People have been requesting that I blog about the latest issue of the propaganda leaflet the city puts out, Encinitas Now! for weeks, luckily the Coast News wrote a story about it and posted it on their website.
Residents blast note from mayor
August 10, 2007
By Wehtahnah Tucker
ENCINITAS — The city recently sent a recreation guide to each household and business as it normally does each quarter. However, this time a newsletter inserted into the 31,500 booklets has raised concerns that the city violated the state Political Reform Act.
The inaugural issue of the “Encinitas Now” newsletter is tucked neatly into the guide produced by the Parks and Recreation Department. It features opening comments by Mayor James Bond regarding the reason for the newsletter — to maintain a transparent government by informing the citizens of the “many great things that are happening” in the city.
As innocuous as the comments may seem, state law prohibits a public agency from sending a mass mailing that prominently features an elected official’s name or signature, in part because it could give incumbents an unfair advantage.
Bond, whose photograph and signature is included with the letter, is facing reelection to the City Council in 2008.
Encinitas resident Hector Lopez, 51, said Aug. 6 that he plans to file a complaint against the city with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. “It appears it is a political puff piece and self-promotion at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said.
According to Chris Hazeltine, Director of Parks and Recreation Department, the newsletter cost taxpayers $10,000 to print and mail.
Lopez said he has been involved in city government as a citizen for several years and was disappointed to see the newsletter. “He talks about transparency, but the only times most of the council’s actions are clear are when it’s forced upon them by law,” he said.
California Administrative Code 18901 prohibits certain mass mailings at public expense, including written documents sent to more than 200 residents’ homes that feature an elected officer affiliated with the agency that produced the mailing. Specifically prohibited in the code is anything that “includes the elected officer’s photograph or signature, or singles out the elected officer by the manner of display of his or her name or office in the layout of the document.”
“(Bond’s) picture on page one is pretty telling,” Lopez said. “I think there’s a little gamesmanship going on here.”
Bond did not return phone calls to his office.
According to City Manager Phil Cotton, city staff put the newsletter together based on the council’s direction during the goal setting workshops held in January. “When we put it together we had no notion that we were violating any laws,” Cotton said.
Cotton, who has been on the job less than one year, said that the city had produced similar mailings in the past but could not identify a specific mailing when asked for clarification. “If we are in violation then we didn’t intend to be,” he said.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she was surprised that neither the city manager nor Bond was aware of the specific code since San Diego County Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Horn was admonished for a similar violation less than a year ago. That specific violation was well-publicized in the media Barth said. “I spoke to the city manager (on August 6) and he seemed unaware of the issue,” she said.
Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan said neither she nor Barth was consulted as to the content or the existence of the newsletter. “It is unfortunate that the newsletter went out without the benefit of the entire council’s oversight and input,” Houlihan said.
“While I absolutely support enhanced communication with the community through a newsletter disseminated in the recreation guide, I wasn’t given the opportunity to review the materials,” Barth said.
The last page of the newsletter lists a directory of city phone numbers, including those of each council member. According to the code, there is an exception made for “a roster listing containing the names of all elected officers of the agency” as long as the names are printed in the same location, using the same type font, size and color.
“With a minimal level of council review we could have addressed this issue of a council member’s photograph and signature in a mass mailing to our residents at the public’s expense,” Houlihan said. “This situation could have been avoided.”
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It's been a bad week for mayor Bond and new city manager Phil Cotton. First they violate these basic rules and now they don't understand the term turnkey as it applies to their new public works property. This is all despite that Phil Cotton was the former head of public works and he just received a fat raise as city manager after only 6 months on the job. Mayor Bond has been in public service so long you would think he would know better.
Supervisor Bill Horn violated this law in 2006 Union Tribune story
I wish my copy of Encinitas Now! didn't get thrown away (and not in the recycle bin) because it showed some colorful pie charts of how Leucadia's property taxes get wasted.
Get the PDF version of the newsletter from the city website here.
All the Encinitas Now! newsletters are archived in PDFs on the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce website.