Orange city manager critical of Costa Mesa

In a memo meant to reassure his employees, the city manager of Orange questioned and criticized the way Costa Mesa City Hall issued layoff notices to nearly half of its workforce, according to a copy of the letter obtained Thursday by the Daily Pilot.

"I know that we have all been affected in one way or another by the tragic events in the city of Costa Mesa," Orange City Manager John Sibley wrote in a Tuesday memo to employees that addressed the suicide of a Costa Mesa maintenance worker expecting a layoff notice. "I don't pretend to know all the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Huy Pham nor can I affix blame on the leadership of that city.

"I can, however, question the wisdom and manner of their actions, and it is a reminder to all of us about the importance of treating people with dignity and respect."

Sibley's memo also says that, regrettably, he will need more sacrifices from his employees. Orange is facing a $10-million budget shortfall.

"I can assure you, however, that those adjustments and changes will be made through a reasoned process, and I will do everything I can to prevent the type of actions that gave rise to the traumatic situation that our colleagues in the city of Costa Mesa are dealing with," he wrote.

Costa Mesa officials disagreed with the Orange administrator's characterization of events.

"I think [Sibley's] comments are misplaced," said Councilman Steve Mensinger. "Not knowing the facts and not being Costa Mesa city manager, I don't think I would presuppose or project on that city council any of my own opinions without knowing the facts."

"I'm very disappointed with that city manager," he added.

In a phone interview, Sibley said he meant only to reassure Orange employees that he and the council were doing their due diligence with their city budget.

"In terms of Costa Mesa experience, I don't know anything about Costa Mesa, about what they went through, their problems are," he said. "They're like every other city and have very high CalPERS (pension) costs. My intent was to reassure my employees we are going through a process and that council has directed that process."

Sibley also said that employees in Orange were affected by the suicide in Costa Mesa.

"We're all touched by the tragedy," he said. "It triggered in me a reminder that we want to treat everyone here the way we want to be treated. This council always wants to recognize the work their employees put in."

In an e-mail to the Orange City Council on Thursday, Orange County Rescue Mission President Jim Palmer called Sibley's letter an indictment of Costa Mesa and accused him of using Pham's death to curry favor with his city's employees.

"I was not happy when I read the memo," said Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche. "I felt it was extremely inappropriate that anyone from the city of Orange make comments of another city council. I think it would've been appropriate to ask the employees to pray and have their thoughts for the city of Costa Mesa … he now understands that city-wide memos will be run through the council before they're sent out."

Costa Mesa earned national attention March 17. When city officials were distributing more than 200 layoff notices to city employees, Pham, a city maintenance worker who was also going to receive a notice, jumped to his death from City Hall.

The notices tell employees that in six months, their jobs will be outsourced to outside companies to stave off future budget deficits. Costa Mesa city officials are searching for outside companies to take over the city services in the meantime. If they can't find a suitable replacement, the layoff notices could be rescinded.

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