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Fire Authority PR Questioned

Agency: Union president, assemblyman criticize proposal to spend $350,000 on public relations.

July 26, 2001|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal by the Orange County Fire Authority to spend $350,000 for public relations work is being criticized as unnecessary "self-promotion" by a top union official for the firefighters association and a state assemblyman.

"The fire authority already has sent out cards to people who have used emergency services and we have a 97% approval rating," said Joe Kerr, president of the International Assn. of Firefighters. "Why do they want to spend more money now when it can be used for other things, like our drowning prevention program?"

Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove), who has pushed for legislation that would streamline the agency's power structure and redistribute the annual budget among the 22 cities served by the agency, questioned the authority's "fiscal responsibility" for such a large tab on self-promotion.

Maddox's bill has been amended to deal only with funding and will not be reintroduced on the Assembly floor until January.

The authority is expected to vote on the $350,000 contract with the public relations firm of Waters & Faubel at its meeting tonight. The Lake Forest firm also represents the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, a coalition of South County cities opposed to the proposed El Toro airport.

Hiring a firm "instrumental in fighting the county's efforts" to create an airport is a concern to Maddox, the assemblyman wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to authority Chairman Shawn Boyd.

Stanton, a city in Maddox's district, is struggling financially, he noted. "If the OCFA is awash in so much money that an expensive public relations campaign seems reasonable, then perhaps the amount charged to cities like Stanton is too high. . . . I expect they would not mind a reduction in their service rates."

Boyd defended the board's plan for a public relations program, saying it would promote a greater understanding of the authority and its work.

The card survey reached only a portion of the 100,000 emergency calls the authority handles a year, Boyd said. Meanwhile, the authority serves an area of more than 1.2-million residents.

Union president Kerr hinted that Waters & Faubel's selection was "political payback" or thanks for its work against the airport by some anti-airport City Council members on the fire authority board--a charge denied by the authority's spokesman, Battalion Chief Scott Brown, and Boyd, a pro-airport Seal Beach council member.

The authority had eight public relations firms apply for the contract, and four were invited to interview before a review committee that included two pro-airport council members and one from an anti-airport city, Boyd said.

"I can't say I have no problem with this," Boyd said about the hiring of Waters & Faubel. But even with that committee makeup, he said, Waters & Faubel was chosen.

The contract calls for the firm to develop and implement a public information and community outreach program, Roger Faubel said. "They have designated $120,000, or $10,000 a month, for brochures, public service announcements, some video work and have it translated into foreign languages."

Faubel and his partner, Meg Waters, rejected the accusation that their firm was selected by some criterion other than finding the most qualified company.

The proposed expenditure comes a month after the agency boosted pay for its lobbyists by $3,000 a month. Nielson, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, a Sacramento firm, will receive $7,500 a month to provide legal advice and lead state lobbying efforts, in part, against Maddox's bill.

In March, the fire authority also retained the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips of Washington for $5,000 a month to lobby on several issues, including Maddox's bill.

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