COSTA MESA — One year ago today, the city of Costa Mesa issued 213 layoff notices to general and fire department employees. At approximately 3:30 in the afternoon Huy Pham, a 29 year-old maintenance worker, climbed the stairs to the roof of City Hall and jumped to his death. Pham had been waiting to meet with his supervisor, after being called in from medical leave, to receive his layoff notice.
Huy Pham’s suicide launched a firestorm of coverage of the effort, led by Councilman Jim Righeimer, to contract out as many city jobs as possible and bust the small Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA) the union representing general city workers. Pham’s suicide became a symbol and call to action to thousands of Costa Mesa residents to push back and save their city employees and preserve the quality services they deliver.
The most glaring symbol of arrogance among the members of the council majority was demonstrated by, the then Mayor, Councilman Gary Monahan. The layoff notices were issued on St. Parick’s Day, the busiest day of year for Monahan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, Skosh Monahan’s.
Monahan had not visited city hall after learning of Pham’s suicide, apparently too busy getting dressed up in his spiffy green kilt, bow tie, and head scarf to be bothered with such unpleasantries. Orange County Employee’s Association (OCEA) General Manager Nick Berardino paid Monahan a visit at his pub to see why he wasn’t at city hall. OCEA represents CMCEA employees on employee relations and contract matters.
Berardino asked Monahan if he was aware that one of his city employees had committed suicide a couple hours earlier after receiving his layoff notice. Monahan said he was.
Then Berardino asked why he had not paid a visit to city hall? Monahan’s callous response says a lot about the character of Costa Mesa’s Mayor.
“I’m a businessman. I hire and fire people every day,” Monahan told Berardino.
Since this tragic day, the city has spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to trash Huy Pham as a drug addict and employee with performance problems protected by the employee union the council wants to destroy. The city council majority has hired underqualified and overpaid consultants to spin the city message in the aftermath of Pham’s suicide. The city communications consultant (recently hired as Director of Communications), Bill Lobdell has jumped through hoops to prop up council members Monahan and Righeimer and their efforts, while tearing down, or simply ignoring, the efforts of Council member Wendy Leece to oppose the rash and brazen assault on the city’s dedicated workforce.
Today, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote their campaign, Jim Righeimer and his fellow boys on the council, Gary Monahan, Eric Bever, and unelected council member Stephen Mensinger, have mired the city in legal battles which have exposed the reality that the City is not going broke because of their employee costs. Their claims that the city is broke have been proven untrue. Their claims that contracting out most city jobs will save money have no supporting evidence. In fact, the cost of contracting out city jobs on such a wide scale could cost the city as much as $31.5 million per year for ten years in additional pension costs. Their rush to issue layoff notices was unnecessary, and their true motivations have become more and more clear.
Because they lost their initial battle to immediately layoff hundreds of workers, Righeimer and his boys are attempting to cram a city charter initiative down the throats of Costa Mesa voters so they can bypass the state laws preventing them from doing whatever they want to do. Dozens of city residents have addressed the council over the past year, urging that the majority slow down their outsourcing efforts and the Charter initiative process. Righeimer and crew have refused to consider any modification of their plans.
The proposed initiative may not make it to the ballot in June as planned because of the failure of the city to file required paperwork to the Registrar of Voters on time. City Attorney Tom Duarte has vowed to go to court to get a judge to bend the rules and place the measure on the June ballot.
“The City’s position is that the decision on whether to put the charter measure on the ballot should not be determined by a clerical error,” Duarte said in his written press statement.
What is clear from the statement released by Duarte is that he plans to pass the buck and placed the blame on the City Clerk for his failure to ensure that all deadlines were met.
Since Righeimer has already vowed to take his city charter measure to voters again in November if it didn’t pass in June, it is likely he will move it forward in November if Duarte’s court challenge is not successful.
It was one year ago that I became a community activist and a blogger for TheLiberalOC. It began when I heard about what happened at City Hall on Facebook less than an hour after it happened. As I watched the news unfold that day, and listened with disgust at the reaction of the Mayor as he partied at his bar with callous disregard not only for the employees who’d been given their pink slips, but the death of one of those employees by suicide at City Hall. I decided that I had to get involved somehow and with out any real clue how that would be, I went to Google to look for some kind of liberal organization or publication that would point me in the right direction. I sent a sample blog into TheLiberalOC and was accepted as a new blogger.
I became a citizen who became actively involved in the fight against, what I consider to be, the destruction of the quality of life in Costa Mesa by the four male members of our city council. Many citizens, and despite what the council boys would have us believe not just union members and members of their families, began taking on the job activism for the cause of saving our city. It has been inspiring to see. I will never forget that first council meeting after the tragedy that I attended with my daughter. Seeing one citizen after another, on both the left and right of political spectrum stand up and speak out LOUDLY and STRONGLY expressing their anger with the council majority over what had occurred and what was unfolding because of their actions.
While I would like to celebrate in some small way my one year anniversary at TheLiberalOC, that desire is over shadowed by what this anniversary date also is—the date our city council members sunk to a new low in behavior in the face of tragedy. This date in history represents the cost of their arrogance, and unbridled lust to tear the city to pieces in pursuit of an extremist right-wing political agenda.
The anniversary of the release of 213 layoff notices and Huy Pham’s tragic death reminds all of us of the price the community of Costa Mesa has paid because of the arrogance of four boys on the Costa Mesa City Council.
One year later, the battle is far from over.
Editor’s Note: There have been several acknowledgements of this anniversary published in local publications. Below is a list of what we are aware. if our readers are aware of others, please let us all know in a comment to this post.
A Bubbling Cauldron:
Voice of OC:
The Daily Pilot: