Orange County Great Park External Affairs Manager Tim Shaw – head of a public relations team that is charged with promoting a green energy collegiate competition event that proponents say could put the park on an international stage – has resigned effective Feb. 22, Voice of OC has confirmed.
According to an email from park CEO Mike Ellzey to park leaders, Shaw submitted his resignation last Thursday to “pursue an executive position in a local non-profit organization.” The memo doesn’t name the organization.
The resignation comes after a new Republican council majority terminated a controversial $50,000 per-month public relations contract with Newport Beach-based Forde & Mollrich, which was tasked with marketing the 2013 Solar Decathlon and Expo, an event that park leaders hope will attract some 300,000 visitors.
Forde & Mollrich has long been symbolic of a culture of waste and corruption that park critics argue is pervasive at the park. They argue that the politically connected firm since the late 1990s received $20 million in public funds from Irvine, even as park construction stalled for several years.
Supporters of the Forde & Mollrich contract say that having an expensive but elite public relations firm was key to beating major cities – like Chicago and San Diego -- that competed for the Solar Decathlon. Park leaders also credit the firm with helping prepare the winning proposal.
Last year, the park won a $1-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to hold the Solar Decathlon.
Shaw’s resignation also comes on the heels of criticism from the Democratic council minority – which until this year had controlled the park – that the council majority is jeopardizing the success of the event by axing the public relations contract.
“I don’t see how you can pull this off” without Forde & Mollrich, Democratic Councilman Larry Agran, the park’s former longtime power broker, said at a recent park board meeting. “We’re in the middle of brain surgery.”
Park CEO Mike Ellzey had said at the Jan. 8 council meeting that he will formulate a transition plan with a $125,000 budget to cover the loss of Forde & Mollrich services for the competition and expo. The services include handling social media, writing newsletters and helping obtain media sponsorships, according to Shaw.
Voice of OC has requested a copy of that plan but has yet to receive it.
Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway, the park board chairman who also requested a staff update at the last park board meeting, had said that he has been assured that the event will go smoothly.
Lalloway didn’t provide specifics, but said that, despite the loss of Forde & Mollrich and Shaw, he remains “confident that my team at the Great Park will be able to put on a world class event.”
Lalloway has taken issue with the contention that having an expensive public relations team was essential to the successful application for the event. And he said that the firm wasn’t completing work on time.
“As I indicated at the last Great Park board meeting, I’m still waiting for the detailed project implementation plan that was supposed to be completed six months ago,” Lalloway said.
The implementation plan for the event is scheduled to come back to the Great Park Board at its February meeting.