City deconstructs 60th anniversary party

During an occasionally tense three-hour meeting Wednesday, members of the 60th Anniversary Planning Committee, Costa Mesa residents and other interested parties sounded off about what went right, what went wrong and what remains unresolved about the city's bash last summer.

The "60 & Fabulous" event June 28 to 30, celebrating the city's six decades of existence, was marked by bloated costs — about $518,000 — repeated failures to follow city purchasing procedures and the need for a personnel investigation.

"We're not going to be able to resolve all of your concerns tonight," 60th committee Chairman Mike Scheafer acknowledged at the outset of the meeting, which took place inside a packed Emergency Operations Center, adjacent to City Hall.

It was the group's first session since July 11, when some of the party's behind-the-scenes struggles first became public.

Scheafer added that there are certainly positive takeaways, despite the tensions that have "festered" in the many months since.

"I think we [immediately] walked away from it thinking it was a great thing for the city of Costa Mesa," he said.

City CEO Tom Hatch acknowledged significant breakdowns at City Hall when it came to bringing the 60th anniversary party to fruition.

"Unanticipated costs" were among those shortcomings, he said, as well as several violations of city purchasing policies.

Hatch echoed much of what city officials first revealed in January, when, after months of withholding documents, more than 1,000 pages related to the event were released.

The investigation included an independent analysis of revenues and expenditures, an independent personnel investigation, a criminal investigation and a review of city procedures. Many of the findings have been forwarded to the Orange County district attorney's office for review of possible municipal code violations.

About a month after the June party, Hatch publicly called for an independent forensic audit. It never rose to such a level, Hatch said in January, because no money was found to be missing or used for personal gain.

"There was value that occurred for the overspending," including the hiring of additional bands to perform, Hatch said during Wednesday's meeting.

"I take responsibility for the shortcomings on our administrative aspects, and I am sorry that those occurred," Hatch added.

Hatch said he was aware of the event's "challenges" closer to its kickoff, though the cost overruns were not apparent until about a month after.

The city estimated the three-day festival would run about $315,000.

After the event, the cost was officially tallied at $518,000, of which the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau — funded by hotel tax revenue — paid $232,000. That amount was nearly 10 times what the bureau originally agreed to.

City coffers paid $209,000, an $84,000 overage from the council's original allotment of $125,000. The cost of the investigation into what went wrong added an additional $45,000, according to initial estimates.

"It did happen, and it should not have happened ... we're better for it in terms of all the different things we do," Hatch said during Wednesday's meeting. "It's on our minds constantly."

Among the reforms, Hatch said, are "re-empowering" city finance staff to be the "eyes and ears" and "safeguards" of the public's money. Two positions, a buyer and a supervisor, will also be added to the personnel ranks, he said.

Officials declined to discuss personnel matters related to the 60th on Wednesday. One of the employees put on administrative leave after the party, Assistant Recreation Supervisor Christine Cordon, was reinstated in December. The other, Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce, remains on paid leave.


Committee member, resident remarks

Some residents, including volunteer Teresa Drain, called for a forensic audit.

Several others, including Lynell Brooks, said organizers were not given enough time to prepare for such an ambitious festival.

"If you're going to have an event of this magnitude, you have to have enough time to do it," she said.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who volunteered during the party, said she was surprised to see so many out-of-towners helping, adding that it should have been more of a locals-only party.

Cecily Renteria, who works in the city's recreation department, said she would like to have seen more offerings that appealed to the city's sizable Hispanic population.

Several residents said they were disappointed that out-of-city vendors provided the food, sidelining Costa Mesa restaurants.

Committee member Howard Hull said he tried to recruit local eateries but their owners were not interested because of the "regulations" and "red tape" that made it tough to participate.

Committee member Sue Lester called the party's finances "an epic fail."

She was concerned that checks were signed on behalf of Scheafer, the committee chairman, without his consent, and was upset by the FBI and district attorney investigations that followed.

"I got interviewed by the FBI about a party for a city," she said. "That's a little unnerving."

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