Commentary: Mayor's concept of 'normal' is not

Re. "Commentary: Costa Mesa needs 'a return to normal'" (Aug. 18): I read with concern Mayor Jim Righeimer's recent commentary in the Daily Pilot.

As a longtime Costa Mesa city employee I share the mayor's sentiment — every City Council member, every employee and every resident would benefit from a return to normal. The problem, of course, is that the mayor's concept of "normal" is completely distorted.

The vision of "normal" the mayor describes has at its foundation an extreme agenda based far more on political ideology than on a return to the way Costa Mesa has operated at any time in its past.

Aside from advancing a fringe political agenda, the mayor's version of "normal" involves discrediting anyone who disagrees with him, from the residents who line up to speak at City Council meetings to the staff who are the true experts in delivering quality services to residents.

That's not leadership, it's not reflective of the Costa Mesa I have known and served for more than 30 years, and I don't think most Costa Mesa residents share his view.

So here's what a "return to normal" might look like to me, and to the other rank-and-file Costa Mesa employees who every day devote themselves to serving our community.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where employees are viewed by elected representatives and management as regular people with families and responsibilities, rather than as disposable parts.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where the City Council majority doesn't issue mass layoff notices to employees before doing even a cursory evaluation as to whether their jobs could or should be outsourced.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where employees don't have to fear being tracked down by a city councilman telling them (usually incorrectly) how to do their jobs.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where members of the City Council don't coerce employees and their supervisors into ignoring long-established priorities and giving pet projects preferential treatment.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where the workplace culture promoted openness, mutual support and teamwork, not secrecy, scapegoating and favoritism.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where employees and management work together in good faith to confront and fairly address economic and service-related challenges faced by the city.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa where the City Council majority leads by positive example rather than autocratic directive.

Normal would be a Costa Mesa City Council majority characterized by honesty, civility and mutual respect rather than disingenuousness, sarcasm and self-interest.

Normal would also be a contract proposal to employees that genuinely attempts to constructively engage us in a positive way.

In the past, Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. employees have consistently responded positively when called upon to help, and this year would be no different.

For example, in 2004 we were the first employees to agree to contribute toward our retirement. We increased our retirement contributions in 2008 and created a less expensive new tier for new hires. That same year, we saw the size of our workforce reduced by more than 70 employees.

In 2009-10, we agreed to furloughs, which resulted in a 5% across-the-board wage reduction in that fiscal year. In July and August of 2010, we had 22 members laid off, nine members reduced from full-to part-time status, and seven members demoted, due to elimination of their positions. In 2010-11, we agreed to pay even more toward our retirement and suspended our retirement health savings plan.

And how has Mayor Righeimer acknowledged those shared sacrifices? Wall-to-wall pink slips, ongoing threats, two and a half years of uncertainty, constant attempts to instigate community sentiment against us and a contract offer which seasoned professionals, from both management and labor, see as hostile, vindictive and extreme.

Historically, Costa Mesa's employees have been fair, reasonable and consistently collaborative. That's the normal we know, and that's the normal we are eager and willing to return to.

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

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