Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Curious Timing Or PR Spinning At The Fairgrounds? (Amended)

Tonight I write to you about a curious phenomenon that occurred in one of our local newspapers today.  After what seems like months of absence from the pages of the Daily Pilot - it's really only been a few weeks - all of a sudden today there are three (3) big news stories dealing with the Orange County Fair and Event Center online Tuesday night which will likely appear in print Wednesday.  Yes, I know there is almost always some little piece in the Daily Pilot about this or that event at the Fairgrounds - it's what they do across the street from City Hall, after all.  While informative, I'd have to describe most of those as benign.  Not so with the pieces that will appear today.  NOTE:  Before I was out of bed this morning former Fair Board President Dave Ellis signed in with a couple clarifications.  You can read them below in green italics.

The last "news" story about the Fairgrounds before today was an article on March 22nd describing the cessation of elephant rides during the annual Fair.  Before that was a story a month earlier about two new Fair Board members - Ashleigh Aitken and Stan Tkaczyk - being appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.  Today the Daily Pilot made up for lost time.  In no particular order, here are the three stories regarding the Fairgrounds that appear today.

First, is a piece by Jon Cassidy - former Orange County Register reporter who now writes the occasional story for the Daily Pilot as a contractor - titled, "Fair collects little from Equestrian Center".  You can read it HERE.  It outlines the financial part of the equestrian activities at the Fairgrounds with a slant on the story that would lead one to believe there may be a move afoot to further reduce - or completely eliminate - the equestrian activities at the Fairgrounds.  In recent years the footprint of that activity has been reduced by 50% and it is widely known that former Fair Board president Dave Ellis was a main proponent of ousting the horse folks and paving over that area and using it as additional parking.  No mention is made in this particular article of the value to the community of the equestrian activities on the Fairgrounds property.  Nor is there any historical context of those activities - only raw numbers.  It seems one-sided. (Dave Ellis says,"
in 2009 former Fair Board President Julie Vandermost led the effort to terminate the equestrian operation, not me.  It has never come to a vote so you do not know what my position is, or might be.  I think you might be listening to some folks that have a different agenda.  However, I do have a concern fair revenues subsidizing private clubs operating on public land.")


The second article appearing today is another piece by the recently-ubiquitous Cassidy titled, "Attorney general drops Fair Board as client."  The thrust of the story, which you can read HERE, is the fact that the State Attorney General has, once again, refused to represent the Fair Board in matters involving the lingering questions about the bogus sale scheme that occurred a couple years ago, citing conflict of interest concerns.  Again, the equestrian users are a centerpiece of this article.  And, again, this piece seems to have a distinctly pro-Fair Board slant.

The third article appearing today is columnist Steve Smith's little epistle titled, "Fair Board gets it right when helping foster kids."  You can read Smith's disjointed piece HERE.  OK, some of you will say the use of "disjointed" is a little harsh, but that's how I view it.  He begins with a supposed quote from Robert Kennedy, then follows up with a couple other unattributed numerical quotes, including his statement, "80% of complaints will come from 20% of the citizens."  I don't know where he got that one, but I suggest it's not even close.  I suspect that most of the complaints by citizens come from a very small percentage of the populace - maybe 5% or less.  I state that based on a decade of watching our local government in action and realizing that fewer than 50 people regularly speak up at public meetings - those people that actually pay attention to issues.

He then veers into the excellent program wherein the Fair Board provides a "foster family night" - an evening at the Fair before it's open to the public where foster families may attend and not have to deal with the rest of us.  It's a good program and, according to Smith, was previously paid for by private funds.  This year the Board hopes to attract 25,000 people to the event - nearly three times last year's number - and it will be funded by an additional dollar charged on tickets for shows at the Pacific Amphitheater.  (Dave Ellis says, "
One more small detail in your Foster Family story.  Steve Smith posted this comment (below) to his story as a clarification on the funding of the event.  This is an important item … Joyce Tucker and I start raising the 150K in the next couple of weeks … I’d like to make it clear that the vast majority of the funds for the event will be from private sources.  The $1 per PacAmp ticket is designed to help if we fall short.  In the event of a surplus of funds the remainder will flow to a college scholarship program for foster children.

smi161 at 3:32 PM April 24, 2012
Readers, please note: Funding for the foster family night will include significant private donations in the range of $150,000. Any leftover funds will be used to establish a scholarship program for Orange County's foster children. SS")

He then gets into the "is that buck a tax?" issue, and whether people should be subjected to paying an additional tax.  He decides that, yes, we members of the public should fork over another buck to pay for this program.  According to him, "it's the least we can do".  Really?

Smith then brushes aside criticism of the program wherein some apparently have suggested this is another "deal" contrived by the Fair Board.  I don't know if it is or not - Smith cavalierly dismisses that thought - but it speaks volumes about how at least a few members of the public feel about the Fair Board.  They've learned not to trust them.

In his final sentence Smith says, "One night at the fair is the least we can do to say thank you to these families through a small charge, even if the malcontent 20% believe otherwise."  I highlighted that word because it rings of a phrase planted by someone pushing the Fair Board view of anyone who dares to criticize them.

My point here is that each of these articles have managed to appear all at once on the pages of our local newspaper of record and have just the slightest whiff of PR-flackery in them.  I'm not suggesting that Cassidy nor Smith are biased in their reporting, but none of the three articles seem to carry the kind of balance one might hope for.  Yeah, I know - Steve Smith is a "columnist" and, therefore, not required to be "fair and balanced" in his presentation of issues.  And, of course, he makes his living as a PR flack.

What I AM suggesting is that this kind of smells like the work of a good Public Relations person - someone hired to pump out "news" with a definite slant in favor of the Fair Board's views.  In my view, there's nothing wrong with that as long as the local media is not complicit in presenting only one side of the issue.  It's something to consider.

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Anonymous Andy said...

Typical Pilot move. We will see these issues come before the public by the Fair Board or some other public official. If anyone has been paying attention, this is how council has been doing business. Lobdell farms out a story, it gets published by either the Pilot or Register, then coincidentally, council is off and running with the same issue in their talking points.

4/25/2012 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

One look at these articles and it's obvious why Jon Cassidy was "let go". Steve Smith has none of the particulars. Did you know that $1 of Pac Am ticket sales are now going to fund Dave Ellis's non-profit? You didn't get that from the article. No one and I mean "no one", is against Foster kids getting a night at the fairgrounds.In fact, we are on record , as the OCFPS on how to further these same types of programs to socio-economically disadvantaged families and seniors throughout the entire county.....and not just for ONE night.
The issue raised by Jim Mosher was that as a state agency, were they able to raise the ticket price $1 and then take that money and give it to a non-profit. It is a valid point and one that was based solely on Jim Moshers particular brand of following the rules , so as , not to get into any legal trouble, of which Fair Boards have stumbled in the past. He was questioning the legality of the diversion of funds to Ellis's non-profit. Imagine if every Board member was to slice off a piece. Nick Berardino could take 50. cents off a beer to fund the children of immigrant farmpickers free night. Joyce Tucker could take another $1 off roasted turkey legs to fund the Lipton Soup Club of NB Republican Poor Senior Women. That was the issue, the manner in which it was done. Don't claim that they raised over $150,000 when it was paid for by the taxpayers who use the facility.....I have tons more about how the local DP is being used to further a PR campaign but , .....I'm taking that one up with the editor....See you in awhile.

4/25/2012 07:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

Geoff: Your readers are free, of course, to voice their opinions of foster family night, the dollar surcharge, etc., or me. But you exercised poor judgment in connecting me with (even by just hinting at or raising the suspicion of) some organized effort to put out "spin" in connection with other fair or fair board news. I had been sitting on the foster family night column for well over a month and filed it without any contact with anyone as to the timing of the related pieces you referenced. I have never expressed an opinion publicly or privately of the board members or any of their actions or decisions with the sole exception of applauding them for foster family night. You chose to try to connect this wonderful event to some sort of political scheme and by connecting me to some organized effort, even subtly, you acted hastily and irresponsibly: You have my e-mail address and even if you lost it, it's at the end of each column. All you had to do was contact me and ask me. But you didn't. You chose instead to pander to your core audience. I am neither shocked nor disappointed and I commend your consistency.

4/25/2012 09:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Robert the Drake said...

Greg, you could not be more wrong. What nonprofit does Ellis have? A rational person would make the assumption that the Fair will be working with the Centennial Farm Foundation as they did last year on this event. The Foundation existed before Ellis was around and will be doing good work long after he is gone. And they did not raise ticket prices a dollar. They are allocating the first dollar from each ticket sold towards the budget for this event.

It is okay for you to hate Ellis and everything he does, but please understand the facts before you spew your vitriol all over this fine blog.

4/25/2012 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Ah, Steve, if you look at the time stamp on my post you'll see I was working on it in the wee hours of Wednesday. Want me to give you a call at 2 a.m.? I'll keep that in mind next time.

I didn't say YOU were responsible for the issuance of THREE articles dealing with Fairgrounds issues - I just observed that it was an interesting coincidence.

I had to chuckle when I read your "pander to your core audience" comment. Isn't that what ANY of us who write opinion pieces do? We write what we write and folks either like it or not. Those who agree with views presented here - or questions asked here - become that "core audience". How is your column any different?

And, while you're criticizing, how about throwing some of that criticism your way. Apparently you misrepresented the facts in your original piece and had to publish a comment correcting the record yesterday afternoon. That comment did not appear until this morning.

So, I guess our short-lived romance is over, huh? OK, I can live with that. Thanks for writing.

4/25/2012 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

Geoff, please... You did not have to attempt to tarnish my reputation at 2 a.m. You could easily have waited for a few hours at which time I would have responded immediately to your query and told you there was no connection. But then you wouldn't have had your conspiracy theory. I'm moving on now. Feel free in the future to contact me for clarification on anything.

4/25/2012 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Steve, how about this... you do YOUR thing when you choose and I'll do the same. If you don't like what I write about your work you're always welcome here to comment. Part of the problem, of course, is that some of us assume the columns and articles appearing on the pages of the Daily Pilot are thoroughly researched and presented fairly. We forget that "columns" are just opinion pieces that sometimes use whatever fragments of facts that fit a pre-determined agenda. You know... kind of like a blog, but with more implied credibility. Sadly, that assumption of credibility is not always supported by facts.

4/25/2012 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Tina Wilcox Gold said...

I truly appreciate the comments. I'll leave it at that.

4/25/2012 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Same Courtesy? said...

Mr. West, shouldn't you have afforded Steve Smith the same courtesy you expected from Tom Johnson? A phone call?

4/25/2012 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger fair minded said...

Shocking to see Greg Ridge aka Gericault even opening his enormous mouth. He and His wife are the benefactors to the subsidized costs for the E center .
This guy is the biggest story teller in Costa Mesa. Wonder if Greg will disclose his freebee’s from the fair?

4/25/2012 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Same Courtesy?,
You're talking apples and oranges here. Johnson pilloried me with his column. I had no reason to expect him to pick up the phone to call me before he wrote it - I have no editorial control over what he writes, as he has none over what I write. And, do you REALLY think old Steve would welcome a phone call at 2 a.m.? Nah, neither do I. Part of being a columnist is the guarantee that you will tick-off some of the readers... that's the way it is.

4/25/2012 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

There are no "freebies". I did get a Heifer International button this year after helping out with their booth.
That Equestrian article , also shilled by Cassidy is rife with errors. Average stall space around the county is 2-4 hundred a month. What gets added in, is feed, handling, mucking of stalls, walking, etc. etc. Add on lessons and training and the sky's the limit. What John did was confuse those add ons with the actual base stall rentals and then spout it as fact. I could rent numerous stalls around the county some for well under two hundred. I would also have to go there every day and feed the horse and muck the stall. We pay the same rate as everyone else, but that's not what they want you to hear.

4/25/2012 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Amazed said...

It looks like some of Geoff's old "buds" are getting the same treatment as he doles out to our city officials!
Give them hell and enjoy your spot in the sun!
Some life events can be very frustrating and is good to see you reacting to them!

4/25/2012 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Robert The Drake said...

Greg you are the master of misstating facts so it is good to get your take on things.

4/25/2012 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Daisy Mae said...

Unless the Pilot totally screwed up on the numbers in the article,it baffles me that Rebecca Lewis gets such a cheap rate for her stalls at the Fairgrounds. The boarding rate is published and the cheapest rate is $555/month with hay cubes as the feed. Boarding includes the stall, feed, bedding, stall cleaning and the use of the facilities. The fees go up from there depending on what type of feed(hay) you want your horse to have. Lessons, training, etc., are extra and there are several trainers there who provide those services. Here is the link for the rates.

I am not sure where Gericault gets his information, but unless you board at a real run down place or someone's backyard, the cheapest boarding rate is for a paddock stall for around $400 which does not include bedding. The OC Fairgrounds do not have paddock boarding, only box stalls.

4/25/2012 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

The pile on boys had quite a day. Who has the greatest credibility in Costa Mesa today- people like Smith and Johnson, or Geoff West?

Answer: West.

Who am I more likely to believe about Fair or general issues- Greg Ridge or a Riggclone?

Answer: Ridge.

Why do we have these issues? My view: Like everything else, journalism took a hit with the bad economy. People like Lobdell, Swaim, Johnson, etc. weren't doing so well. Lobdell managed to find the pot of gold; others haven't. And so it goes..

4/25/2012 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous ruffleshaveridges said...

Joe, there's your problem, believing Ridge. He came barrelling out the gate with a lie filled video and has been on a roll ever since. don't believe anybody, just listen. the truth is in between.

4/26/2012 07:11:00 AM  

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