The power struggle at the Hall of Administration hit a fever pitch Tuesday when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to appoint L.A. County CEO, Sachi Hamai, as the head of the County Office of Emergency Services removing Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of disaster preparedness.
It was a move many anticipated as the contentious relationship between the Board of Supervisors and Villanueva played out in the press. Most recently in an interview with Fox 11, Sheriff Villanueva openly expressed his concern over the B.O.S. leaving him out of important meeting and strategy sessions during this crisis and, up until March 23rd, neither Villanueva, nor any law enforcement official had been included in any of the LA county press conferences. “This is about taking care of people, not elected officials or politicians,” Villanueva said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the reasoning behind the vote to remove Villanueva was that the EOC was “much broader than law enforcement” and that “we have certainly seen it in the pandemic”. Queue CEO Hamai, rich with a background in fiscal management who showed just how much broader the scope is in her new role as head of disaster preparedness. Hamai flexed her financial muscle as her first move as director of EOC was to pull the purse strings tighter on Sheriff’s deputies who were on quarantined during the month of March. Deputies are now limited to using their vacation time to cover lost wages during the mandated quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus while they were on duty.
As if these monumental political moves during a global health and financial crisis wasn’t enough,Fox 11 released information the County hired not one, but two PR firms contracted at a total of $400,000 allegedly being used to craft the County’s messaging for the coronavirus pandemic despite the county having a fully staffed communications team. The County is hoping to be reimbursed FEMA funding.
On March 12th, Fraser Communications was retained by the County for $200,000 to draft press releases, talking points, responses, monitor public perception of COVID-19. Fast forward to March 30, as the second contract was secured with global public strategy firm Mercury Public Affairs for an additional $200,000.
In an interview responding to the story, Supervisor Kathy Barger said “Its an easy one for me for to answer and I hold my head up high… It’s unfortunate one individual is making an issue of this to embarrass the Board” referring to Fox 11 reporter Bill Melugin.
Actually, it appears the Board is doing a stellar job embarrassing themselves without the help of the press.
“One of those PR firms (hired for the coronavirus) is already on contract with Public Health to do PSAs… we didn’t have the resources within…” Barger offered to further substantiate the additional monies being spent on P.R. at taxpayers expense, on a seemingly regular basis, over and above what the in-house county communications team is paid to do.
And even more embarrassing (and startling) was information The Local Malibu discovered regarding one of the two PR firms hired for the county Coronavirus campaign messaging. Fraser PR CEO Renee White Fraser was ordered to pay $91,530 to settle federal charges of insider trading of a client’s stock.
As always, one hand washes the other between political playmates. Fabian Nunez, a consultant at Mercury Public Affairs and a former lawmaker in the California State Assembly, donated the maximum $1,500 allowed to Barger’s campaign in February, a little over a month before before securing the contract with the County for the Coronavirus campaign
In stark contrast to how the County is using PR resources to get messaging out to the public during the pandemic, Mayor Garcetti said in an interview with KFI640 that the City of Los Angeles has been “doing it all in-house with existing resources.”