Commentary: Hawkins twists mayor's message over involvement

I know my shortcomings. One of which is the inability to understand government — local to federal and everything in between. As a result, I never miss an opportunity to learn more about civics and politics.

I've discovered if you look closely, lessons are everywhere. For instance, the Daily Pilot published a letter from Robert C. Hawkins ("Don't limit citizen involvement at City Hall," April 8).

Reading beyond the headline provides a crystal clear glimpse into the dark and dreary side of politics, on any level.

If possible, prior to reading my letter, please spend a few minutes reading Mr. Hawkins' letter, then Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner's newsletter (April 2012). If you're paying attention, your head will spin.

Beyond the attention-getting headline, the first paragraph of Mr. Hawkins' letter essentially conveys all you need to know.

"I have always lauded the city of Newport Beach for its citizens' involvement," he writes. "Now, not so much."

What it doesn't say speaks volumes. It doesn't say that the writer had always lauded the city of Newport Beach because "the city" valued the involvement of its citizens but doesn't now.

Taken literally, the statement's sentiment actually says the writer once lauded the citizens of Newport Beach for their involvement, but not now. Why?

Mr. Hawkins is a principal of the Law Offices of Robert C. Hawkins, a somewhat prominent Newport Beach law firm specializing in "condemnation," land use and environmental law.

As mentioned previously, I haven't the capacity to understand local government so I clearly don't understand how the principal of a Newport Beach law firm involved in real estate deals would be appointed to chair Newport's Planning Commission.

Mr. Hawkins "resigned" his chair in January over alleged claims of "conflict of interest" involving two city councilmen ("Newport planning official resigns," Jan. 11).

Based on his long history of community service, it's obvious Mr. Hawkins is profoundly devoted to the public he serves. Assuredly, I'd be chastised as a misanthropic cynic for merely suggesting Mr. Hawkins and the Law Offices of Robert C. Hawkins may have benefited financially from his nearly 15 years of devotion to our fine city.

Now, four months later, the honorable lawyer Mr. Hawkins has taken the opportunity to fire a few shots at Gardner. I understand taking shots at someone when they're earned and deserved.

Why would a noted principal of a Newport Beach law firm, specializing in real estate law, resign his chair over real estate matters and use a public forum to slam Newport's mayor with such fervor? What would compel such an attack — an attack advanced with an utter disregard for facts?

According to Mr. Hawkins' letter, Gardner's newsletter contained a direct quote from the mayor regarding "managing the city as a business." This quote is not in the newsletter.

The newsletter states that the mayor asked City Manager Dave Kiff for specific input on an issue, according to Mr. Hawkins. The newsletter does not mention Mr. Kiff.

Hawkins' interpretation of the mayor's message — that she "may regard citizen involvement as an annoyance" — is the polar opposite of its real meaning: The city of Newport Beach, in an effort to appease all of its citizens, accepts and welcomes their involvement, despite financial considerations, simply because the city values the process, the process of checks and balances (transparency) within and outside the system.

The mayor's message was "That's the rub" — meaning that's the way governing goes. That's the cost government incurs to ensure freedom of access for every citizen.

Citizen involvement might be expensive, but it's worth the price. But, read Gardner's thoughts for yourself and decide. Then reread Mr. Hawkins' letter and ask, "Why?" What's the motivation for writing such nonsense? What is to be gained by twisting truth and manipulating fact? To what purpose?

Often, very important lessons are in plain site, yet, we fail to take the time to learn; we fail to discover the truth.

If we fail to understand motivation, to seek the truth and we fail to ask "Why?," we fail as citizens.

CURT HONINGFORD is a Newport Beach resident.

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