Costa Mesa city employee jumps to death at City Hall

COSTA MESA — Not long after Costa Mesa began issuing layoff notices Thursday afternoon, a 29-year-old city maintenance worker in line to lose his job jumped to his death from the roof of City Hall, police said.

Huy Pham, of Fountain Valley, hadn't yet received a layoff notice but was on the city's list to get one, police said. Pham had worked for the city for about four years, those who knew him said.

City officials distributed more than 200 layoff notices Thursday as part of a restructuring of the city to address looming pension costs.

Police said Pham jumped off the rooftop's southeast corner at 3:20 p.m.His body was covered in a yellow tarp on the east side of the five-story building at 77 Fair Drive until late in the afternoon.

As news of the suicide spread, city employees could be seen tearfully consoling each other. Others lashed out at the City Council and blamed its members, who want to outsource more city services to shore up ailing city finances, for Pham's death.

"This is something that could've been avoided," said Helen Nenedal, a friend of Pham and president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. "Basically, we're a very tight family here in the city. We have over 100 employees with 20-plus years here. In this crisis we all came together."

"But the mayor chose not to show up here; he's not part of the family," she added.

Mayor Gary Monahan released an official statement. He was working the St. Patrick's Day shift at his bar, Skosh Monahan's, when the suicide occurred.

"Our hearts and prayers are with the family, friends and co-workers during this tragic time," Monahan said in his statement. "In addition, crisis counselors have been brought in immediately to provide support to the City Hall family and will continue to be on-site for as long as needed."

Some of the employees at the scene had angry words for council members who came to the scene. One man cursed at Chief Executive Tom Hatch, the new title for city manager. Others had to be held back from rushing the council members, Nenedal said.

The council is pursuing an outsourcing strategy to reduce pension and payroll costs.

"It's a profound tragedy," said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn. "Everyone talks about the new normal. This is the new normal. When hardworking people come to work and their lives and livelihoods are destroyed."

Pham was unmarried and had no children.

"He was an outstanding guy with many talents," Nenedal said. "He was a hard worker, went above and beyond."

Nenedal said employees were repeatedly told in the last few months that they could seek professional help if they needed to talk to someone about the looming layoffs.

Workers who received the notices were not necessarily going to be laid off, city officials have said, but the city is required to give notice well in advance if it eventually decides to outsource the positions.

Councilman Steve Mensinger arrived at City Hall shortly after police taped off the area and consoled employees. He declined to comment.

Layoff notices distributed Thursday informed employees that their jobs would be outsourced to a private company six months from now. City officials conceded that if they could not find a private service to replace city staff, they could rescind the notices.

Mourners continued to stream in Thursday evening. Councilwoman Wendy Leece and other supporters showed up with flowers and candles. She was joined by former Mayor Sandy Genis and school board Trustee Katrina Foley, who brought food.

"We said a prayer for his family and for all of our residents and employees that God will comfort us," Leece said. "Others brought candles and flowers. We put them here by the stairs. We are all in shock."

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