Costa Mesa, a city in the middle of what its city council calls a "financial crisis," voted to renew the contract of its top-dollar interim communications director, William Lobdell, through the end of the year.
Lobdell may have lost his faith covering religion in Orange County, but he seems to have found his cash cow working in PR in Costa Mesa.
Less than one month after CEO (or City Manager) Tom Hatch
recommended that the 90-day contract for Lobdell be renewed for a second time, the city council voted 4-1 in support of retaining the $3,000 per week contract with the former award-winning religion reporter.
Sandy Genis, a former city mayor, for one, called Lobdell's no-bid appointment an example of "cronyism."
Lobdell was hired in March to a 90-day contract, which paid him $75 per hour,
which calculates out to $3,000 per week
, or $156,000 per year, before taxes. That's more than the PR people, or "spinsters," make in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach or Santa Ana. For a city that is taking aggressive steps toward cost-cutting--choosing to outsource the jobs of 213 city employees, among other things--it's understandable that the move hasn't been entirely well-received.
Tom Egan, a resident of the city, was the first to speak on the subject at the meeting, saying he couldn't grasp paying a "PR person at a rate higher than 47 public safety employees, i.e. police and firefighters."
Prior to his work with the city, Lobdell was an award-winning journalist, having covered the religion beat extensively for the Los Angeles Times
, culminating in a well-received book, Losing My Religion
. He also served as editor of the Daily Pilot
Councilman Steve Mensinger took offense to Genis' use of the word cronyism: "Maybe there is a crony in your world; I'm not sure what that means." He pointed out that Irvine has "5 communications people," a point which Councilwoman Wendy Leece found irrelevant: "whether Irvine has 20 public information people doesn't matter to Costa Mesa; Costa Mesa is Costa Mesa, Costa Mesa isn't Irvine."
Leece continued by pointing out that she wasn't too pleased with the contract being gifted to Lobdell in the first place. As Genis pointed out, there was no Request For Proposal (RFP) and it doesn't seem any procedure was followed for bringing Lobdell on as a contractor: "If there's a list [of candidates who were considered/interviewed] I'd like to see it," Genis said.
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