Costa Mesa Using Public Funds To Support A Political Agenda

William "Bill" Lobdell (Facebook Photo)

COSTA MESA — There is a fine line between the responsibility of a government entity to ensure that the public is informed about the facts related to a matter of public business and promoting a political ideology. In Costa Mesa, it appears that line has been dramatically crossed.

A little more than a month ago, Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch announced that the city had hired Daily Pilot Editor and columnist William ”Bill” Lobdell as Interim Director of Communications to “put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation’s most transparent government.” While it can be argued that Lobdell has managed to release more public communication in the past month than had been accomplished in the prior year, his work has not all been an effort to promote transparency. Rather, Lobdell has also embarked on a marketing campaign to support the political ideology and agenda of the current city council majority.

The most obvious of these efforts has been to release two “Fact Check” press releases (Release #1 Release #2) in response to information presented by Repair Costa Mesa regarding the council majority’s outsourcing plan.

In early April, Lobdell released an FAQ sheet regarding the city budget crisis. While people may take particular issue with some of the conclusions presented in this release, the content and its preparation, was an appropriate use of public resources because it did not advocate a particular position or respond to a community education initiative regarding policies promoted by individual members of the city council. Simply put, it was a “Just the Facts” sheet presented to clarify answers to questions about the city budget and actions of the city council. If there are matters that need clarification it is entirely appropriate that Lobdell prepare additional FAQ’s on behalf of the city. It is entirely appropriate that he announce those additions in statements released to the media and public.

However, the two Fact Check releases put out by Lobdell were specifically drafted to respond to community education messages encouraging members of the city council to rescind an official action, specifically the layoff notices issued on March 17, 2011. These releases responded to assertions made in Repair Costa Mesa advocacy ads. The information that Lobdell was supposedly correcting had already been clarified in his earlier FAQ release. 

In his most recent Fact Check release, Lobdell goes beyond correcting perceived errors. For example, Lobdell takes exception to this Repair Costa Mesa Statement: “Before the City sent layoff notices, they did no studies, and they still haven’t conducted a study or sent out a request for proposal to outsource services.” Rather than explain how this statement might be wrong, misleading, or otherwise in need of correction; Lobdell launches into an explanation as to why the Council majority felt there was a need to issue layoff notices before determining the feasibility of outsourcing any of the positions. In reality he’s just advocating the Righeimer/Mensinger ideological point of view.

Responding to a community education initiative advocating that the city council change its direction on a particular issue of public policy is not the responsibility of public employees of the city or an appropriate use of city resources. If Jim Righeimer, Stephen Mensinger, or any other members of the Costa Mesa City Council wish to issue statements in response to information communicated by Repair Costa Mesa, they are free to do so with their own funds and resources, not those of the taxpayers.

What is particularly troubling to me is the fact that Lobdell spent a good bit of effort in his most recent release responding to the Repair Costa Mesa critique regarding pension facts and figures. He did this, while refusing to respond to my public records request that he provide the actual numbers used to prepare the graphs presented by city staff on February 8, 2011, that detailed their pension cost projections.

So much for making the City of Costa Mesa the most transparent government. This guy won’t even release the figures used to claim the city was facing crushing future pension contribution amounts. Maybe it has something to do with the FACT that their figures were embarrassingly off the mark.

So in addition to calling Mayor Monahan, Councilmen Righeimer, Mensinger, and Bever, to demand that they Rescind the Layoffs of hundreds of city employees, people should also demand they stop using public funds to support their own political agenda.

  5 comments for “Costa Mesa Using Public Funds To Support A Political Agenda

  1. d'Anconia
    May 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I suppose you guys were loud in opposition to the White House’s use of public funds for the Andy Griffith propaganda commercial on behalf of Obamacare, right?

    Just looking for some consistency here…

  2. May 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Bill actually invited me into a class he was teaching on media, blogs & politics at UCI to speak about the creation of TheLiberalOC and the challenges we had faced.

    Additionally I remember at one point in time he was writing a series of articles for the LA Times about pop culture…

    I like the guy. Registered Republican…but so are my parents. With that said, what’s really wrong with a city employee defending the city??

    • May 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      Mike,

      I agree with you, Bill Lobdell seems to be a nice enough guy.

      That said, Lobdell’s most recent Fact Check was an advocacy piece that didn’t even bother to dispute the facts it was allegedly checking. Correcting misinformation is allowed but not outright campaigning. This situation is best compared to how a city might handle issues related to a pending or potential ballot measure.

      Government Code 54964(c)(2) permits a local agency to disseminate “accurate, fair, and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid voters in reaching an informed judgment regarding a ballot measure.” While there is no ballot measure pending the use of public funds to influence voters on a future ballot measure may be improper. California case law has stated that the fact that an election is more than two years away does not make advocacy communications any less political.

      Lobdell can write all the FAQ sheets he wants, what he cannot do, at least ethically, is respond politically on behalf of any members of the City Council. Responding directly to email communications and advertisements regarding matters of public policy debate, other than to provide accurate, fair, and impartial presentation of relevant facts, is improper.

  3. mike moon
    May 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    One has to ask: Who do the folks at city hall work for? It is simple. They work for and get paid by the voters and citizens of the town. There is no justification for spending tax money to argue with the same people that pay the taxes. Remember, the council works for us. We don’t work for the council. We didn’t elect all on the council, but they are still responsible to us, the people.

  4. May 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    The FAQs are owned by those in control; in this case, CM CEO and the City Council, so I don’t have a problem with what Bill issued. That said, Bill hasn’t come through on the public records request and it breaks a cardinal rule of PR: don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Transparency was promised and its not delivered. I’d like to know if Bill signed an NDA for when his term is up and if he goes back to reporting — would he be able to report on what he saw from the inside or did the CM CEO/City Council remove someone who was in a position to be their biggest critic?

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