City Life: I got some facts wrong last week

The inability to say, "I'm sorry," is pervasive.

Instead people say or write, "I regret," "It was an error in judgment," or nothing at all.

I smile when a mistake maker offers a "mea culpa," Latin for "my mistake," or "my fault," because this weak substitute for, "I'm sorry," would never fly anywhere but in print.

Just imagine a husband saying to his wife, "Honey, I blew our retirement savings at the track today. Mea culpa."

Unfortunately, the impact of this character deficiency gets worse as one rises on the political or business ladders. My best example of avoiding the words, "I'm sorry," is Robert McNamara's worthless admission of responsibility for his role in the Vietnam War.

In his 1995 memoir, "In Retrospect," McNamara wrote, "We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."

Eight years later, he redeemed himself somewhat during an interview for the Vietnam War documentary, "The Fog of War," in which he said, "I'm very sorry that in the process of accomplishing things, I've made errors."

"Errors" is hardly the right word for the advice he gave, and the actions he took to prolong the war and contribute to the needless deaths of thousands of young Americans, but at least he said, "I'm sorry."

An "error" is what I do, and I made one last week. In my attempt to bring a little sunshine to Costa Mesa's economic picture, I mistakenly attributed the current street maintenance in Mesa Verde to the city's own tax dollars when it is actually the result of revenue from Orange County's Measure M.

In my defense, I may have tried too hard to be fair. To determine the source of the maintenance funds I reviewed the city's own budget, which I obviously misunderstood. Then, in a feeble attempt to quell the anticipated complaints of those who would claim I am a council stooge or something similar because I used only the city's numbers, I consulted a pro-union source, "Costa Mesa Facts: Answers to Questions About Outsourcing, Pensions, and Budgets," published by the Democratic Club of West Orange County, which I also misread.

It was the perfect journalistic storm of errors, for which I am sorry.

The error does not detract from the larger point I made in the final paragraph. The city has a maintenance budget for facilities and equipment and it is being funded, not deferred, which saves Costa Mesa residents money in the long run.

More disturbing to me than my sloppiness was how quickly and caustic the comments appeared. One reader was certain the column was blatant support for Councilmen Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, even though I was careful not to mention names and have no allegiance to any political party, group or individual. In my blissful ignorance, I wanted to give all five council members kudos.

Now, none of them get credit.

I look forward to reading and responding to the online comments to this column. Most of them are thoughtful and constructive, and I am happy to engage in discussions to elaborate on what I have written. A recent example is the exchange I had offline with Robin Leffler, who questioned my sanity over the tax question, but did so thoughtfully.

Last week, Daily Pilot editor John Canalis reported that the paper would be screening online comments. I have been self-screening online comments for years, almost always responding to those readers who bring new data or facts to the discussion or who just make me think a second time about a subject.

I do not respond to emotional outbursts spewing venom or insults directed at anyone. Feel free to submit your comment, and if it passes the Pilot test, so be it. But if it is not civil and constructive in its comments or criticism, don't expect a response from me.

For that, I am not sorry.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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