Sixth in a series of profiles about those in the trenches of Costa Mesa's political battles.
Billy Folsom grows his goatee distinctively long in memory of a fellow Costa Mesa employee whose suicide became the tragic emblem of a city in turmoil.
In his last chat with 29-year-old Huy Pham before his fatal jump from City Hall amid widespread layoff notices, Folsom remembers hearing Pham speak of his relative, who had such long facial hair that he could stroke it in times of thought.
“It made him wise and always gave him pause to think, instead of just reacting,” Folsom says.
Folsom, 59, sees his own facial hair as something to help him avoid being a “firebrand,” to aid him in thinking things through and just doing the right thing.
FOR THE RECORD:
This story originally had that the oldest of Billy Folsom's seven children was recently accepted to Ohio State. In fact, it was his youngest who was accepted.
Many would agree that the influential city mechanic, after some 31 years of employment with Costa Mesa, has done exactly that, time and time again.
He’s served multiple terms as president of the city’s employee association, negotiated contracts, aided in hundreds of police investigations and put a variety of vehicles back in city service.
Colleagues add that he listened to, and represented, them well through the years and, come March, he’ll be sorely missed in his retirement.
“The way that he communicates with management and the employees is a class act,” says Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. She considers Folsom a mentor.
She calls him “that other wing, my right-hand man, explaining to everybody that this is how we work and this is how we come together. People look up to him.”
Folsom says he’s leaving Costa Mesa in a time when its operating budget, after attempts to keep spending under control, is lean and mean compared to past and more prosperous years. The result is tough times, he admits.
“It’s become a little frustrating, to be efficient, keep things on the road,” he says. “It’s been hard on everybody.”
‘From lawn mowers to fire trucks’
Folsom was born in Ogden, Utah, but moved to Newport Beach early in his life. He eventually finished high school back in Utah and has since spent most of his life in Costa Mesa.
Before beginning his career with the city in 1981, Folsom tried his hand at a few things, including marketing, advertising and running his own small businesses. He had a trucking company and automotive repair shop.
Folsom even did a stint as a gold miner in Arizona. He and his partners filed a claim in the Prescott Valley area.
They found pay dirt — at first.