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Feet to the Fire will blaze new trails in 2018, but will cities televise forums so voters can watch?

I'm dusting off my leather, flame pants and gearing up for another season of Feet to the Fire Forums.

Since we started in 2010, my co-founders, John Canalis, executive editor of Los Angeles Times Community News; Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of Voice of OC.org; and Tom Johnson, publisher of Stu News Newport online, have been committed to asking tough questions of candidates in this no-holds-barred talk show format.

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With this media collaboration, Feet to the Fire, — or F2F, as we refer to it — has grown in popularity each election cycle.

The 2018 season finds the F2F gang back on stage at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College for three exciting forums.

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We'll explore the city council races in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, the inaugural Costa Mesa mayoral race, and, for the first time, dip our toes into the 48th Congressional District contest.

As producer of the events, I've already locked in May 30 for the 48th District — currently represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who is running for re-election.

With a bevy of new faces opposing Rohrabacher, this should be an interesting and informative discussion.

By the end of February, dates for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa races will be set, so stay tuned.

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Months of planning go into F2F. Panelists started discussions at the end of 2017 as to what races to focus on in 2018, since we were getting requests countywide.

Unable to cover every race, Santana is creating a F2F podcast that will include countywide candidate interviews, discussions about issues and conversations among the F2F gang.

At VoiceofOC.org readers can visit the new Election Central page for information on the county congressional races taking shape, as well as find candidate information, maps, voting history, demographics and the latest news.

The live tapings at the Robert B. Moore Theatre will be available on YouTube, NBTV and, we hope, CMTV.

Readers may remember that in January 2016, Costa Mesa council members, led by then-Mayor Steve Mensinger, voted not to continue airing or taping council candidate forums.

At the time, Mensinger explained to me city attorneys advised the city could be liable if it were to pick and choose which forums to tape and air.

Of course I wasn't buying this for a minute. I felt this was just an excuse to control information.

I suggested Mensinger and Councilman Jim Righeimer come up with a forum policy to include a criteria to apply to the city for airing and taping.

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Two years later that has not happened.

The forum issue was supposed to be heard at the Tuesday council meeting, but it wasn't.

There was talk of a study session. In my opinion, that's just another bureaucratic stall.

Looking at the report prepared by Dane Bora, city public affairs manager, he estimates $750 in labor costs per forum.

And it's not like they tape an exorbitant number of them.

As Bora wrote: "The following are the forums that have been taped in the past and the number of times each has been recorded: Mesa Verde Community Inc. (7), Feet to the Fire (6), Cable Company/Daily Pilot/Chamber of Commerce (5), Eastside Homeowners Group (3) and Latino Business Council (2)."

This whole thing hasn't been a problem. Mayor Sandy Genis should take the lead here, and convince the council to let Bora get on with forums and stop wasting time.

Then-Councilman Ed Selich defended forums taped and aired by NBTV, saying of the approximately 12 in the city that year, four forums were requested and taped: Feet to the Fire, Speak up Newport, the West Newport Assn. and Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Then-Councilman Keith Curry also favored forums and felt the sentiment behind not taping them was politically motivated by the Team Newport bloc.

Though the issue thankfully went nowhere in 2016, my favorite argument against forums came from Team Newport's Kevin Muldoon, who was then mayor pro tem.

"We don't need neo-Nazis and other political parties we can't control showing up," and using city money to promote a political agenda, he said.

Two years later, I still don't see a neo-Nazi problem in Newport.

Political forums are, by their very nature, political. This anti-agenda argument made no sense then, and still doesn't.

Those working to limit access to information that enables voters to form opinions mustn't prevail.

Since 2010 NBTV and CMTV have been good partners of F2F. That should continue to ensure voters have the information they need to make good governing choices.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com

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