Candidate accuses official of 'sabotage' on video message

A Huntington Beach City Council candidate's campaign team has decried a city official's decision to superimpose a written message on a video that features the candidate discussing his campaign.

Chuck Foster, a photographer and videographer for first-time candidate Bob Wentzel, submitted a letter Tuesday morning to the city attorney's office complaining about the text placement. In particular, he lambasted city spokeswoman Laurie Frymire for her decision to allow the text, calling it a deliberate attempt to "frustrate, hinder, undermine and otherwise sabotage" Wentzel's campaign.

Although the letter was signed by Foster, Wentzel said Tuesday that he had co-written it.

The city invited all council candidates to stop by City Hall in September to record three-minute video messages describing themselves and their platforms. Frymire, who handled the correspondence, asked that videos be about three minutes long and refrain from attacking other candidates or discussing issues in depth.

In addition to appearing on the city website, the videos have been broadcast on HBTV3, the city's public access channel.

Despite the time guidelines, Wentzel recorded a message less than a minute long in which he urged voters to check his website to learn more about him. The city ultimately posted the video on its website with Wentzel's message shown three times in a row and the words "Repeated at candidates [sic] request" superimposed in yellow over the two replays.

Those words, according to Foster's letter, distracted viewers from Wentzel's spoken message and made him "appear greedy, unprofessional and seemingly seeking and getting special favors not afforded the other candidates."

Frymire said Wednesday that she had ordered the video removed from the TV schedule and asked the city's webmaster to remove it online, and that the city would re-broadcast it without the text.

However, Wentzel said if the city does not agree to a list of other demands, he is prepared to file a lawsuit against Frymire and possibly the city as a whole. Among other things, he demands that the city make him a personal DVD containing versions of the video with and without the text, and that the city pay the cost of an apology letter to be sent to 64,000 registered voter households.

In the letter Foster sent to the city attorney's office, he and Wentzel set a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday for the city to comply.

"I'm so unhappy with this," Wentzel said. "I'm getting phone calls from people who have no idea what that [text] means, and they're wondering why these four words are running over the top of my candidate statement. It was nothing I agreed to."

Frymire begs to differ on that last point. The yellow text, she said, did appear on the video when Wentzel and Foster reviewed it at the studio Oct. 4, and she forwarded emails to the Independent from two members of the video production team stating that the campaign team made no objection to the text at the time.

Frymire said the yellow text was her decision and meant to clear up any confusion about the message being repeated.

"That was just for the viewer so that they didn't think we had made a mistake and that it was at the request of the candidate," she said. "It's a factual statement. It made sense to me to put something in there so the viewer was not confused."

Frymire added that she would have ordered the text removed if she had known Wentzel's team had a problem with it.

The latest tiff is not the first time Wentzel has clashed with the city over the video.

When the candidate came to City Hall to record his message in September, he asked Frymire to run it three times in a row to fill the three-minute time slot. She initially agreed, but emailed him later saying she had changed her mind.

Wentzel and Foster complained to the city attorney's office, and officials ultimately agreed to broadcast the video three times in a row. Then the candidate came in to review the footage — and whether the text was on screen or not at that point depends on the source.

Foster, for his part, said he's willing to resort to technology to prove his version.

"I will take and pay for a polygraph," he said.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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