The mayor of this Southern California city says a municipal workers' union took a photo of him celebrating St. Patrick's Day less than two hours after an employee apparently jumped to his death because it was seeking to embarrass him.
Mayor Gary Monahan said Friday that he had not yet learned of Huy Pham's death when a union official took the photo of Monahan wearing a kilt and greeting customers in the bar that he owns.
"Before I was informed of yesterday's incident, the union decided to take despicable advantage of this tragic situation to advance their agenda," Monahan said. "Had I known what transpired, I never would have agreed to pose for photos or engage in any revelry."
But Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, said Monahan acknowledged the 29-year-old's apparent suicide before the photo was taken.
"I asked him, 'How can you be out here doing this when only 90 minutes ago, one of your employees committed suicide, jumped off a building,'" Berardino said. "His response was, 'I know that was a tragedy, but I own a business and I have to keep my business open.'"
Pham, a maintenance worker, plunged from the roof of the five-story Civic Center on Thursday, about an hour after he was called in to work to receive the pink slip. He was one of 213 city employees — nearly half the city's work force — who were to be notified of layoffs that day.
His death heightened the strain over the city council's decision this month to outsource 18 city services to other government or private agencies. Union representatives and some of Pham's coworkers blamed the layoffs for his death.
"I feel as if the council and their quick-acting decisions pushed (him) over the edge," coworker Daniel Jojola told the Los Angeles Times at the makeshift shrine of candles and flowers where Pham died.
A message left with the city manager's office was not immediately returned.
Investigators were talking to people who may have had contact with Pham before his apparent suicide, police Lt. Bryan Glass said.
"We're trying to understand the circumstances that led to it," Glass said.
Efforts by state and local governments to stop budget bleeding have sparked job fears among thousands of public workers. School districts in California have issued at least 19,000 layoff notices to teachers and other employees, according to the California Teachers Association.
The cost-cutting efforts sparked fights nationwide, most notably in Wisconsin, where a judge has temporarily blocked a new state law that strips most public workers of nearly all their collective-bargaining rights.
That measure was approved last week after a three-week stalemate during which Senate Democrats fled to prevent a vote and tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the measure.
In Costa Mesa, some city workers accused the council of not attempting to work with employees to bring down costs. Monahan also came under criticism even before the photo surfaced, for not coming to City Hall after Pham's death.
The mayor said in his statement he decided to stay away from the scene of tense exchanges between workers and city officials after checking with two council members who were there.
"After learning of the volatility of the situation, I realized that my presence could further inflame and escalate the situation and decided not to visit City Hall," Monahon said.