Friday, March 18, 2011 | A Costa Mesa employee jumped to his death from the roof of City Hall Thursday, the day he and more than 200 other city workers were issued layoff notices.
The victim was identified as 29-year-old Huy Pham, a maintenance worker who had been with the city for more than four years. Two witnesses, who were not city employees, saw Pham jump and called police. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pham was one of 213 employees issued layoff notices Thursday by the city as part of a massive outsourcing effort in response to a $1.4 million budget deficit.
“He was very dedicated, went above and beyond — a very talented young man,” said Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, of Pham.
Pham, a Fountain Valley resident, had been off work because of a broken ankle, but was called in the early afternoon to receive his layoff notice.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece was on the grounds of City Hall after Pham’s death, hugging employees, crying with them. “My heart goes out to the families,” Leece said. “It’s a tragedy — we are like a family here.”
Costa Mesa Police Lt. Bryan Glass had similar sentiments. “We are a tight-knit family,” Glass said. “We will provide employees with the resources they need to get through this difficult time.”
Two weeks ago, the City Council, under a new ideologically driven Republican majority, voted to begin studying outsourcing nearly half of the city’s operations, including fire protection, IT services, animal control and maintenance, Pham’s department.
Leece, the only council member to vote against the outsourcing, said she had implored her fellow council members to delay action on the notices. She said the city did not have anywhere near the preparations necessary for a layoff this size adding it was not handled in a professional manner.
“This was way too fast, I’ve been saying this for weeks,” she said. “We didn’t need to do this.”
Pham’s suicide, she said, is a clear signal that the City Council should slow the process down. “I hope they rescind the pink slips and come back and do their homework.”
Nenadal said Pham did not attend a meeting held earlier in the day to provide information to workers about the layoffs.
Though devastated by Pham’s death, Nenadal said it did not surprise her. She said she had a meeting about the layoffs with Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan on Tuesday and expressed serious concerns about the health and welfare of employees.
“He didn’t seem too concerned,” Nenandal said.
Monahan was interviewed about Pham’s death by a Voice of OC reporter Thursday evening outside his bar, “Skosh Monahan’s,” in Costa Mesa.
As the reporter approached, Monahan laughed and said “next,” having just finished an interview with another reporter. Then the mayor, who was dressed in folksy Irish attire, yelled “woo-hoo — it’s St. Patricks Day!”
When asked specifically about Pham’s death, Monahan said: “My heart goes out to the family. It’s tragic — I don’t know how to express more sympathy.”
He did not answer directly when asked about the meeting with Nenadal, saying that the city has always offered “counseling services” to city employees, and urged them to take advantage of those services offered by the city.
Although Monahan didn’t go to City Hall in the hours immediately after the suicide, dozens of others did, including a number of city employees who knew Pham. They gathered throughout the late afternoon as police guarded a large, cordoned off area on the east side of the grounds.
They stood in small groups — hugging, crying, venting. Several in the crowd could not conceal their anger.
“How far can they push somebody?” asked retired maintenance worker Mike Moran. “Tell City Council to get rid of their wages.”
Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Association said Costa Mesa represents the “new normal” for American workers.
“This is horrible, do you see this?” Muir said. “This is what happens when you dismantle a city.”
Those at the scene before Voice of OC reporters arrived said a group jeered councilmen Jim Righeimer and Stephen Mensinger — the Republican members of City Council most associated with the push for layoffs — when they arrived.
Righeimer and Mensinger, who witnesses said were escorted by police off of the council grounds, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Nick Berardino, General Manager of the Orange County Employees Association, had to be physically restrained by the police chief while he was scolding the city’s CEO for the handling of the layoff. Later, Berardino confronted Monahan at his bar.
“I’m just an old Vietnam-Vet Marine that still can’t stomach losing one of our own,” Berardino said.
Pham was unmarried and did not have children, but supported his mother said fellow employees.
Billy Folsom, a co-worker, said Pham, like many employees was “distraught and distressed…he was upset with the way city council was demonizing him,” Folsom said. “He said ‘why are we the bad guys?’”
Folsom added: “Everybody is depressed about the way this has been handled.”
Henry Granados, a street sweeper, said he attended classes with Pham at Orange Coast College. He said he believes the suicide was related to the layoff.
“I never thought it would get to this for everybody,” Granados said.