem bizarre compared with past councils. They shed employees like maple leaves in fall; they drain money out of the city treasury by funding losing lawsuits, paying for high-priced consultants and contract employees, and paying overtime to the remaining city employees.

It may seem wrong-headed, but it makes sense if we remember Grover Norquist’s mantra: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” Norquist is one of the leading lights of the GOP.

And the council majority seems to be steaming down the same track that Norquist is.

But is the council majority – Righeimer, Skosh Monahan, Mensinger – following Norquist’s agenda down here at the city level, or just being politically opportunistic? You might recall from the candidate forums that the male Republican candidates answered, “Yes” when the panel was asked, “Have you signed the Grover Norquist ‘No Tax’ pledge?” Norquist successfully punishes any GOP candidate who does not sign his pledge.

If Righeimer has a full eight years in control of Costa Mesa, there’s a good chance he’ll be able to shrink the city government down so it could be drowned in a bathtub.

CM could end up looking like this: just five council members and no employees. Who will do the work of the city? Private contractors who will earn handsome take-home and be open-wallet supporters of campaign funds.

Welcome to the modern world of hard-nosed OCGOP politics, folks.

12/27/2013 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Received a comment from "Anonymous" - we don't post those, remember? - to advise that the number shown in the comment by Atlas Shrunk is NOT the proper number for the CMPD. The proper non-emergency number, answered 24/7/365 is 714-754-5252. If you have an emergency dial 9-1-1!

12/28/2013 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

I have to say something about Helen, she’s right around #1 in the list of people I admire: In her role as maintenance manager she was a class act, someone who quietly made the machinery hum and took care of the hard assets (buildings, equipment) and soft assets (the people in her department) of Costa Mesa with a work ethic second to none. In the last few years she was the living illustration of grace under pressure, and kind of like a very caring den mother to the employees she supervised. God bless her, and may she have a very satisfying retirement.

12/28/2013 09:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Atlas Shrunk said...

Thanks for the number update. I have used the other one for years (it was in my cell list) and never had a problem before.
New number inserted.

12/28/2013 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Helen is one of the most dedicated, hard working ladies I have met.
Robin is correct, Helen has shown us grace under fire and she's been a great mentor to many.
Thank you, Helen for your many years of service to our city and your dedication.
I wish you a very happy retirement, you certainly worked hard for it!
You will be missed.

12/30/2013 08:51:00 PM  

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