Billy Folsom, a Costa Mesa city mechanic and former employee association president, is retiring in March after working for the city for more than 30 years. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / February 7, 2013)

For Folsom, one of them has been helping the Police Department with accident investigations, applying his mechanical know-how to protect the city in cases involving serious or fatal accidents.

Over his career, he worked hundreds of cases. He’s seen grisly crime scenes when “even after they’ve towed the car away, it still has a lot of blood and guts.”

Some involved claims that the city had a curve, curb or tree where it shouldn’t have been; other times it might be a scenario where someone claimed his brakes failed.

“So I analyzed the car and took it apart,” Folsom says, “to see if those brakes had failed, or whatever excuse or truth that he was telling.”

He says occasionally he would uncover a lie and keep the city’s liability to a minimum. Other times he might find the opposite.

“It’s always nice when you can help get someone off the street who deserves to be off the street,” Folsom says, “but it’s also really nice when you can find someone not guilty instead of having them go to jail for something that really wasn’t their fault.”

‘Not a big union guy’

Folsom sees himself as an advocate for the middle class that, if stronger, makes the whole country stronger.

“I’m a big for-the-middle-class guy,” he says. “You can see the trends throughout history where we are as a society.”

Despite his experience as head of his association, he calls himself “not a big union guy, but I see the need for them. I wish there wasn’t one. I don’t think there has to be one.”

In a philosophical moment, he adds that “there are some companies out there that are consistently best to work for, they pay their employees well. There are some companies that are notorious for doing the exact opposite.

“I think it hurts when you try and cheap down the whole society.”

Legacy in Costa Mesa

Nenadal, the CMCEA president, who started with the city the same time Folsom did, says he was exemplary in his leadership style, particularly the day Pham died at City Hall in March 2011.

“With the true colors coming out, that’s what created and brought our bond that much closer from a leadership like Billy,” she says. “His actions speak louder than words.”

He was always someone they could turn to, Nenadal adds: “With Billy being here so long, employees knew he knew the system, knew which way to go, knew that he would lead them in the right direction.”

Allan Roeder, who served as Costa Mesa’s city manager for 25 years, says while he didn’t always agree with Folsom on every issue, Folsom knew how to look at problems in the big picture.

During talks of outsourcing maintenance for police motorcycles more than 15 years ago, Folsom expressed confidence that his shop could continue the job, do it well and prevent costs from escalating, Roeder recalls.

“The reality of it is they took it in-house and they did a phenomenal job on the maintenance,” Roeder says. “It did result in reducing costs to the city and really won over members of the Police Department who were a bit skeptical about that.”

It was never about Billy, Roeder adds. “It was always how can he help the employees, how can he help the community and make it all come together.”