Commentary: Not a good way to build trust with workers

Re. “Study describes distrust within city, but finds hope,” (Oct. 10): I read with personal interest Bradley Zint’s recent article about Costa Mesa’s attempt to “connect” with its employees by hiring an expert to interview them about what is good and bad about the municipal culture at City Hall.

The “Espinoza Report,” as it has come to be referred to by city employees, confirms what employees have been feeling and saying for nearly three years, that there “is strong sentiment that the city of Costa Mesa has slipped from being an employer of choice to an employer that simply does not care about its employees.”

According to CEO Tom Hatch, this was an effort to bring city employees, executives and the council together for a fresh start after what has clearly been a three-year period of workplace turmoil in the wake of pink slips and political attacks against workers.

Although skeptical, employees carefully thawed to the efforts of Chip Espinoza, a management consultant, and provided him with sufficient insight to carve a positive path forward. Employees actually held out hope that those in charge might be open to listening for a change.

Four months after it had been completed, the city finally emailed the report to employees late one afternoon. The employees didn’t see the original report, but rather a version revised for “tone” and changed to omit the fact that one city councilman didn’t bother to participate in the process at all.

In other words, the report was revised to make the City Council and executives look like they care about employees when it’s clear to us they don’t.

Morale among employees is so low that to repair it would take a culture change at City Hall — a change that would need to be embraced by every member of the City Council and promoted by every member of the city’s executive ranks.

The Espinoza report appropriately indicates that city employees are ready and hopeful to meet that challenge. But we can’t do it alone.

The CEO had a perfect opportunity to begin to restore trust with employees, and what did he do? Let their words and opinions sit on his desk for months, and as every day went by, the opportunity withered and trust eroded.

We believe there is a better way, and we are going to continue trying to partner with the city on initiatives that improve efficiency, service and culture in our great community. Please join us in urging the City Council to do the same.

HELEN NENADAL is president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn.