I came a whisker away from attending Tuesday night’s fake meeting at Costa Mesa High School. At the last minute, I chose not to go so I could spend time at home with my wife. (BTW, we started watching “Good Girls,” which was recommended by a friend. Though I find one of the three main characters in need of additional acting lessons, overall, the show is well produced.)

The CM High fake meeting was arranged to provide the public an opportunity to tell the district what characteristics they would like to see in the new principal at Costa Mesa Middle School.

The mere concept of having a public meeting for this purpose is laughable and exposes the district’s weak decision-making process. They want us to help choose a new principal? Seriously? You mean that after all this time, after all these fake new principal meetings, and after their own supposed experience with and exposure to the best characteristics, they do not know on their own?

Of course they know: They want someone with a good resume who will not rock the boat. That innovation and initiative stuff? Forget about it.

For this fake meeting, there were some announcements, posts, etc. And the library was set up to accommodate a lot of people.

Had I attended, I would have doubled the number of residents who showed up.

Yes, that is correct: One person, Barry Friedland, showed up. Here is Friedland’s picture from Tuesday night:

Pathetic. Pitiful. Disgraceful. If I had more time, I could probably conjure up a few more descriptions.

But the shamefully low turnout is only the beginning. Wait until you read this…

There were SEVEN district representatives there. Seven!

Friedland, surprised at what he saw, offered an explanation. Here is what he wrote on Facebook:

“I told an administrator a possible explanation is there is a consensus among those I know that this process is all for show and the replacement principal is already selected, so nobody takes this seriously. She defended saying they read everything and are influenced by the parent’s inputs. I then had another conversation with two other admins and they seemed to agree with my assessment. One gave me a personal example.

“I was told they have received inputs submitted online and this lack of interest is only a sign of the digital age. I did some additional research and found out there was a packed house for a band concert at the high school Performing Arts Center and a big Cheer meeting with over 100 people taking place at the same time. Perhaps a scheduling conflict? Inconceivable!”

The district excuse(s) given to Friedland are so contradictory and off the mark that it truly is, as Friedland wrote, inconceivable.


It’s inconceivable that the district cannot understand that this is a first and that blaming it on the “digital age” makes no sense whatsoever. If this horrible result were truly the result of the “digital age,” we would have seen it before. At the very least, we would have been witnessing declining attendance over time, not the shock they had on Tuesday.

It’s inconceivable that if this abysmal turnout were really the result of the “digital age,” that the district did not foresee this and make the accompanying adjustments such as, oh, maybe not holding a live, fake meeting at all and just use the online input.

It’s inconceivable that the district representative felt no need to own any of this debacle, as in saying something such as, “I’m not sure why no one is here. What I am sure of is that we did a terrible job communicating with the public. We need to do better.”

And it’s inconceivable that no one will be held accountable for this waste of time and re$ource$.

I have organized or help organize countless meetings across the country. Every major city and some not-so-major like Boise, Idaho. Conferences, trade shows, dinner seminars, lunch-and-learns – the whole thing. Almost all of them were well-attended, but a few bombed. We bombed in Boise, but I channeled that experience into the most successful marketing initiative in the history of the ad agency for which I was working.

Why did I do that? Because my reputation was on the line. Because I was concerned about being demoted or fired, and because I had a responsibility to my employer to fix things.

That’s how it works for the rest of us.

Friedland may be right about people becoming jaded about these fake meetings. I hope he’s right because that means that public awareness is growing and more people will see the need for changes in the district.

But based on my experience, past and present, I believe that this embarrassment was the product of a really poor communications effort.

This is what happens when complacency sets in. And despite what you may ever have read or heard, the single greatest threat to any organization is complacency. When people stop caring about continuous improvement, you get results like Tuesday night.

And speaking of meetings… The district’s Mental Health Task Force meets today at 2 p.m. at the Sanborn room on Bear St.

Plus, there’s a school board meeting next Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The agenda will be posted tomorrow, just a few hours ahead of the legal deadline. Why the short notice? That’s the way it has always been done.

Steve Smith