COSTA MESA — Back in March when the City of Costa Mesa hired Bill Lobdell as Interim Communications Director under a no bid consulting contract, the residents of Costa Mesa were promised by CEO Tom Hatch that Lobdell would “create a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation’s most transparent government.” While it can be said that there has been a great deal more communication coming out of City Hall since Lobdell was brought on Board, a continuous flow of press releases does not equal transparency.
I have taken issue before with the focus that Lobdell has given to responding to the community group Repair Costa Mesa, and the Orange County Employees Association who oppose the outsourcing strategy of the current Council majority. I have pointed out that it seems a great deal of time is being spent by Lobdell on defending individual council members, Righeimer and Mensinger specifically, from a political policy perspective rather than clarifying facts that the city finds to be misrepresented.
On Wednesday, Lobdell fired off a press release on City letterhead announcing that the District Attorney had declined to pursue charges against Councilman Stephen Mensinger for assaulting Newport-Mesa teacher Joel Flores at a public event due to a lack of evidence. Apparently the DA’s office reached its conclusion back on April 29th but never publicly announced its determination. Lobdell, after receiving the information from the Costa Mesa Police Department, decided it was worth his limited time to issue a press release on behalf of Councilman Mensinger.
This time I asked Lobdell directly what his rationale was for spending city resources to issue a press release on a matter that did not involve any allegedactions by Mensinger as a city official. I wrote:
I am curious. Why is this an issue that your office or the city would need to put out a press release on? The incident did not involve conduct by Mr. Mensinger as city official. The complaint was filed against Mensinger, not the city. Isn’t the District Attorney’s office releasing this information sufficient? Are you Mr. Mensinger’s personal spokesman in addition to your role as interim Director of Communications?
Lobdell was kind enough to respond:
Here’s my thinking. It was an issue that involved a city councilman, council policies, and a complaint filed with the Costa Mesa Police Department. The issue generated a fair amount of media coverage and comments at public meetings—none of it referring to Mensinger as a private citizen.
I thought it made sense to make the results of the investigation public (the DA’s office didn’t release the information to the public). The City would have done so whatever the outcome.
Maybe I’m being petty here but Lobdell did not see the need to issue a release when the Newport-Mesa School District declined to pursue Mensinger’s counter complaint against Joel Flores. If Lobdell saw the value in clarifying for the public that a member of the City Council had been absolved of wrong-doing for personal conduct because it had been discussed in the media mentioning his official city position, why not make a similar statement about Mensinger’s complaint against Flores?
Lobdell also did not see the need to issue releases related to the vandalism incident at Mayor Monahan’s pub, even though it involved a city councilman and a complaint filed with the Costa Mesa Police Department. I stand corrected, Lobdell did send out a release HERE on the “Brick Incident.”
For me the issue here is broader than the Mensinger/Flores dust up. I submitted several weeks ago a request for clarification of the data points included in a PowerPoint presentation on retirement costs presented at the February 8th City Council Study Session. I’m still waiting for a response from Lobdell on those figures. On Monday of this week, I asked Lobdell for the rundown on the contracts initiated with the $200,000 authorized by the City Council to implement CEO Tom Hatch’s restructuring plans (including the outsourcing plan). While that information was presented orally at the council meeting Tuesday, I’m still waiting for that information in written form.
I guess it is complicated balancing whether to respond to a transparency request for information and providing political public relations support for members of the City Council.
So much for the idea that Lobdell would be the harbinger of “a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation’s most transparent government.”