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Staff Turnover, Disputes Over Content Caused 3 False Starts : Rent Board Finally Has a Newsletter

November 24, 1985|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Rent Control Board, which has spent much of its time explaining its actions to apartment owners, hopes to broaden its audience next month when its long-delayed newsletter hits the streets.

The Rent Control News, which has been in the works for more than two years, has been delayed by staff turnover and disagreements over the quarterly publication's contents, according to board administrator Howell Tumlin.

After three false starts, however, Tumlin said the board's upper-level employees have assembled a maiden issue that should be mailed to residents in early December.

"I don't think we hit the mark until we got the articles that we have for the newsletter now," Tumlin said. "We wanted to produce a newsletter that provided hard practical information instead of just announcing programs."

The Rent Control News will be mailed to all Santa Monica residents, including homeowners. It will contain stories about apartment renovation and utility cost reimbursements. Other articles will focus on the registration fee waiver for the elderly and legal and legislative decisions affecting the 6-year-old rent control law.

The six-page publication, in both English and Spanish, also will contain a question-and-answer section and a special a "report card" asking readers to grade the Rent Control Board's services.

James Baker, a spokesman for apartment owners, said he is already prepared to give the board and its newsletter an F. Baker called the publication a propaganda sheet designed to promote "radical and one-sided views."

Newsletter's Purpose

"The purpose of the newsletter is to promulgate one point of view to the renters of Santa Monica with no attempt to . . . recognize that there are two sides to the housing equation," Baker said. "This newsletter is a sham."

But Commissioner Wayne Bauer said the board's goal is to inform the public, including landlords, about rent control and changes in the law. Bauer added that the five-member board was partly responsible for delays because it wanted to make the publication "all things to all people."

"We all knew what we wanted individually, but we had no overall concept for the thing," Bauer said. "The basic idea was to inform people about our rules and regulations without getting too heavy-handed. The problem was that we needed to back away from trying to make it into a Pulitzer Prize winner."

Board Chairwoman Eileen Lipson said the publication is "long overdue." Like others on the rent board, Lipson blamed delays on staff turnover and board dissatisfaction with two earlier versions.

The first problem arose in 1984, when a public information officer who was supposed to produce the newsletter left the board.

The agency then allocated about $36,000 for the newsletter in its 1985-86 budget and gave the job of producing the publication to Denise O'Connor, a private consultant who oversees the "SEASCAPE" newsletter for the city of Santa Monica.

O'Connor worked on the project during the early part of this year, and was paid about $5,000 for a draft of a newsletter called "Renter's Writes."

The draft contained a message from administrator Tumlin and articles on the workings of the board, maximum allowable rents, an interior-improvement program and updates on court and legislative developments. After several meetings, O'Connor said the board rejected her work without an explanation.

"I never found out what happened," O'Connor said. "I just know it wasn't published. "It was dragging on and on and I said, 'Let's do something.' But the board didn't know what they wanted. So they appointed a editorial board that didn't know what it wanted. Everyone had a different idea."

The board then hired Mary Dresser as its public information officer in April. Dresser said the board made the newsletter a priority, but rejected all of her ideas for the publication.

Chief Objections

"I turned in the first draft near the end of June or early July because they said they wanted to get the newsletter out real quickly," Dresser said. "Howell (Tumlin) read it over and gave it back, saying he didn't like any of it. The chief objection was that he didn't like the journalistic style. I said, 'What the hell does that mean?' "

Dresser said she returned with another draft in September. The updated version was reviewed by Tumlin and the board, but Dresser said they unanimously rejected it and fired her at the end of her probation period.

"The board and I weren't happy because the articles weren't practical enough," Tumlin said. "They were informative, but they didn't tell people about our services, and that's what we wanted to do in the first issue."

Tumlin said the staff-produced newsletter borrows from all of the previous versions of the publication. He said the board is looking for another public information officer to assume responsibility for producing the newsletter, and predicted that future issues would be produced more smoothly.

And he said he expects it to be well received.

"We're sure everyone out there is dying to know more about rent control," Tumlin said. "And we didn't want people to start yawning in the middle of this thing. Rent control can be a pretty dry subject, but we've tried to make the articles useful."

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