Newport Beach City Council candidate Joy Brenner received a letter this week from a law firm representing the city that alleges she improperly used photos of herself with uniformed city employees in campaign mailers.
The letter, dated Wednesday and signed by attorney Matthew Richardson of the firm Best Best & Krieger, told Brenner that the photos with Fire Chief Chip Duncan and Police Chief Jon Lewis could violate a state code that prohibits city employees from participating in “political activities of any kind while in uniform.”
“Such use of a city uniform for political purposes is prohibited since it could be construed as a violation of the city’s impartiality in the upcoming election,” according to the letter. “Moreover, distributing photos of uniformed city employees is against the best interest of the depicted employees who — through your campaign materials — are unintentionally violating” the law.
The letter demanded that Brenner stop using such photos.
The images in question include a photo of Brenner and Duncan at the groundbreaking in April for the new Corona del Mar library and fire station complex and a candid shot of Brenner and Lewis at a meeting of the Corona del Mar Residents Assn. Brenner is founder and chairwoman of the Friends of the CdM Library and a co-founder and former president of the residents association.
“There is no indication on my flier that any city officials were endorsing me,” said Brenner, who is trying to unseat incumbent Scott Peotter in council District 6 in next week’s election. “The intent was to show the breadth of my involvement over the last 30 years in ways that have helped our community.”
The Newport Beach city clerk’s office said Thursday that the city has not sent similar letters to other candidates.
Earlier this week, the city posted an “advisory on campaign materials” on its website offering a reminder that city resources, including on-duty staff, cannot be used to support or oppose any candidate or ballot measure. The post did not single out any candidate.
The note told voters, “Should you see a photo of a city event or program in a candidate’s campaign material that features city staff, that photo was used without city permission and it should not be interpreted that the candidate or issue has the support of the city or staff featured.”