How Costa Mesa's transparency grade improved

City website earned plaudits for making it easier to find documents, but critics question city's unannounced contribution to Sunshine Review's Wikipedia-style page.

August 24, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

In response to concerns raised about the Costa Mesa city website's recent upgrade from an F to A-plus, the city spokesman said he supplied, and publicly disclosed, his contributions to the graders' Wikipedia-style website.

Bill Lobdell, however, pointed out that editors of the Sunshine Review, a government transparency advocacy group, came to their own conclusions after reviewing his contributions to the city website — including easier access to Costa Mesa city employee compensations — and then gave it their highest-possible grade.

The Review's website employs a user-generated format similar to Wikipedia that allows authors to freely update and edit information; however, the site requires the authors enter their names or their IP address.


Lobdell used his name for the edits and, in a follow-up interview this week, said his contributions were accurate and transparent.

"Nothing was manipulated or below board," Lobdell said. "I signed in as a Costa Mesa person so they'd know exactly who I was … if the info is wrong, this is Costa Mesa. There'll be plenty of eyes to correct it."

The Review independently issued the A-plus after it reviewed Lobdell's entries and compared them with the city website's new features.

The issue came to light Monday when Daily Pilot online commenters claimed Lobdell submitted the text on the Review's website. Readers then criticized the Pilot for not reporting the Lobdell-provided entries in a news story and then in an editorial.

According to the Review's editor, Costa Mesa's site lives up to the group's expectations and makes information available in 10 categories, from budget and meeting information to local taxes and public contracts.

"We were able to find all the requirements to meet an A-plus on our checklist," Kristin McMurray, senior editor for the Review, told the Pilot.

But Costa Mesa's website still needs better features, such as a searchable database and the ability to submit documents online, Lobdell put on Costa Mesa's Review page. He also wrote that the page overall is outdated, but that changes are on the way.


From an F to A-plus

Under the history section for Costa Mesa's page on a list of revisions shows that on Aug. 8, Lobdell filled out the city's online profile in about 30 minutes.

The revision history then shows Lobdell added links to all of the features that would later earn Costa Mesa's site an A-plus. He also added criticisms about the city site.

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