Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy one column at a time...
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I write  two articles each week. The first is only seen locally in Newport/Costa Mesa while the 2nd runs weekends county wide in the newspaper. Here's my local column this week.

Venezia: Mayor gives State of the City address

published 2/14/14

It was another sold out event Feb. 7 at the Newport Beach Marriott for the 33rd annual Newport Beach Mayor's Dinner, organized by Speak Up Newport.

The evening was chaired by board members George Schroeder, Kathy Harrison and Jo Vandervort.

Usually I hate going to civic events, but I do enjoy this one. You never know who you'll run into or what they'll share.

During the cocktail hour, I chatted with Assemblyman Allan Mansoor and his very pregnant wife Janniffer, who are expecting their first baby after getting hitched Aug. 3, 2013.

Boy or girl?

They want it to be a surprise when the baby arrives this May.

Mansoor's running for county supervisor, and I also spied his main competitor, Michelle Steel, vice chairwoman of the state Board of Equalization, working the room.

Yes, the politicos were out in force this evening.

Supervisor John Moorlach was quick to hand me his “Moorlach for Congress”business cards during the cocktail schmooze fest.

Lynn Selich of OC Social Scene was busily taping interviews with an NBTV microphone in her hand.

Could we be seeing Selich with her own show on NBTV soon?

Gary Sherwin, president of Newport Beach & Co. told me things are looking good for the City Council to approve a contract allowing his organization to take the reins of NBTV to re-tool the station.

That's good news in my book. Since 2011, I've written about how underutilized NBTV's been and what a missed marketing opportunity it is for the city.

In 2012, Newport Mayor Nancy Gardner and I even offered suggestions on how the channel could be reworked to capture local flavor, and still nothing moved forward.

Looks like now it will. Sherwin said he hopes to have the contract ratified and be broadcasting by mid-March.

Will viewers see a food show with my name attached to it? Maybe…

After the cocktail hour, the crowd moved into the ballroom for dinner.

Former Mayor and now Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Rosansky opened the evening with Moorlach by his side.

It was kind of a funny sight since Moorlach towers over Rosansky.

Costa Mesa's Peter Buffa was back as emcee, and his edgy humor was on target as he took gentle swipes at the Newport establishment.

The surprise moment of every Mayor's Dinner is always who will receive the coveted SUNshine Award, which is given in recognition for the recipient's long-term positive impact on the community.

City Manager Dave Kiff took the stage. It wasn't long before the audience figured out who the winner would be, as he talked about his personal experience with former state Sen. Marian Bergeson early in his career.

Fittingly, the award was presented to Bergeson by her good buddy Evelyn Hart, the 2012 SUNshine Award recipient.

Looking elegant, Bergeson gave a gracious thank you speech and seemed genuinely touched by the honor.

Another signature of the evening is seeing all the former mayors in attendance gathered on stage.

With the exception of Councilwoman Leslie Daigle – the rest of the current council have all served as mayor. They were joined by Dennis O'Neil, John Heffernan, Tod Ridgeway, Rosansky, John Cox, Evelyn Hart and Milan Dostal.

The main event was Mayor Rush Hill's State of the City address.

Say what you will about his politics, but the guy knows how to deliver a speech.

His tone, cadence and eye contact at just the right moments were superb.

With a theme of “Celebrate Newport,” Hill has big plans for the city.

He'll ask his fellow council members to support taking the closed Coyote Canyon landfill and turning it into a public golf course, much like the Newport Beach Golf Course on Irvine Avenue and Mesa Drive.

He also wants to replace the current harbor moorings with floating docks with electrical hook ups, initiating an electric water taxi service, and to lower building permit fees for single-family home renovations.

Hill's speech was well-received by the audience.

And expectedly so – he'd just promised boaters, golfers and homeowners some neat stuff – which pretty much covers all the major groups in Newport.

Now, let's see if he can deliver.

The bad thing about promising people things is if you don't come through, they remember that come election day.

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Venezia: Who's minding Costa Mesa business?

Published 2/6/14

The much-anticipated audit digging into the finances of the controversial Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary event last June came out last week.

I wasn’t surprised when the OC Register reported, “Investigations by the city of Costa Mesa and an auditing firm found that last summer’s 60th anniversary celebration cost about $200,000 more than initially budgeted, checks and balances in paying for the event were missing, employees cut corners on following city procedures for contracts and competing bids were missing for many contracts.”

Looking into the 60th aftermath in three columns last summer, I didn’t need a 1,000-page report to figure out there were questionable agendas to the planning, selection of some vendors, and that no one was watching the store.

In my first column Aug. 27 I wondered if it was just lack of communication – one hand not knowing what the other was doing – that was the real problem.

By the second column Aug. 29, I was convinced the event was so poorly planned and handled, it wouldn’t prove profitable.

By my third column Sept. 6, was clear this whole episode was one big cluster-you-know-what, and on its way to becoming a big embarrassment for city leaders.

I didn’t agree with some speculations that there was something sinister afloat. From what I could uncover, it seemed lack of common sense and good judgment were at the root as to why this event went so wrong.

Moving forward, how the City Council and city management handle themselves will be critical in the eyes of the public.

There are times when any excuse you give for screwing up only makes things worse. This could be one of those times for Costa Mesa leaders.

Are we to believe no one was paying attention to what was supposed to be the biggest event the city’s ever had?

How did management miss the fact employees weren’t following proper purchasing and contractual procedures?

Who was asleep at the wheel? Will those individuals be held accountable?

I remember the Feet to the Fire Forum in April 2011 themed, “Should the city of Costa Mesa be run more like a business?” Mayor Jim Righeimer defended the concept saying it would create a better run city.

The council even changed Tom Hatch’s title from city manager to CEO.

So if this city IS being run like a business, then why such mismanagement?

I’m not buying the excuse employees weren’t properly trained. Who runs a business without training their employees!

The other excuse that doesn’t hold water for me is that there wasn’t enough time to plan this event.

Anyone with a lick of business sense knows if there isn’t enough time to execute something properly, then either move the date until there is, or scrap it entirely.

With such a high-profile event, the powers that be should have realized the margin for error was slim, and a sloppy effort would turn into a public relations nightmare for them.

But was the 60th doomed from the very beginning? With an estimated 111,000 + residents, only 16,000 attended. Was there even an audience for something like this?

Before allocating city funding and resources, a prudent business decision would have been to do marketing research to determine if this was even something the public was interested in.

If Costa Mesa is supposedly being run like a “real” business, upper management would, and should, be held accountable.

Saying things got out of hand is code for, “I wasn’t paying attention,” and that’s not an acceptable excuse either.

Of course there’s blame enough to pass around.

Though the City Council may have been driving the bus to have this event, they weren’t in charge of day-to-day planning activities, which is apparently where this thing went left.

Alert managers should have realized proper procedures weren’t being followed early on and corrected them.

Could or should CEO Tom Hatch and his upper management staff be replaced?

This mess will certainly sully efforts of those on council seeing re-election or higher office in 2014.

In last week’s column I predicted the political scene in Costa Mesa would be changing fast and furiously with the release of this audit, which raises even more questions.

One I have is: how long can a business survive being run as poorly as this one appears to be?

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