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Lobdell: Watching the weather in Newport-Mesa

The predicted high Friday is 72 degrees. But that’s only one way to take the temperature in Newport-Mesa. Here are some other forecasts.

Newport Beach’s new Civic Center: early overcast giving way to sunny skies.

A Catholic bishop once told me, “You never want to be the guy who built the cathedral. You want to be his successor.”

The same can be said for city leaders and civic centers. I’m excited about the prospects for the new Civic Center, which promises to be a vibrant town square befitting a city of Newport Beach’s stature.


The price tag — somewhere in the neighborhood of $123 million — will be quickly forgotten once residents began flocking to the Newport Center property where a new city hall, three parks and an expansion of the Central Library is planned.

City officials have received some criticism for the project’s expanding scope and price. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime project and needs to be done right. And, as with the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, no one will complain about the cost once the Civic Center is completed.

The proposed President Ronald Reagan statue at the new Civic Center: suddenly cloudy.

I was surprised at the strong (and mostly positive) response to my recent column about the wrongheaded idea to erect a Reagan statue at the new Civic Center. The Newport Beach City Council decided to commission a privately funded statue of Reagan to commemorate his 100th birthday, and Councilman Keith Curry suggested it be placed at the Civic Center.


Some of Newport’s most esteemed leaders wrote publicly and privately that no national political figure — Republican or Democrat — without a connection to Newport Beach should be canonized with a statue on the grounds of city hall.

I’m also informed that some long-time activists are looking to launch a grassroots campaign geared at prohibiting the Reagan statue from being placed at the Civic Center. As one of them told me, “It would be better for everyone if it were placed at the Balboa Bay Club.”

Costa Mesa Police Department: 80% chance of thunderstorms.

I’ve received several tantalizing tips about the Costa Mesa Police Department since writing recently about Chief Christopher Shawkey and Lt. Ron Smith being put on paid administration leave for unspecified reasons.

Smith has since announced he’ll retire Feb. 5. Shawkey remains on leave, presumably awaiting the outcome of a city investigation.

City officials, bound by personnel laws, have to be tight-lipped about the reasons behind the leaves. We don’t know, for example, if Shawkey’s use of a city credit card to pay the gas on what appeared to be multiple personal road trips across the Southwest — expenses approved by Smith — had any bearing on City Manager Allan Roeder’s decision to put him on leave.

Shawkey’s contract allows him to use his city-issued car for personal issue, but there’s no language indicating whether it’s OK to buy gas for personal trips with public money.

(What’s not in question is that Shawkey also bought gas routinely in Orange County — including at least once in Costa Mesa — when the city has fuel pumps at City Hall and in its nearby storage facility. That strikes me as being careless with taxpayer money.)


Whatever the allegations against Shawkey, they don’t appear to be cut and dry as evidenced by the investigation of the police chief’s conduct stretching into its third month.

The Shawkey-Smith controversy has generated plenty of rumors, speculation and leaks about power struggles and more within the Police Department. I haven’t been able to confirm — yet — the various pieces of information I’ve been told so I won’t repeat them here.

But if Shawkey doesn’t return to his post, the City Council would do well to appoint as the town’s next chief someone whose leadership can cut through the internal politics, bring more transparency to the public, boost morale and provide the rank-and-file with a work environment allows them to concentrate on protecting and serving.

Costa Mesa City Council: hurricane warning.

Costa Mesa’s two new councilmen — Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger — are already diving into the city’s budget figures, searching for ways to reduce expenses and shore up the town’s ailing finances.

The two businessmen — who can be as subtle as a herd of charging rhinos — will bring rapid change to Costa Mesa, especially with three like-minded colleagues on the council. Batten down the hatches.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District: high pressure system forming.

The school board suddenly faces a crisis of confidence — from its teachers and parents — because of its missteps after Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard was charged in December with two felonies for misappropriated public funds in 2005 as superintendent of the Beverly Hills school district.


The trustees allowed Hubbard to remain on the job even after e-mails, laced with sexual double entendres and several written from his Newport-Mesa account, surfaced that showed he had an intimate relationship with his co-defendant and former subordinate — a fact he had denied earlier.

While this didn’t alarm school board members, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Solorzano cited the e-mails when she ruled earlier this week that Hubbard would have to stand trial.

“This is not a prosecution that is paper thin,” the Orange County Register quoted the judge as saying. "... for a period of time they were more than just colleagues at arms length. It shows a level of intimacy and lack of professionalism between them.”

The school board members only put Hubbard on paid administrative leave Monday (the same day he was ordered to stand trial) after he asked them to do it. Newly elected Trustee Katrina Foley cast the only dissenting vote, presumably because she didn’t want him to be paid during his leave.

Because it’s a personnel issue, Foley wouldn’t comment on the reason for her dissent, but she made it clear her feelings on a Facebook post Thursday

“Ok so,” she wrote, “the school board votes to accept the Superintendent’s request for paid administrative leave to deal with his criminal matters at a tune of more than $20,000 per month, but the second-graders at College Park elementary can’t go on any field trips this year. What is wrong with this picture?”

She went on to write, “From what I can determine (I could be wrong because I don’t know if I have all the information), none of the District Cabinet or Sup took a pay cut last year when we were cutting programs, supplies, maintenance budgets, and handing out pink slips … Everyone should have shared in the cuts. Especially when it means that kids can’t go on field trips, teachers can’t buy enough supplies, and facility improvement projects are delayed. Our students and families deserve more.”

With Foley on the board, and Hubbard at least temporarily sidelined, teachers and parents will feel more comfortable expressing their complaints. This will lead to a dome of high pressure over the entrenched trustees, bringing about fresh winds of change.

WILLIAM LOBDELL — a former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times journalist — is a Costa Mesa resident who runs a boutique public relations firm. His column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is