You'll recall that I recently wrote, HERE, about the revelation announced by Costa Mesa Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell, that the City's web site had been evaluated by an industry "watchdog" as an "A+" - up from an "F". I was pretty excited to share that news with you because I'd observed many times in recent weeks that the city site was, in fact, much more easily-used and was packed with timely, useful information. Sometimes we didn't like some of the news presented in the flurry of press releases, but we were getting information, for sure.
I was not alone in that enthusiasm, as the Daily Pilot editors took the time to praise The City for this new accolade, HERE. We - they and I - were almost giddy about this news.
Then came a grumbling... a comment was posted on the Daily Pilot editorial and, almost simultaneously, on my blog, alerting us to the fact that the "watchdog" web site referred to was, in fact, a "wiki" site - one on which content could be provided by almost anyone, and that Lobdell may have been the provider of the information that subsequently garnered that lofty rating.
I followed the link and found that, sure enough, Lobdell HAD been the person who input the data on the site that changed the rating from an "F" to an "A+". However, I didn't see a problem here - as far as I could tell, there was no attempt to hide the fact that he did the input and, quite honestly, I thought this was a perfectly appropriate activity for a PR guy - as long as the information provided was accurate. It was a "non-issue" and I hadn't planned to comment on it.
GLAZER'S THE GUY
Then, yesterday, I received an email from a guy named Andrew Glazer, a former Daily Pilot reporter who covered Costa Mesa in the 1990s - when Lobdell was the editor - and who apparently now is a producer for what's left of Dan Rather's career on HDNET. It turned out that he was the author of the blog comments on both the Daily Pilot and my blog alerting us to this fact. Separately, he had written to the Daily Pilot, chiding them for sloppy reporting. He said, in part, "It's a disservice to your readers to not have looked into the Web site you cited -- and the apparent impetus for your editorial. In your crusade for transparency, will you disclose this oversight and point out Lobdell's far-from-transparent attempts to burnish his town's image?" He provided me with a copy of that correspondence and we, he and I, exchanged comments back and forth.
BUT THE INFORMATION IS ACCURATE
And, still, I planned to not write anything about this because the information Lobdell provided to the Sunshine Review was accurate - he took an empty template (the reason for the "F") and filled in the blanks with accurate information. It seemed to me that Glazer's intrusion into this issue might be tinged with some personal animus from his time working at the Daily Pilot - maybe not, but I had a little whiff of that from the correspondence.
MEDIA CHANGED MY MIND
Then came a piece by Chasen Marshall in the OC Weekly today, HERE, in which he postulates that "Lobdell failed to include in the announcement was that Sunshine Review and its transparency grades lack any actual credibility", which changed my mind about commenting. That was followed shortly by a piece by Joe Serna in the Daily Pilot, HERE, addressing this subject. I knew that one was probably coming - I was quoted in it.
HERE'S MY TAKE...
So, after all that preamble, here's my take on this. First, I see NOTHING wrong with what Lobdell did. He's a PR guy, charged with "burnishing the image", to use Glazer's pejorative, of his client - the City of Costa Mesa. And, we all know that the image has needed a lot of burnishing lately - more than ever before in its history. Lobdell found a site that showed our city to be an "F" in "transparency", discovered it was because there was NO information in its data base, so did what he should have done - fixed that problem - he filled in the blanks.
SHOULD HE HAVE MENTIONED IT?
Should he have mentioned it in his press release? Probably. He could have said something like, "I found this watchdog site that inaccurately assessed Costa Mesa because there was no information in its data base, so I submitted accurate information, which resulted in this outstanding grade." - or words to that effect. But he didn't. And, following a lengthy conversation with him about this, I'm convinced that there was no "conspiracy". If there had been, he would have used another name to submit the information.
THIS IS A NON-STORY
I know there will be an outcry from members of the public on this, but, in my opinion, it's a non-story. Quite the contrary, it's one more reason to compliment Lobdell and the rest of the city team for the efforts they are making toward CEO Tom Hatch's goal of "being the most transparent city in the country".