City advised to withhold 60th anniversary documents

Costa Mesa’s attorneys are advising that some public documents related to Costa Mesa’s 60th anniversary celebration be withheld for the time being, according to an official statement released Tuesday night.

The documents will not be released while an independent forensic audit examines the event’s finances, according to a statement delivered by city CEO Tom Hatch during the City Council meeting. He called the statement an “update on how the city is handling this issue” that will not jeopardize the audit and will not violate “state privacy laws governing personnel matters.”

Hatch said that once the audit, requested July 31, is complete, “It will be made public to the extent allowed by applicable state laws regarding individual employee privacy rights.” He said the audit will also detail whether city procedures or policies were violated.

Hatch also alluded to the paid administrative leaves of two city employees — Dan Joyce, public affairs manager, and Christine Cordon, a special events coordinator and assistant recreation supervisor — who were “principally responsible” for organizing the event.

The two were placed on leave Aug. 6, Hatch said. The Daily Pilot reported the leaves the next day, though the connection to the anniversary celebration was not disclosed until Aug. 15.

City officials have declined to provide further comment on the leaves, calling them a personnel matter.

Hatch was on vacation at the beginning of August, and details of the investigation at the time were provided by Assistant CEO Rick Francis.

Hatch also highlighted new “precautions to make sure city purchasing policies and procedures are strictly adhered to.”

He mentioned a “refresher training course” for all employees involved in purchasing to “ensure the standard purchasing process is followed from start to finish.”

Hatch said he will also establish a “purchasing quality-control committee,” headed by interim Finance Director Stephen Dunivent. It will meet monthly and review the city’s purchasing policies and recommend any improvements.

The suggestions will be forwarded to the Finance Advisory Committee and then the City Council “for consideration,” Hatch said.

The committee will also “review the processes for engaging the Costa Mesa Foundation, an independent nonprofit that the city established in 1998 and was used for the administration of the 60th anniversary event’s finances.”

Before Hatch read his statement, there was some outcry in the council chambers over the perceived lack of transparency related to the financing of the event, which took place June 28-30 at City Hall, along Fair Drive and on a portion of the nearby Orange County Fairgrounds.

Reggie Mundekis, an activist with the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, said her July 23 request for various contracts and other documents related to the event was “way overdue.”

“I ask you to please release all of the documents,” Mundekis said to the council.

Sue Lester, who volunteered for the 60th anniversary and was active on its committee, said, “I’m mortified that this is happening. … We don’t even know if this was a successful event because no one will release the records.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes the same day that the city clerk’s office notified the Daily Pilot that portions of the documents it requested in August that were related to Costa Mesa’s 60th anniversary would be withheld. City Clerk Brenda Green’s notice to the Pilot cited sections of the California Public Records Act.

On Aug. 12, the Pilot requested copies of bids, invoices, quotes and purchase orders related to the celebration.

In early July, city officials — after hearing concerns over the event’s finances — said they were still compiling the revenue and other financial information.

Some previously announced financial details regarding the event include a $125,000 council-approved allocation and $41,000 from the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau for marketing. The Pilot was a media sponsor for the event.

Paid city staff, as well as unpaid volunteers, helped put the celebration together.