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Dennis O'Neil was a class act. We need more like him

When I got the news this week from former Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau that Dennis "Denny" O'Neil had died, I was saddened.

"Beyond his role as an elected leader, O'Neil was always a voice of reason, insight and could cut through an issue to a logical conclusion," Bludau wrote.

I couldn't agree more.

O'Neil was a fan of my columns and let me know that whenever our paths crossed. And like many in Newport, I was a "Denny fan."

Sometimes we weren't on the same page politically, but I admired the way he'd articulate his opposing opinion in such a gentlemanly manner.

O'Neil was a class act, a quality unfortunately I'm not seeing much of today.

That's been painfully obvious as the referendum process on the Museum House project has unfolded.

As I've written about the antics surrounding the controversy, many readers have weighed in. Folks are troubled, and in many cases disgusted, by efforts to thwart the referendum petition process.

And now the Orange County Museum of Art is suing to try to disqualify the more than 13,000 signatures Line in the Sand gathered because, basically, the font on each of Line in the Sand's roughly 1,000-page referendum petition — documents that the City Council insisted be included in each packet — was too small.

Give me a break!

OCMA's press release was laughable.

"The circulated petition contains literally hundreds of instances of text so small, it is virtually unreadable," it states. "An analysis from Dr. Lawrence R. Stark, associate professor at the Southern California College of Optometry, found the average petition text size was equivalent to 6.6-point font, which he described as 'likely too small for fluent reading.' California's mandatory elections code requires documents to be at least 8-point font size."

Let's be real here. People who signed this petition weren't concerned with the fine print. They were focused on having a say in this project.

And who the heck is Dr. Stark? Was he paid to lend his expertise?

I found his professional profile and phone number online. So I called to ask. I didn't hear back.

This lawsuit is nothing more than a Hail Mary, last-ditch effort to block voters from weighing in. It screams desperation, and this isn't doing much to change Museum House supporters' public perception as bullies in this fight.

I'm hearing from folks who share my husband Stan's opinion, initially feeling the Museum House project had merits and weren't opposed to it.

But following the ugliness of men blocking petition signature gatherers, which my husband experienced firsthand, and this petty lawsuit to prevent the referendum from going before voters, they've changed their minds.

It's the lack of civility that has caused the shift in support.

Heck, even former councilman Keith Curry, who initially voted for the project, decided to sign the Line in the Sand petition after this negative campaign unfolded.

I have to say that I've never seen anything like this in local politics before, where a project's proponents have so poorly managed their public outreach that they've turned some who were on their side against them. With every move they seem to shoot themselves in the foot.

We'll see how they fare with this lawsuit, but from where I sit, they're failing miserably in the court of public opinion.

Covering this controversy has made me question the city's direction and the council leading that charge.

This week, when I received my invitation to the 36th annual Mayor's Dinner, which is Feb. 10 at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, I had to think about it.

Do I attend, as I have for many years, or just send a donation to the fine organization, Speak Up Newport, that puts it on?

Tickets are $85, or $1,200 for a sponsorship table of 10, and can be purchased at speakupnewport.com/mayors-dinner.

The event traditionally honors former mayors, and I'm sure they'll have an appropriate tribute to O'Neil.

The dinner includes a State of the City address by the incoming mayor.

Past mayors have given rousing speeches of their vision of the future.

But Newport politics is a mess right now, which falls squarely on the shoulders of "Team Newport."

In good conscience, I can't see myself sitting through a speech making believe everything in this city's OK.

All things considered, it's best I go the donation route this year.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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