Thursday, March 24, 2011

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.

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.

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 cons
ultant - 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.

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.

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 m
aking 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.

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.


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.

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Anonymous OCLonghair said...

WOW... as I was posting my comments to yesterday's blog, you where uploading today's.

TRANSPARENCY, like minds...

I hope you create a link to the "Bagley-Keene Act" pages 5 and 6, "What is a Meeting", this is a way to get these guys back in line without the costly expense of a recall... although, making them gone still sounds good.

3/24/2011 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous almostdone said...

"Investigative reporter". Sounds like there's a real job calling him out there somewhere. Probably doesn't pay as well though.
Friend or not... putting lipstick on this pig is not a honest thing to do and if he does what he's obviously being paid to do, then... ?
The fact is we know these guys are lying about PERS, their lying about the economic necessities in the city (some call it distorting the truth but it's really just lying) and if your friend spins that to make it work, then what do you call that?
He hasn't done anything yet except accept the job. Who knows, maybe he won't be able to stomach it.
If he does, then then I guess everybody can watch it all unfold and there will be plenty said here and elsewhere.
Wonder if there's some angst in his decision. It is A LOT OF MONEY!

3/24/2011 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

I read it here first....

3/24/2011 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Dan Chmielewski said...

So why wasn't this contract put out to bid? Bill is a talented journalist, but this is a brand new PR firm with no track record. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I have to ask if the city asked for an NDA so if he comes back to journalism, he can't write about what he's learned.

Also, $75 an hour for PR is generally pretty cheap. Rates of $100 to $200 an hour for the train wreck this city council has become is more in line.

3/24/2011 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Max said...

Costa Mesa taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for someone to piss on our legs and tell us it's raining. I wonder if the issue of this kind of taxpayer abuse will be brought up at the next Costa Mesa Taxpayer Association Meeting?

Righeimer's plan is still a pig even with some of Lobdell's lipstick on it.

3/24/2011 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I met Lobdell when he spoke locally about his book a few years back. He was knowledegable and friendly. I saw him at the memorial for Huy Pham the other day. He gently worked the crowd. I've read a ton of his stuff over the years and he's a good writer.

But WHY was he hired in this manner, at this time?

1) To intentionally draw anger away from Piggy Riggy, Mensinger and Mayor Kilt; Or
2) Because all of the above don't give a DAMN about what any of us think.

3/24/2011 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

How come this wasnt given an agenda, staff report and a public hearing at a council meeting. I thought if the city was going to waste money they had to follow a process of a vote?
Typical of rich people though, pay someone to do their dirty work...

3/24/2011 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

In case you thought Riggy and Menssy didn't have an agenda, here they are spewing to the NYT:

3/24/2011 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Lobdell -- at the very least, you have to question his own decision making process regarding his own reputation. You're talking about a guy who created a business venture with, next to Bernie Madoff, arguably America's biggest con men: Barry Minkow. I can understand one brain fart. But now he puts whatever credibility he has left and chooses -- yes, it's a choice -- to go work for this City's Council and City Manager?

And all of this comes after another failed communications venture of Lobdell's -- the failed online newspaper he and former Daily Pilot publisher Johnson launched and quickly died.

Obvious question to ask: if you can't manage your own reputation and credibility, do you think you can manage the City's?

And given the fact the city is all about transparency? where was the request for proposal when the city hired him?

Good writers are a dime a dozen. Hire someone with a track record for success in the PR field -- assuming you need it.

3/25/2011 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

@ Joe - thanks for the link.. Wow 900+ comments. I would applaud Riggy for getting CM out there this is marketing genius to get people to check out CM on google see the great mall, nice hotels, proximity to Disneyland and Newport as well as L.A. Holy crap Riggy is genius, now all the people who look up CM will come and spend money. Then in 6 months he gets all the employee unions to make huge concessions because of the pinks, and voila... rescends the pinks at lower rates, and I get my street paved and Mensinger can crap at a park because it needed fertilizer. Riggy is a friggin genius (slapping forehead).

3/25/2011 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous bill o' said...

Layoff 200+ employees to balanced budget: 1 dead employee
Big screen TV for CEO's office: $2,000+
Hire a spin doctor for $3,000 a week: Priceless!

3/25/2011 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous non-member said...

By the end of today, Friday, March 25, 2011 Bill Lobdell will wrap up his first week as City's mouthpiece, and will get his $3,000 check.
So far, I've seen only one news video clip on ABC, and all he said was his fees is low compared to the surrounding cities!
As a non-member of Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association, please allow me to say: "Wow! That's the world's most expensive fart!"

3/25/2011 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

Can't help but note that Lobdell is getting paid less than most of the city employees, .... and he didn't ask for pension or health benefits. He sounds like a bargain to me.

3/25/2011 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Beth, he's just a consultant - a hired gun to come in and perform a specific task.

I can't help thinking that there's going to be one heck of a book in this assignment... Yikes!

3/25/2011 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous RECALL THOSE BOZOS said...

Beth- whose salaries are you looking at? Last time I checked I wasn't making what Lobdell is making with or without benefits.. open your brain up.. think ...

3/25/2011 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I am going to go out on a limb and make a prediction and put my money where my mouth is, too. I believe that the 90 day Lobdell contract was concocted mainly because many people would be outraged, and rightly so, at the hiring of a communications consultant at $144K a year while people are being laid off. The long-term strategy is to hire Lobdell full-time. So at the end of the 90 days, there will be some sort of statement about the value of the position and the good job he's doing, blah, blah, blah, and he will be hired full-time or his contract will be extended. Here's the potentially painful part: If I am wrong, I will donate $50 to the CM Boys and Girls Club. Remember, you heard it here first. See you in 90 days. Bob.

3/27/2011 07:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Concerned for CM said...

I'm just trying to keep up with all the info given and trying to view from an impartial stand point. I'm noticing several comments submitted with nothing but accusations and emotive statements with no real hard info or email links to back them up (Mr West being the obvious exception). I've looked into many of the informative links provided along the way (over the last few months) and can see why people on both sides of the fence are extremely concerned. Any chance we can get more objective comments with more informative content?

Further, I just noticed and wanted to share for everyone's benefit; Did we all know that city council gets compensated for their medical insurance even though they are only considered employed as a part time person? I believe it's something along the lines of $1400 where as a police officer gets about $600? They get additional monies as compensation and they have some sort of organization they belong to collectively (hesitant to call it a union) but I'm still looking further into that. Is there a reason they have not relinquished their compensations from the city? Has anyone heard of any of this? Its just odd because i have worked as a part time person before at different businesses and have never received benefits. This is also not thier primary occupation. It just seems to be a misappropriation of funds. The city is definitely in a financial bind but I just find it odd that the city continues to spend more money on outside entities such as PR (no offence to Mr Lobdell) and not disclosing exactly what fund from the city's account the money they are using is coming from. I'm referring to the exact name of the fund and the dollar amount in that fund prior to withdrawal. I thought the city was basically bankrupt ??? What is happening here? Where is all the money coming from (aside from us tax payers)? And since we truly need money, why reject our own funds voluntarily made available by the Redevelopment Agency (in reference to the emergency meeting with with the Redevelopment Agency brought up by staff- I'm assuming this is city staff delegated to finding more funds which is appropriate)? As part of the general public, I feel there has to be so much being more going on here possibly in efforts to keep us blinded by emotion.
Yes Police and Fire departments are a necessary part of life, i also know we are spending too much as a city. I'm tired of the emotional rollercoaster.

4/01/2011 07:08:00 PM  
Anonymous UtterlyDisgustedWithCMCouncilMEN said...

Can someone make heads or tails out of this guy's site and graph?

I'm a little too tired to look at all of it, but wanted to post it for the folks on here to talk about tomorrow.

Remember, the next council meeting is Tuesday, April 5th at 6:00pm!

It would be nice for someone to bring in a REAL graph with REAL numbers to show the LIES the councilMEN like to put on the power point!

Remember, Costa Mesa HAS money from the mall and it always will. Have any of you been to the mall lately? It's packed with shoppers with shopping bags and they posted a 10% increase from this time last year!

Also, Righeimer and the councilMEN would like a fully funded pension program. That is ABSURD! That would mean that a homeowner who has a $800,000 mortgage would have to have $800,000 in a savings account. Ridiculous! Plus CalPERS just released great news. Bring it all to the meeting and SPEAK UP against these RECKLESS councilMEN who has turned this City upside down in a few months! Monahan voted just a few months ago to give Firemen a BETTER retirement package! Look it up for yourself!

It's all about Righeimer wanting to make a name for himself and after Huy Pham's death, he has made a name for himself alright. May the councilMEN NEVER FORGET everything they've done to the City so far.


4/03/2011 02:02:00 AM  

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