Roy Reynolds, Podcar Booster Turned Pollster, and Our Report from “Feet to the Fire”




Geoff over at A Bubbling Cauldron has the best story on the Costa Mesa “Toes-Only-Moderately-Toasted” Forum . This was one of those fascinating events where you get to see the characters live, some of whom I had only read about. Of course there were Riggy and Mensie, but there was also the Stink-eye Guy, Jim’s cute little acolyte Ethan passing out his flyers, and of course Colin McCarthy, the only person smarmier than Council Member Jim Righeimer. But who was that lugubrious fellow with the ridiculous comb-over who was working the room? Someone identified him as the pollster for the Costa Mesa McCarthyites, Roy Reynolds.

Roy in a prototype robocar

Roy Reynolds? The guy who spent years haranguing staffs at public meetings about building a horizontal elevator along the Santa Ana River and over flood control channels?

Sure enough, a little internet research showed that it was indeed the same guy who fancied himself a transportation analyst, and bid on consulting contracts from his lofty perch as Managing Director (and sole employee) of his home-based business, PRT Strategies. The elaborate PRT strategies web site is gone, but you can recapture some of its glory using the wayback machine.

PRT Strategies – “Brokering, political outreach, and consulting for Personal Rapid Transit Systems.” Those were the days.

Now it turns out that Roy’s abortive consulting business drawing maps for little robot podcars to zip about overhead has now been replaced by robocall polling, with another home-based business, Polling Strategies, where Reynolds is once again Managing Partner.

And Colin McCarthy, outsourcing guru, knows how to get a deal. Why bother with one of those expensive polling companies when you can find a guy with no track record, a limited understanding of standard polling practices, who will produce the results you want?

How laughable is Polling Strategies’ work? Let’s first look at a question from Tulchin Research, which also polled Costa Mesa. Tulchin is one of those real polling companies that follows best practices and gets paid very well for their professionalism. They introduced their question and then give a range of five choices:

Costa Mesa City Council Outsourcing Plan “As you may have heard, the City Council is planning to balance the city budget by outsourcing 18 services currently provided by the city to private contractors and laying-off 213 city employees, or nearly half of the city’s current workforce. Based on this, would you say you support or oppose the City Council’s plan to balance the budget?” Total Support 34% Strongly Support 19% Somewhat Support 15% Total Oppose 59% Strongly Oppose 44% Somewhat Oppose 15% Undecided 8%

Polling Strategies also had a question about outsourcing, but it was preceded by four questions that started out, “Do you think is is acceptable that…”

  • Costa Mesa spent over 35 million of its rainy day reserves
  • Costa Mesa currently pays 85 employees over $200,000 a year in total compensation
  • Approximately 80% of the entire city budget is used for employee’s salary and benefits
  • Less than 4% of the City budget is used for infrastructure improvements such as roads and parks

After that set-up, assuming their hand-out lists question in order, you get this question talking about a “budget crisis” :

Do you believe the city should look at all of its options to solve the budget crisis, including outsourcing some of its services to the private sector? Yes 68% No 32%

Note the difference between a professional pollster and the Roy Reynolds’ question. And what about people with no opinion? The handout from Costa Mesa Taxpayers includes this note:

Information in questions were [sic] obtained from official budget figures and estimates released by the city and reflect those who had an opinion.

The other thing that was interesting about Roy Reynolds poll was that they interviewed about twice the number of people that they needed to interview to get a statistically valid sample. Some might say that this starts to move it from polling into pushing.

We wish Roy Reynolds well with his new business, and fondly remember the days when someone who sounded a lot like him posted as Lurk over at Matt Cunningham’s blog.  Our sources tell us that Lurk fell below Cunningham’s ethical standards… [Correction, there appears to be some confusion about ethical standards at Red County.]

But enough about Reynolds.   Let’s move onto other parts of the program: Colin McCarthy was unbelievable, and not in any good way.

  • He asserted that Costa Mesa would be broke by June if there weren’t immediate budget cuts, then justified that by quoting the City’s forecast that there was still a 1.6 million deficit for the current fiscal year. Apparently he hadn’t gotten the memo that the City Manager expected the budget deficit, which had been projected as high as 15 million in early 2010, would be gone by the end of June, 2011. See, there’s 6.6 million more in revenue than was forecast, plus all the cuts that the City Council made instead of “kicking the can down the road”.
  • When challenged to provide details of cities that had switched from full-service cities to contract cities, he cited Sandy, Georgia. Oops! Sandy was incorporated in 2005, and has been a contract city from day one.
  • McCarthy asserted that Costa Mesa had the highest paid police department in Southern California. Really? Did he pull those numbers out of his own ass or Riggy’s ass? Does McCarthy realize that people can look this stuff up? Costa Mesa’s contract with its police mandates that the City pays “average/median total compensation of the agreed-upon benchmark survey agencies to determine a “fair wage”. The survey agencies utilized in this process include Costa Mesa’s contiguous agencies (Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, Santa Ana and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for CMPA)

For those of you who try to follow Riggy’s constantly changing numbers, he has pulled back from his repeated assertion that the City’s cost for CalPERS contributions will not 25 million in five years, but now just 20 million. You gotta love a guy who can save the City 5 million smackers just by flapping his mouth in a different configuration.

Dumbest guy at the forum was Frank Mickadeit, by a mile. In addition to wasting a lot of time pontificating, he begged that everyone humor his innumeracy and agree that different people had different numbers, and the different numbers meant different things, but since the numbers part appeared to be well beyond his reasoning powers, please can’t we just ignore numbers when we talk about budgets.

Smartest guy in the room, by a country mile was Nick Berardino. Here’s a guy who believed that the most important thing about a budget was the numbers, and everyone should work collaboratively to agree on the numbers and then work to find a solution. Riggy wasn’t putting up with that kind of crazy talk. Avast ye landlubbers, Shoot, Fire, Aim, and damn the layoffs straight ahead.

Best performance, and again nobody was close, Wendy Leece. Gotta love her, especially when she interrupted lies with facts.

Norberto Santana was the only real journalist on the stage, although the guy from the Daily Pilot tried.

But let’s go back to the question that nobody has asked. What happens to the CalPERS liability for employees who are outsourced? Based on public records requests to CalPERS, it appears that Terry Matz, interim Assistant CEO, finally sent an email on March 30th, asking about the cost of paying off the unfunded liability for sworn firemen, but nothing yet on what happens to the 39 million in unfunded liabilities for miscellaneous employees who are laid off.

Does Riggy think your unfunded liability just goes poof if you outsource your employees jobs? I sure wouldn’t want to be the staff member who had to tell him and Council Member Mensinger about that. Of course, budgets are just a “simple checkbook problem” to Riggy. “It’s not complicated.” Except when it is.

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