Monday, March 17, 2014


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This afternoon, at 4:30 p.m., a small cadre of residents plan to gather at the employee entrance on the East side of City Hall - the site where Huy Pham lost his life three years ago - to hold a small remembrance service.  I hope you will join me there to pay your respects to that young man and to contemplate the future of our city.

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.

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Blogger Gericault said...

Has it really only been three years? Seems longer. They sure have done a lot of damage in three years.
The are some in this city that approve of Righeimers dismantling of the municipal employees. They applaud every time someone leaves and "abandons ship. It's almost a game to them. They hate Unions, they hate the employees.
The city is not doing a better job than it doing almost everything across the board, from park maintenance, to building inspections...worse. Everything is costing us more.. We hire consultant after consultant , yet we have no continuity or loyalty from the hired guns. A few have even been made permanent, replacing those they consulted out of jobs.
Where is there value in this? We pay through the nose for shoddier service, but can be rest assured that no hard working employees will be making a decent retirement? How can anyone feel right about that?

3/17/2014 07:27:00 AM  
Anonymous apple said...

I am no longer living the nightmare of working for the City of Costa Mesa; however, the horror of that day still resonates with me each time I think of the City. The weeks following the suicide were unimaginable for employees. The City Council was insensitive to the emotional duress of the employees.

My most vivid memory of indifference by Council Members was an event I witnessed. On one of the days following Huy’s suicide, Claire Flynn, (Planner, Development Services) placed a beautiful bouquet of flowers, with little cloth butterflies intertwined in the flowers on the cement outside the backdoor. I watched her delicately place it as if Huy was still lying there in slumber. An hour later as I was leaving for lunch, I noticed the flowers were missing. I discovered them in the trashcan outside the back entrance. I was told by maintenance, that they were instructed by Steve Mensinger to throw the flowers away.

My heart sank that day and my faith that things would ever be okay with City Council were shattered in that instance and the many more that followed.

3/17/2014 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

In all my 47 years as a resident of Costa Mesa, never have I experienced such rancor and division amongst us in this "fair" city. My heart aches at what "apple" shared above. Flowers in the trash can? Ugly, ugly, ugly!!!!!

3/17/2014 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Steve Mensinger is a boy with no conscience and no soul.
This very act, to callously disregard the grief and pain of Huy's death by his coworkers is typical of this guy.
I'm sorry you were one of our valued employees who left. I understand the reasons why.

I too placed flowers at that site in the days following Huy's suicide. I asked one of the city employees if the flowers would remain there. He said they could be removed because "one of the councilmen says it is a slipping hazard to have them there.". I looked at him and asked "seriously, what's the reason?". He smiled weakly, waved and left not wanting to incriminate himself. The bullying and intimidation of our city employees had already begun and continues to this day.

The biggest tribute we can pay Huy Pham is to get rid of the lying crooks who occupy our CM City Council and fifth floor of our CM City Hall.

3/17/2014 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well it was wrong the way Messinger handled this but his time is coming. As the Fish and game get closer to the contractor who was instructed to install the path we will see some fire works. Pay back is a bitch.

3/17/2014 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Skeptical in Costa Mesa said...

Personally, I'm more than ready for this moron messinger to see payback. The guy is a self righteous phony a-hole who only cares about enriching himself and the h-e-double toothpicks with the rest. He better be savings up his lunch $. There's a large attorney bill and refund to the city for clean up costs coming his way!

3/17/2014 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Boy, they're out with campaign guns a'blazin. First McCarthy and Righeimer editorials in the Pilot last week, and now another from Sesler online today. Who's next, Monahan?

What a lovable bunch.

3/17/2014 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Mike McNiff wrote:

"Boy, they're out with campaign guns a'blazin. First McCarthy and Righeimer editorials in the Pilot last week, and now another from Sesler online today. Who's next, Monahan?"

It's a classic Confederacy of Dunces.

How despicable that Sesler's DP commentary, excreting Riggy's propaganda, comes out on the anniversary of Huy Pham's death. A death that was triggered by the wrongful acts of Sesler's masters.

3/17/2014 07:16:00 PM  

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