After three months of repeated requests for public records and information we have narrowed down the costs of the “Agents of Change” community forum to the taxpayers to approximately $4,000. With no help from the city, we estimated the time spent by staff on the event, factored in their approximate hourly rates of pay and benefits, added in the costs of parking and the video broadcast of the event to arrive at our numbers.
On Tuesday October 27, 2011, the City of Santa Ana co-hosted with Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez a community forum titled “Agents of Change.” The purpose of the forum was to address cultural divisions between the Jewish and Latino communities which came to light after Alvarez compared a local Jewish property owner to Hitler while chairing a meeting of the City Council.
The event was initially envisioned as a county-wide public forum by Councilman Vincent Sarmiento when he proposed it as a compromise to efforts to strip Alvarez of her Mayor Pro Tem position because of her remarks. However days before the forum LiberalOC learned that the forum was not a public event at all. Rather it was an “invitation only” affair for which Alvarez determined the guest list.
When LiberalOC Managing Editor Dan Chmielewski tried to attend the forum, at the verbal invitation of Councilman Sarmiento, he was denied access by Interim City Manager Paul Walters who said; “this Town Hall is a private event.” When asked how an event hosted and partially paid for by the city could be private Walters told Chmielewski; “the event isn’t costing the city a cent.”
Should the city be willing to provide a calculation of their own, we will be happy to publish that information, but based upon their claims that they did not track the costs, I would be surprised if they comment further.
So to recap here is what we know.
- The city of Santa Ana failed to track the costs of the Agents of Change community forum
- Claudia Alvarez controlled the invitation list to the extent that certain community leaders with whom she disagrees were excluded from the list.
- At least five city staff members worked on the event in addition to two staff members from the Video Engineering contractor.
- The city resisted releasing any information regarding the costs of the event for almost three months.
- The event, which served only to attempt to facilitate the image repair of Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez, cost approximately $4,000.
I’m left with one final question. Other than the need to conceal the actual costs in order to not contradict the false claim by Interim City Manager Paul Walters that the event “didn’t cost the city a dime,” why the lack of transparency and repeated failure to respond to public records requests in a timely manner?
If the city is willing to go to this much effort to conceal the costs of a community forum, what else are they trying to hide related to their $30 million budget shortfall?