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City Hall hires columnist for contract

William Lobdell, a former Daily Pilot editor, agrees to a 90-day contract to be the city communications director.

March 22, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — As City Hall works to emerge from the throes of a public relations crisis brought on by planned layoffs, budget problems and a suicide at the civic center, officials announced that they have hired Daily Pilot columnist William Lobdell to handle city communications.

"If I was going to do something like this it would have to be with a CEO open to progressive change and being transparent," Lobdell said, referring to the new title given to Tom Hatch, the city manager. "And he is. He was very impressive. He wants the city to be a model for transparency and communication."

After recently issuing more than 200 layoff notices without a clear plan on how to replace those workers with contractors, a maintenance worker committing suicide by jumping off the roof at City Hall on St. Patrick's Day, and the mayor criticized for not rushing to the scene after hearing the news, Lobdell acknowledged that the city has an image problem.

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"I think there's a lot of really tough decisions that are going to happen in Costa Mesa and across all levels across the nation," Lobdell said. "The only way to do this — it's going to be tough no matter what — is getting the information out and letting people soak it in. It's what needed during these times."

The contract will pay Lobdell $75 an hour for a maximum of 40 hours, or $3,000, a week. He started March 18.

Lobdell, 50, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer and Daily Pilot editor, was hired on a 90-day contract. He and the city plan to reassess the contract at the end of the three-month period. He also wrote his Pilot column on a contract basis.

Lobdell announced his hiring in his last column on Tuesday.

"No editor likes to see a columnist of Bill's caliber leave the fold, and I know the readers will miss him as much as we will," said Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis.

Lobdell said he plans to modernize the city's website, make virtually all public documents available online and organize town-hall meetings to bring residents up to speed on the city's restructuring. He also plans to bring Costa Mesa into the Facebook and Twitter age.

"Tom Hatch wants to improve the flow of information via whatever means necessary," Lobdell said. "It's going to be a process and there's a lot to do and there's not a lot of infrastructure … I don't think it'd been a top priority before, to show people that we are going to talk and listen and be transparent."

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