City Life: Costa Mesa needs to hire Lobdell permanently

I learned a good rule of business from my father, who used to hire people who were already employed.

"There is a reason why they are working and others are not," he'd say.

This is meant to provide some context for my endorsement of William Lobdell to act as the city's permanent, full-time communications director.

As public agencies increase their levels of transparency, they move closer toward a business model of operations instead of the usual bureaucratic indifference.

Lobdell, who as Daily Pilot editor hired me to write this column 13 years ago, came on board with the city in March on an interim basis and has had his contract renewed twice. The city has committed to Lobdell's services through the end of the year.

As an independent contractor, Lobdell has proved himself worthy of the two contract renewals. As a former newspaper editor, Lobdell is an expert communicator and has helped create a transparency program that is a model for other municipalities.

Lobdell is also a Costa Mesa resident and has nearly a lifetime of involvement with the city — not a small point.

Most important, though, is that he has already proven he can do the job. Even those who may have disagreed with him over the years cannot argue that the transparency program he is managing has paid deep respect to taxpayers by providing them with the information they deserve to have, without having to beg for it.

Lobdell is also smart and accessible. That is, he does not keep office hours.

As for his salary, Lobdell should be rewarded with a package that is sustainable, affordable and fair. So what is fair? We don't have to guess, as Lobdell would not be the first city communications director in the nation. Find out what others are paying and pay him accordingly.

Costa Mesa Chief Executive Tom Hatch told me via email that hiring a full-time communications director "would require recruiting for the position before it is filled."

So be it. But significant weight should be given to Lobdell for his efforts thus far, for he has helped produce real innovation in the way government business is conducted.

Costa Mesa needs to get off the contract renewal treadmill and hire Lobdell full time. Not only is each contract renewal the equivalent of paying overtime, but Lobdell, you see, is already working.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer.

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