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Study describes distrust within city, but finds hope

Consultant's interviews with Costa Mesa workers show 'energy for positive change,' willingness to be 'part of solution' at every management level.

October 10, 2013|By Bradley Zint | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

A new city study indicates that while Costa Mesa's municipal workforce feels disheartened at work, there is still momentum for positive changes.

The 10-page report by Chip Espinoza, a Trabuco Canyon-based management consultant, was posted Thursday on CostaMesaWorks.com, the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. website that also contains the union's side of the ongoing contract negotiations.

The survey, a compilation of interviews with some 300 employees, comes during a historically contentious time in the city, with a City Council majority seeking to reduce rising employment costs and unfunded pension obligations, and instead reinvest in capital improvement projects. The council majority has often clashed with union leaders who want to maintain their members' benefits.

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The report reflects "nothing surprising," given the overall disenchantment arising in recent years that have seen more than 200 layoff notices — which, city officials have noted, were later rescinded and actually led to only a handful of layoffs — plus the outsourcing of some city services, various budget cuts and an overall "confronting the status quo."

The report, titled "City of Costa Mesa Listening Exercise Report," is "the first step toward a preferred future," Espinoza wrote. "The second step will be to embrace it, sit with it, and commit to doing something about it."

Espinoza does warn, however, that "The report's power will be severely compromised if turned into a tool for creating discord or greater polarization" — a point also stressed by city CEO Tom Hatch, who addressed the findings in an email sent Wednesday afternoon to the council and employees.

"While we are an incredibly productive organization with efficient service delivery, we need to improve and build greater trust and cohesion for long-term sustainability and general health," Hatch wrote. "We all want to be part of a healthy organization that prides itself on quality services and innovation."

On its website, the employee association, which represents about 200 municipal workers, called the report indicative of "low morale" and a "toxic work environment."

"The report confirms what employees have been feeling and saying for nearly three years ... [it] revealed a workforce victimized by a repressive and dysfunctional culture," the site states, calling it a "sanitized" version of the draft completed in June.

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