Impression about US leadership, Case study: Costa Mesa Sanitary District (CMSD)

During the two week staying in Costa Mesa Sanitary District, I have observed 10 good leadership styles of the organization. I would like to share with other fellows about this good lessons learnt.

  1. Accountability/Transparency

Public disclosure of Board of Director Meeting

Every once a month, Costa Mesa Sanitary District (CMSD) will have a Board of Directors Meeting where most of the CMSD staffs, attorney and the members of Board of Director seat together discussing about the work progress, matter of public comments, issues to be solved and discuss further action plan. The entire meeting is recorded for a video and disclose for public on their website. I and my colleague, Thidalath from Lao, were allowed to witness the discussion and find that it is totally fair and transparent. The members of Board of Directors have a bunch of experiences to share and worth trusting for decision making.

Video of Board of Directors Meeting at CMSD on October 29th 2019

Public disclosure of financial report

Every year, CMSD will prepare a robust financial reports about what they do and how they manage the community budget. This will be posted for public. In addition, salary of each staffs in CMSD is also disclosed.

2.Staff orientation

New staffs will be provided the opportunities to visit facilities and join the tours within their line agencies. This is vital for the newbies since they will save their time from trying to search for information and asking questions. During our tours, new staffs of CMSD also joined us for learning.

Tour with new staffs of CMSD at GWRS

3. Emergency response to avoid pollution

United State has very strict rules for pollution discharge into the public area. CMSD manages trash (municipal and hazardous) and wastewater. CMSD deals directly with sewage system and have other sanitation components sub contracted under their quality control. For now, I am going to talk about the emergency response to sewage overflow. CMSD covers over 28,160 square yards with a population of approximately 116,700 and they maintain 20 pump stations. The District maintains 224.2 miles of gravity sewer mains ranging from 8-inches to 30-inches in diameter. As of 2019, the District’s wastewater system contains a total of 47,471 connections to single family residences, multi-family residences, commercial properties, and industrial properties. All pump stations are automated operation and the District has taken many proactive measures to protecting the community from catastrophic disasters by implementing nine  outstanding emergency preparedness measures that can be found at

4. Community outreach from the root level

CMSD have published the comic books to education primary school students about how to maintain the sewage system and how the system works. In addition to community outreach for adults, children are most efficacy catalyst to change the behavior of their family members.

Comic book about sewer layer for kids

5. Good role model

Besides trying to promote the proper sanitation practices to community, CMSD also have their own sanitation practices. They have the compostable plastic fork, spoon and plates for parties. They have different bins for their staffs to sort their own wasted within their home office.

6. Confidential reporting to the manager

Besides trying to promote the proper sanitation practices to community, CMSD also have their own sanitation practices. They have the compostable plastic fork, spoon and plates for parties. They have different bins for their staffs to sort their own wasted within their home office.

Staff can report anonymously about safety issues related to their daily activity and wellbeing via a safety box in the kitchen. Only the manager that can access to the letters inside the box.  

7. Practices of gratitude at work place

In the kitchen close to the safety box, there is an acknowledgement jar. Everybody can fill in a letter to thank to their colleagues for anything that they appreciate about him or her. A research of UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons stated that “The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for you is overwhelming. Gratitude is a quality that we should aspire to as a part and parcel of personal growth…Specifically, we have shown that gratitude is positively related to such critical outcomes as life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, self-esteem, optimism, hope, empathy, and willingness to provide emotional and tangible support for other people, whereas being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression, envy, materialism, and loneliness.”

Acknowledgement Jar and a letter inside

8. Add value to staffs through capacity building and fitness

CMSD also provide $5,000 in tuition reimbursements  for staffs that work there for more than 6 months and desire to pursue their studies at a local college or university. . Moreover, for those who have worked more than 6 months and being very active in the office will receive reimbursement if they join a fitness club. This is totally cool, isn’t it?

9. Helpful and friendly staff

Everybody is so kind and ready to give us a hand whenever we make a request regardless how busy they may be. You can ask them for any information and support. The thing that impress me is that whenever I ask them for help, they will just do it right away. Their generosity really touches me.

Joined the 55th anniversary of Orange County Sanitation District, Scott Carroll, General Manager of CMSD on the left and Robert Thompson, Director of Engineering of OCSD on the right
Visit Midway City Sanitary District, Nabila Guzman, Management analyst of CMSD on the left, Ken Robbins (General manager of MCSD on the right

10. In the office, diversity is out of date

Opposite to what I thought about United State where culture diversities exit, every employee here is treated the same regardless of age, income or family background. Everyone can seat in the same table and share a great talk. Hierarchy is not visible in the office which generate a work environment that everybody feels  being part of  the organization  and they all work as a team. Everyone is valued and no one is left behind. Because the United Stations is full of diverse cultures it allows District employees and their visitors  to explore different types of food in the correct way and of course, American love to talk about food.

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