A photo that appears to show Costa Mesa’s police and fire chief endorsing Mayor Steve Mensinger’s reelection bid for council prompted the city to issue a statement over the weekend reiterating its stance of election impartiality.
A resident who saw the photo online of the three city officials posing next to each other notified city CEO Tom Hatch Saturday evening, said Tony Dodero, the city’s spokesman.
“It just made it appear that both chiefs are endorsing the mayor and that’s not true,” Dodero said.
The statement said the police and fire chiefs and the city’s upper management do not involve themselves in local elections.
““It would be inappropriate and a violation of our professional ethics to do so,” the statement read.
Mensinger said the image was taken July 4 when he and Police Chief Robert Sharpnack and Fire Chief Dan Stefano were walking around the city looking for users of illegal fireworks.
A caption at the top reads “Leadership for Costa Mesa United to Build Tomorrow’s Police & Fire Departments.”
A campaign sign with Mensinger’s and Allan Mansoor’s name is shown at the bottom. Both men are running for City Council.
Mensinger said he posted the photo on his Facebook page after it was taken and that someone grabbed it and added the wording and campaign sign to it.
“Somebody took it off my Facebook and created a political ad out of it,” he said. “I have hundreds of photos with police and fire (personnel) at different events.”
Mensinger has said he is against the unions endorsing candidates.
A screen shot of the image showed it was posted on the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association Facebook page and has since been taken down.
That page is run by Jim Fitzpatrick, a political ally of Mensinger’s who is running for the Costa Mesa Sanitary District board. He said Monday he had posted the photo after seeing it online. He said he did not alter it.
“On Saturday, I made a mistake and put up the wrong image,” he said in a post on Monday. “I apologize. As soon as I realized the mistake, it was immediately removed. Within minutes.”
The Costa Mesa Firefighter and Police associations, unions that represent rank-and-file personnel in both departments, have both endorsed Councilwoman Sandra Genis and candidates Jay Humphrey and John Stephens.
Mensinger and other council members have criticized both unions during rounds of contract negotiations, specifically that the pay and benefits to officers and firefighters were contributing to the city’s pension woes.
In addition, Mensinger and Councilman Jim Righeimer filed lawsuits against the police union alleging harassment.
Images, whether altered or not, have become an issue at times during this year’s election cycle.
Councilman Jay Humphrey was sent a cease-and-desist letter when residents complained about his use of the city seal on a campaign mailer touting support from the firefighters union.
The matter is being reviewed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
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