Helen Nenadal: Culture change needed at Costa Mesa City Hall


Helen Nenadal, CMCEA president, recently wrote a commentary piece for the Daily Pilot. The article is a response to Daily Pilot writer Bradley Zint’s recent story on the “Espinoza Report,” which includes interviews with Costa Mesa employees and (all but one) Council members about the culture at City Hall. Read the original Costa Mesa Works post about the report by clicking here, and read Helen’s article for the Daily Pilot at this link, or below:

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.

(Photo: New York Times)

Report: Costa Mesa employees report low morale, toxic work environment

A long-awaited report that summarizes interviews of Costa Mesa employees by Chip Espinoza, expert on milennials in the workplace, was finally released to employees last night — months after a draft was first completed in June and after being sanitized by City
executives. The report confirms what employees have been feeling and saying for nearly three years – “[t]here 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

You can read a full copy of the report by clicking here.

The interviews, which were anonymous to encourage employees to disclose what they truly thought and felt, revealed a work force victimized by a repressive and dysfunctional culture. They were conducted in the wake of the Council’s decisions to lay off nearly half the city workforce and to propose a contract that slashes employee security, pay and rights. For example, employees listed among the problems they face a lack of leadership (“mistrust,” “not being backed up by management,” “uncertain about the direction we are going,” “there is no ‘big picture'”); lack of communication (“breakdown in communication with management,” “we are kept in the dark,” “hear about changes through peers”); a toxic work environment (“decision makers don’t care about us,” “we feel like we are always walking on eggshells,” “culture of distrust,” “adversarial climate between employees and management,” “decision makers don’t care about us”); and an unsupportive City Council (“employees are disposable,” “don’t feel valued,” “lack of respect for what we do,” “being attacked in the media”).

The report acknowledges the fact that “[t]here remains strong energy for positive change,” that “there remains a firm commitment to serve the citizens of Costa Mesa,” and that “[Costa Mesa employees] love their city and they want their city to love them – that means citizens, management, and council members.” And it concludes that the barriers to that still exist: “Most of what you are reading in this report is the result of the failure to create a safe environment in which people can change.”

Yet commitment to collaboration that benefits all Costa Mesa residents are values that Costa Mesa employees poured into our many bargaining proposals to partner with the City. The City’s employees are eager to partner with the city on initiatives to make Costa Mesa more efficient and transparent. We want to go back to a place of collaboration and trust through all levels of City government. Unfortunately, so far, the City Council’s approach at the table has continued to be adversarial. They refuse to move away from proposals that would undermine financial security and rights for employees who have already been through so much and who clearly feel attacked on a daily basis. The City’s employees demonstrated true leadership in sharing their opinions with the City’s consultant in a climate where they continue to feel so much fear.

Hopefully it was not for nothing. Hopefully the Council and management will take the Espinoza Report to heart, acknowledge the amount of damage that has been done, and commit to the rebuilding work that must be done. A good start would be for the City to reconsider its extreme negotiations proposals and instead engage employees at the bargaining table in a way that promotes a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and mutual trust and respect. “That future is not possible without a commitment from every individual to move from self-protecting to self-giving,” the report says. “Trust must be established. It requires suspending feelings of the past and acting on hope for the future.” We’re there. Is the City Council?

City rejects employee transparency reform proposal

The City of Costa Mesa on Monday rejected transparency and lobbying reforms proposed by city employees during its third round of contract negotiations.

The City employees’ proposal would have required City Council members to disclose discussions with lobbyists and donations by campaign contributors before voting on contracts that could benefit those lobbyists and contributors.

“We are disappointed that the City Council majority once again rejected transparency reforms designed to protect taxpayers from corruption in public contracting,” CMCEA President Helen Nenadal said.

The City also changed its initial proposal to cut City employee salaries. Under the City’s amended proposal, approximately 65 percent of current employees would see a salary cut of 7.5%. Newly hired employees would start their jobs at the City at an approximately 7.5% lower wage. And about 35% of current employees would see an immediate salary cut of 2.5%.

“City employees are committed to partnering with the City to deliver the most effecient and high quality services for the public,” Nenadal said. “Unfortunately, the City’s proposal to unnecessarily slash salaries only shows the Council is more interested in continuing its political attacks on employees than working together to deliver the best services at the best value to Costa Mesa residents.”

Click here to read the City’s full amended proposal.

Why won’t the City Council majority expand transparency and accountability measures?

costamesaworks_lobbyistWhen government is transparent, it is more accountable.

That’s why CMCEA supports the intent behind the City Counci’s COIN ordinance. And it’s also why we have never understood why last year, when adopting COIN, the Council majority at the same time rejected additional transparency reforms that would protect how taxpayer dollars are spent and shine a light on how lobbyists and campaign contributors leverage influence at City Hall.

So, during bargaining this year, we proposed a measure that’s similar to an initiative Councilwoman Wendy Leece championed in 2012. Simply put, the Transparency, Disclosure and Accountability article would require City Council members to disclose communications and campaign contributions from potential contractors and lobbyists BEFORE they vote to award a contract with those contractors and lobbyists.

That just makes common sense: The public should know what is happening behind the scenes that influences the decisions elected officials make.

Current law does not require the Council to disclose conversations with lobbyists. And even though they do ultimately report campaign contributions, those reports often don’t surface for months after a vote, leaving the public in the dark at the time decisions are actually made.

Transparency can only help build faith in government—something the City Council and City employees both support. And by shining a light on how lobbying works, it will be more difficult for special interests to manipulate politicians to receive contracts that may not be the best deal for taxpayers.

If you would like to read more about the specific provisions of our proposal, click here.

How the economic collapse is still affecting families in Costa Mesa and beyond

As the Costa Mesa City Council goes into closed session tomorrow to discuss their thoughts on our bargaining proposal to partner with the City, we wanted to  share this important story that ran in the LA Times on Sunday about how families are faring five years after the massively destructive 2008 Wall Street crash.

At the table last week, the City’s lead negotiator told City employees that as much as a 20 percent pay cut and massive reduction in sick leave would not have a significant impact to their families.

The story in the LA Times illustrates why those statements are so wrong. Increasingly, families across this Country are struggling as the economy struggles to recover. Many of our members are now taking care of elderly parents who lost their savings in the crash or supporting children who have graduated from college but who have still not found adequate work. Some are now the sole breadwinners in their households as the State’s jobless rate continues to remain high.

A deep pay cut would force some to make impossible choices: Do we buy groceries or medicine? Pay tuition or the mortgage?

Slashing sick pay so deeply could spell the difference between financial ruin or a recoverable hurdle for a family who has a sick child, parent or breadwinner.

The family in this story is just like many of the families who work for the City of Costa Mesa. The sole breadwinner in this household is a teacher who, just like the Costa Mesa employees, has a modest salary, retirement benefits, sick leave and health care plan.

The City’s employees believe there is a better way than the slash and burn attack the Council has proposed. We want to partner with the City to deliver the highest quality, most efficient services in Orange County. We will continue to pay increasingly more toward our retirements and help the City make common-sense changes to sick pay. Most importantly, we want to partner with the City to make it more transparent and accountable to the residents we serve.

The Mayor has said he does not want to partner with the City’s employees. It’s hard for us to understand why engaging with employees, treating them with respect and dignity, and partnering with them to make an efficient and accountable government could be anything but extremely positive for the residents of Costa Mesa. We hope you agree.

A call for greater transparency

In case you missed it, last week, the Orange County Register ran a news story about the COIN ordinance and how it may affect contract negotiations.

The Register also ran an editorial by Helen Nenadal describing how COIN should be expanded to infuse transparency into the City’s public contracting practices. For example, before voting on a contract, City officials should disclose who lobbied them and any campaign contributions they may have received from the bidders or their lobbyists.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece proposed an ordinance that would acheive these reforms, but the Council majority inexplicably voted it down. (The Mayor submitted an editorial as part of the Register’s coverage, but did not explain why he voted against expanding COIN to include public contracting.)

This morning, a Voice of OC story about more unanswered questions related to the City’s 60th Anniversary celebration illustrates why transparency in public contracting is so important. This is just one more example about why the City’s employees stand for true transparency at City Hall.

What a real return to “normal” looks like

In case you missed it, the Daily Pilot on Sunday ran a great editorial by CMCEA President Helen Nenadal addressing Mayor Jim Righeimer’s distorted concept of “normal,” and reiterating what real collaboration between City employees, the Council and the community has historically looked like.

Read Helen’s full commentary here.

The editorial was written in response to a piece published by the mayor mischaracterizing the City’s draconian bargaining proposal as an attempt to return Costa Mesa to “normal.”

But employees who have been with the City for decades know that what the mayor described is not normal at all — it’s a radical political attack based on ideology, not what’s best for the residents of our great community.


Leading the way toward leaner benefits?

Last week, in a Daily Pilot story about the City of Costa Mesa’s contact negotiations with its rank-and-file employees, Mayor Jim Righeimer held up CEO Tom Hatch as an example of leading the way toward leaner benefits.

Since the dedicated employees of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association were the first to achieve pension reform – long before executives eventually followed suit – and since they do not receive many of the perks included in executive compensation packages, we thought it would be useful to show how Mr. Hatch’s compensation package compares to what the City has proposed for its lowest paid workers, the members of CMCEA.

For good measure, we also added the City’s executive benefit package. As you can see from the chart below, Mr. Hatch continues to enjoy much richer benefits than what the City is proposing for its rank and file employees, including 80-120 hours of executive leave in addition to his vacation and sick leave banks.


Retired CM Police Captain: “Community doesn’t need divisive leadership”

Retired Costa Mesa Police Captain Allen Huggins recently spoke out about how a politically motivated and adversarial approach to dealing with City employees can negatively impact the community.

His comments were published this week on the community blog, A Bubbling Cauldron, in response to an article about how politics are harming police officer recruitment that was published in the Daily Pilot (Update: The comments first appeared in the comments section of the Daily Pilot story). Here are just a few excerpts. Visit A Bubbling Cauldron to read his full comments.

“There is a significant issue with attracting quality personnel to the (Police) Department, and there has been shortly since the Righeimer and Mensinger were elected and appointed, respectfully. The Department has also been experiencing an exodus that is unprecedented. While there are a variety of reasons, it would be unreasonable to believe there isn’t a connection between the tenor the City Council has set, under the tutelage of the current majority, and the personnel difficulties the Police Department has been and is facing.”

Captain Huggins went on to write that “the economic environment dictates that all expenditures be reviewed, including salary and benefit packages. What isn’t necessary is the rhetoric the City Council majority likes to inject into discussions.” 

The City’s rank and file employees agree that there is a much better way to work collaboratively to improve efficiency, reduce costs and deliver the best services in Orange County. Our proposals, in contrast to the City Council majority’s attempt to completely destroy the years of consensus that are represented in the current contract, will reflect that common-sense approach.

Thank you for reading. And thank you, Captain Huggins, for speaking out.


Our promise: Transparency, accountability and common sense

Welcome to our website!


We are your Costa Mesa City employees.

We are proud to be a part of the Costa Mesa family. We promote a community-first, common-sense approach to tackling the city’s challenges. And we proactively participate—at work and during our free time—in projects that help strengthen our great community.

As we enter into contract negotiations this year, we also reaffirm our commitment to transparency and accountability in all we do. Costamesaworks.com is a space for us to share updates from the bargaining table, insights into how things work at City Hall, and news involving the City’s great employees.

Thank you for reading,

Helen Nenadal
President, Costa Mesa City Employees Association