Community Commentary: I’m thankful for our wronged city employees

There are many things for which I’m thankful, as we approach Thanksgiving Day this year.

As always, my wonderful and patient wife of more than 44 years is right at the top of my list. She makes my life special with her love and support in all that we do.

Of course, I’m very thankful for my family and our cadre of dear friends who stay in touch with us and offer encouragement when we most need it.

And, I’m thankful for the opportunity to present my views of the world around us to the readers of my blog. I’m thankful for their support and comments — even those who disagree with me — because they usually enhance the debate of important issues.

This year, though, I’m especially thankful for a very special group of people, many of whom have become friends. I’m speaking of the Costa Mesa city employees.

For the past couple years, they’ve had to endure the uncertainty of this terrible economy. Some have lost their jobs, and all have had their wages frozen. They’ve watched the staff size shrink to levels not seen for more than two decades.

This year, however, has been a real test of their fortitude and loyalty, beginning with more than 200 of their compatriots receiving layoff notices on St. Patrick’s Day, which may have been the darkest day in the history of our city. Hundreds gathered that sad night to pay their respects to a fallen fellow employee. A few days later, more than a hundred residents encircled City Hall on a rainy day to stand in a silent vigil of support for the employees.

The employees have endured the chaos that has swirled around the actions of a City Council majority apparently determined, through outsourcing, to reduce the city staff to a handful of contract administrators charged with managing the contract employees who will eventually perform every job in the city — or so it seems.

The employees of Costa Mesa have seen and heard some of the elected leaders of our city and their appointees chide, vilify, demonize and belittle many of their friends and co-workers.

They’ve seen their revered long-time leader, City Manager Allan Roeder, retire and be replaced — if that is actually possible — by his loyal assistant, Tom Hatch. They then heard Hatch tell a group of their fellow-employees that “they” — meaning the City Council — don’t trust us — meaning the employees.

It must be difficult to stay focused on your job with that cloud of disrespect and uncertainty hanging over your head.

The employees watched as interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, a man with four decades of law enforcement under his belt and one of the most respected law enforcement leaders in California, abruptly ended in disgust of the city’s elected leaders his second tour as temporary chief in Costa Mesa. As he left he tossed a grenade of criticism of the council over his shoulder, saying, “They are, in my opinion, incompetent, unskilled and unethical.”

They’ve seen the management ranks decimated as many senior staffers chose to move on rather than tolerate the lack of respect and the systematic destruction of the city. They were replaced by consultants — mercenaries, whose fees were mind-boggling and their loyalties unclear.

They’ve seen some of their elected leaders attempt to break labor agreements rather than seek concessions from the employee group — actions which forced some employees to go to court to protect their rights. They’ve seen themselves castigated in the public press and from the council dais for that action by the men who caused the situation. They’ve seen their very livelihoods and careers placed in jeopardy to satisfy personal ambitions of a few hack politicians.

And yet they soldier on, doing their very best to provide the kind of service to which residents and visitors have become accustomed. They patch and sweep our streets, provide public safety and recreation programs, and perform all the other tasks that make Costa Mesa a great place in which to live, work and play. You have to admire them, because it’s hard to keep your nose to the grindstone while looking over your shoulder, waiting for the ax to fall at the same time.

But they do it with pride, poise and competence.

So, for all they have done and for all that they continue to do, I am particularly thankful this year for each and every employee of the city of Costa Mesa. Thank you all, and a very happy Thanksgiving.

GEOFF WEST is a Costa Mesa resident and author of A Bubbling Cauldron, a local blog.