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Costa Mesa Spokesman Faking The Grade

COSTA MESA — Sometimes the news just seems stranger than fiction. That is the case of the story of how the City of Costa Mesa improved the “Transparency Grade” for their website. The full story is sufficiently documented over at the OC Weekly Navel Gazing blog and in the Daily Pilot. But in a nutshell, there is this non-profit group that has this wiki website that grades cities, states and other municipalities on the transparency of their websites. All start out with a default grade of F until the entity has someone, anyone, enter some information by editing their page. The process is public and identifiable if you know where to look.

Bill Lobdell, the $3,000 a week consultant with no PR experience hired under a no-bid contract to handle PR for the City’s move towards “transparency,” found out about the site, made a few corrections and “POOF” an A+ Grade materialized. So proud of his accomplishment, Lobdell sent the unsuspecting media a press release touting the grade as an example of how transparent the City is.

The problem is that this grade was less of an accomplishment than a restaurant passing their inspection by the health department. His announcement of the A+ grade was like a restaurant issuing a press release to say how great it is for getting an A+ award on their health inspection.

It can be argued that a PR persons job is to highlight positive news about their client and communicate that information to the media. In this case Lobdell did his job well. What he failed to do was inform the media, and public, what his role was in the creation of that “award.” That is a basic PR 101 failure, a mistake that a summer intern would make, not a PR professional. May I suggest to Lobdell that he enroll in such a class to tighten up his skill set. Maybe there are some entry-level classes at UCI or Orange Coast College that he could take?

But I guess that is what you get when you grant a no-bid contract to someone with no experience to handle your PR.


  1. JFW JFW August 25, 2011

    He was doing the job they give him the big bucks for, but he should have told us, instead of leaving us to believe that a 3rd party created the rating.

    Is this the simple mistake of a PR amateur/newbie or an honesty issue?

  2. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski August 25, 2011

    This is an amateur mistake. I’d like to see if Bill has a non-disclosure agreement with the city of Costa Mesa so when his contract expires and if he decides to re-enter journalism, I’ll bet he’s barred from writing about Costa Mesa city government. The council removed someone who could have been their biggest critic. The big question for Lobdell and Will Swaim who runs the Republic of Costa Mesa website is how they’d receive Lobdell’s initial PR on this Wiki site if they were still in their journalist’s chair.

  3. Joe Joe August 25, 2011

    Speaking of Swaim, he claimed that he received no funding to create “Republic of Costa Mesa.” But when I read it, the tone seems so pro city council majority.

    A few years ago I would have envisioned Lobdell and Swaim leading the journalistic investigations of Costa Mesa’s hostile takeover.

  4. Robert Lauten Robert Lauten August 25, 2011

    Those that feel that the A+ grade is undeserved should visit and edit all or some of the ten criteria, submit information explaining why the criteria has not been satisfied or is incomplete.

  5. The Potstirrer The Potstirrer August 25, 2011

    I’m not so sure about that “sufficiently documented” phrase. The OC Weekly, in its original version of the story, neglected to contact Lobdell and the operator of the Sunshine Review for comment. I’ve chimed in on this subject:, which you so kindly also linked to over on the right side of your page.

    In my opinion, Lobdell did what he was hired to do – became aware of a site that “graded” Costa Mesa’s web site as an “F” – never a good thing. So, he filled in the blanks with current, accurate information and when the operators of the site overlayed their template the result was an A+ grade. No conspiracy, no “cooked books”.

    Nice to see that I’m not the only one curious about the recent re-emergence of Swaim as a Costa Mesa critic. Actually, he’s a Costa Mesa Critic critic – using his recently dormant, but still prodigious, wordsmithery to pillory those of us who are critical of the current junta running the city. His most recent victim is Barbara Venezia, OC Register columnist.

  6. John Slater John Slater August 26, 2011

    I find myself agreeing with The Potstirrer. Lobdell was just doing what he was paid to do. It’s the reporters and editorial writers who didn’t do what THEY are payed to do. They should have investigated Lobdell’s claims and they reported how it’s a wiki, but…

    Will got over. I hope they don’t let him get away with that again.

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