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Despite layoffs, Costa Mesa hires $3K/week specialist

March 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
While the city of Costa Mesa is looking to save money by laying off employees, it's also spending a lot of money by hiring a spokesman.

The day after layoff notices went out to nearly half the city's workers, right after the suicide of a city employee about to receive his pink slip, the city of Costa Mesa hired Bill Lobdell to handle the city's communications.

He'll earn up to $3,000 a week over a 3 month contract. He has lived in Costa Mesa over 20 years.

"That seems a little steep in this economy right now," said Costa Mesa resident Laura Vinyard.

"The amount of money they're paying me is a fraction of what neighboring cities pay for their public information," said Lobdell. "Because this is national story, because it's a time of crisis, they felt this is money they wanted to spend."

"You're bringing in and spending more money but you just laid off 213 people," said Helen Nenadal from the Costa Mesa City Employees Association.

Nenadal received her layoff notice after 30 years with the city. The city council recently voted to outsource 18 city services to deal with a $15 million budget gap in the next fiscal year.

So far it's not clear how or if all the workers will be replaced with contractors.

"We're in a crisis and there's been a tragedy here," said Lobdell. "The city really needs to get info out to people about what's going on."

"I've told him to create a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on the path to being the nation's most transparent government," said Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch in a news conference last week. Yet following that conference, city council refused to answer any questions.

Lobdell said he plans to better communication between the city, workers and residents a number of ways, including through town hall meetings and improving the city website.

"I got an issue," said Nenadal. "I've been with the city 30 years. I don't want someone from the outside starting to communicate to me. Our leadership needs to communicate with me, not someone on the outside coming in."

Others question if three months is enough time for Lobdell to make a difference.

"Communication, there is no communication anymore," said Faye Bridges from Costa Mesa. "The people are left out of it."

The city plans to asses Lobdell's contract when it ends in 90 days, and they have not ruled out the possibility of extending it.

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