City Auditor Laura Doud said a mailer (above) received by some Long Beach residents is not entirely truthful and sought to distance herself from its message. 

Long Beach City Auditor Laura Doud is distancing her office from the Fifth District city council race less than a week before election day as her department issued a statement Wednesday insisting that quotes and information attributed to her and her office in a mailer sent out recently are inaccurate or misrepresent facts.

Doud’s statement, an unprecedented move for her office, was prompted by a mailer sent to Fifth District residents that included portions of a report and a partial quote from Doud regarding a 2014 audit that her office conducted surrounding international travel expenses for Long Beach harbor commissioners, which equaled $1.2 million from October 2011 to June 2013.

Fifth District council candidate Rich Dines, who previously served as a harbor commissioner during the timespan during which Doud’s office performed the audit, was the target of the attacks.

Doud’s audit found that the port had spent tens of thousands of dollars allowing harbor commissioners’ spouses to travel alongside them, in addition to high travel costs incurred by commissioners traveling on their own.

However, that same audit found that Dines had spent near the bottom when compared to other commissioners, coming in some $40,000 less than then-Harbor Board President Thomas Fields who racked up nearly $80,000 in travel expenses.

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“Everything in these hit pieces is taken out of context,” Dines said. “If somebody actually goes through the audit, I was the commissioner that traveled the least, spent the least amount of money, and there weren’t violations. [Doud] brought forward recommendations that were adopted as new policy, but you’re talking about a difference between over an 18-month period that my travel amounted to around $40,000 and other commissioners spent $100,000.”

Doud’s issue was with a quote used on the mailer which stated “violations took place”, a phrase placed over a photo of Dines in the mailer, and a sentence that she said mischaracterized the findings of the audit in stating that “Rich Dines took advantage of the system the Long Beach Auditor found had limited oversight.”

“To be clear, the audit did find additional oversight by the Harbor Department staff was necessary, however it in no way attributed that directly to Mr. Dines or indicated he took advantage of it,” Doud said in the statement.

The audit did not single out Dines, but he was listed as having traveled with his spouse one time, to Montreal in June 2012. The audit sampled five trips by port commissioners and found three included spouse travel. The ability to buy “companion tickets,” where the spouse flew for free, but the primary traveler—the commissioners—could see their ticket price increase by nearly double, was cited as an issue in the audit along with the probability that fees were tacked onto hotel stays for extra occupants.

Dines’ trip to the seminar in Montreal was averaged with former commissioner Doug Drummond’s travel expenses, who also traveled with a spouse to Montreal. Compared to the two commissioners who traveled alone Drummond and Dines ($5,074) were found to have spent about $2,600 more than if they had traveled alone.

Every commissioner except former commissioner Susan Wise was found to have traveled with a spouse at least once during the span of the audit.

Doud also pointed out that because this was put out by a political action committee—candidates and PACs are legally not allowed to coordinate messaging or expenditures—that incumbent Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo should not be thought to have been involved in the inaccuracies.

When reached by phone Wednesday evening, Mungo said that the negativity did not originate from her campaign.

“It’s unfortunate that Rich Dines’ supporters started the mudslinging in the primaries with several inaccurate statements,” Mungo said. “I’m against negative campaigning whether it’s for me or against me.”

The PAC in question is currently titled Long Beach Neighborhoods PAC, which has filed campaign statements and expenditure reports in opposition to Dines. The same PAC, then identified as The Long Beach Citizens for Good Government PAC, was connected to what was viewed by some as a racially-charged campaign mailer in the city’s 2016 Eighth District race, which depicted a hooded figure accompanied by crime statistics.

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Both the 2016 mailer and mailers sent out attacking Dines have the same return address, one tied to former Third District Councilman Gary DeLong. Dines says DeLong has led a smear campaign against him in recent weeks with mailers from the Neighborhoods PAC targeting his port travels and his conduct while serving as a harbor commissioner.

An earlier mailer sent out to Fifth District residents sought to highlight findings from two letters released earlier this year after a freedom of information act request was filed with the city regarding Dines’ record at the Port.

A February 2016 letter from Mayor Robert Garcia indicated that an independent investigation by the city attorney’s office was conducted concerning allegations of Dines’ conduct and whether he had made inappropriate comments toward city employees while serving as a harbor commissioner.

The letter listed seven items, including that Dines had discussed personnel matters during a public meeting, engaged in rude and unprofessional conduct toward harbor department employees, used profanity toward and in the presence of harbor department employees and had made harbor department employees feel uncomfortable through his behavior.

The letter also stated that Dines had a list “mental or otherwise” of individuals he thought should be terminated and had bypassed harbor department supervisors by giving direction to their subordinates.

Dines was instructed to go to training courses—ones periodically required of all city officials—as well as adhere to five criteria, including limiting direct contact with harbor personnel to the CEO’s office or having communications with harbor personnel pre-approved by the CEO’s office. Dines was also told that his attendance at functions at port headquarters that were not public or regular board meetings had to be pre-approved.

While Dines did issue a letter that was released alongside the mayor’s letter in February, which denied the allegations outlined in Garcia’s letter, he maintains that he was not disciplined by the city. He noted that the training is mandated of all officials and said that the other parameters outlined by the mayor’s letter were a reiteration of existing policy.

“There’s a line between management and governance, it’s a chain of command,” Dines said. “Staff members do not work for commissioners, they work for the executive director. If you have commissioners going around telling staff members what they want done, they don’t know who they’re working for. That’s true at city council as well. A council person should not be going to one of Pat West’s staff members and telling them what they want. You go to Pat West and tell him what you want.”

Garcia’s office stated that the mayor has been advised not to comment on personnel matters and declined to comment for this story. Assistant Attorney Mike Mais said that the letter “speaks for itself.”

“I can’t speak to the mayor’s intent in that letter,” Mais said. “But from what I recall that [the mayor’s letter] was not an option. It was not a suggestion.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.