Lobdell As A Lightning Rod
Blog commenters, both here and on the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register comment threads, have whipped themselves into a frenzy about the hiring of journalist Bill Lobdell by the City of Costa Mesa as a communications consultant. The frothing seems to be generated in equal portions by his reported salary - $3,000 per week for 90 days - and the fact that he's been an investigative reporter/columnist for the Daily Pilot recently.
LOBDELL IS MY FRIEND
Let me pause here to state that Bill Lobdell is a friend of mine. Our relationship is somewhere between "go-get-a-drink-together" buddies - which we are not - and "Facebook friends" - which we are - but I've come to know him a little bit in recent years. I admire his skills as a writer - his highly-acclaimed book, "Losing My Religion - How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America - and Found Unexpected Peace", is a fascinating story of his journey to and from religion, regardless how you feel about religion as a subject. He was editor of the Daily Pilot at a time when he and then-publisher Tom Johnson salvaged what was a sinking local newspaper. His journalistic skills are without challenge.
RELIGION, MINKOW AND BACK
Lobdell left his management position at the Daily Pilot and became the religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, which led to his book. When he left the Times he had some kind of a brain-burp and joined convicted con-man Barry Minkow as the investigative arm of Minkow's scheme to expose perceived malfeasance in public companies - and make a profit by short-selling the stock. Fortunately, Lobdell severed that tie shortly before Minkow was, once again, indicted for his actions. His recent stint as a columnist for the Daily Pilot has produced some very interesting work and has allowed him to demonstrate his reporting and writing skills again.
All that being said, when I heard that Lobdell was being tapped by Costa Mesa as a communications consultant - to "create a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation's most transparent government.", according to Chief Executive Officer of the City, Tom Hatch in a disastrous press conference late last week - I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Bill's a terrific writer and reporter, but I don't think there is anything in his background that would prepare him for this assignment. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
ZAP! OUCH! - ZAP! OUCH!
Based on the reaction to his assignment since the announcement, it seems to me that Lobdell's first job has been to become a lightning rod - a person that attracts the heat and noise and deflects it from those individuals more properly the target of the rancor, the members of the City Council who have created the current crisis in our city. If he keeps getting zapped like this it's probably going to hamper his effectiveness in the assignment described above in Hatch's statement.
STIFLING STUPID STATEMENTS
There is no doubt in my mind that the City of Costa Mesa needs a very heavy dose of public relations attention. Part of that, however, is keeping the elected officials from making stupid statements and running off like self-serving loose cannons, trying to puff-up their personal media presence for future runs for higher office. Yeah, I mean Jim Righeimer, who seems to have been omnipresent in the media for the past few weeks. And that includes Gary Monahan, who is quoted in the Daily Pilot this morning in an article about cutting the Police Department by 20 officers, stating that there are "no sacred cows anymore". That statement may demonstrate just how out of touch Monahan is with the city staff, which is still reeling from the tragedy of St. Patrick's Day. Who knows - maybe Monahan is just striking back because of the well-deserved criticism he received when he remained at his pub to pull beer taps in his cute little skirt rather than tend to the job as mayor. Regardless, those are the kind of actions and statements that will make Lobdell's job virtually impossible.
LIES MASQUERADING AS TRUTH
Another big part of this quest for "transparency" certainly must include dissemination of facts, not convenient fabrications, by our elected leaders. Righeimer has, for example, been spewing falsehoods to anyone who will listen when he talks about our pension dilemma. In my opinion, that transparency they allegedly are seeking will never be achieved when Righeimer and his sycophants are permitted to misrepresent the facts for personal political gain. Also in my opinion, I think Bill Lobdell has zero chance of shutting them up.
GOOD LUCK, BILL
So, I wish my friend well in this assignment. People can gripe about what the city is paying him, but - as I told him - if he is able to accomplish the goal established for him he will be worth every cent and then some.