San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 03/22/15, 7:11 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO >> In a bankrupt city with no shortage of causes of criticism, multiple reasons to say “no” can often overwhelm a single leader or group trying to accomplish something they consider necessary.

That’s one reason, advocates argued, that the city needs to hire a public relations firm — before the struggle to get the public and a federal bankruptcy judge to approve a Plan of Adjustment begins attracting serious opposition from those who won’t get as much as they want under the plan.

It also helps explain why that push failed, with only three of seven City Council members voting for a proposed two-year contract with Tustin-based public relations firm Tripepi Smith.

The estimated cost of the agreement would be $105,000 for the first year and $110,000 for the second year but would have varied depending on the hours the firm actually worked.

To some, who see the budget increasingly taken up by contractors while residents complain that basic services like safety and road maintenance slip, the proposal was simply too expensive.

“I think this is another wasteful, wanton abuse of the taxpayer,” said Councilman John Valdivia, who opposed the agreement along with Council Members Virginia Marquez, Benito Barrios and Henry Nickel. “I will not support this.”

Others questioned the wisdom of having a firm from Orange County, with no full-time Spanish-speaking staff, try to “sell” a city where they don’t have an office.

A much better fit, Marquez said, would be Westbound Communications, which has an office in San Bernardino and got two $24,999 contracts with the city last year to handle public relations.

But the council blocked Westbound’s attempts to extend its contract in San Bernardino in 2014, in part because of perception that they were too closely tied to Mayor Carey Davis.

An interview panel consisting mostly of city staff “unanimously agreed” that Westbound and Tripepi were the two best-qualified firms of the eight that applied, according to a staff report, but Westbound withdrew from consideration.

When Davis asked City Manager Allen Parker why on Monday, Parker replied that Westbound felt they would be a controversial choice and “didn’t need the controversy.”

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