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.