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EXCLUSIVE: Offer Rescinded to Political Activist for Santa Monica’s Top Communications Job

Ben Allen for State Senate

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By Jonathan Friedman and Jorge Casuso

May 29, 2014 -- Past political activities might have doomed the City of Santa Monica’s newly hired public affairs and communications officer, The Lookout has learned.

City Manager Rod Gould said on Wednesday that he has rescinded the offer to Elizabeth Riel, a little more than two weeks after she was hired to fill the $155,784 a year post heading Santa Monica’s public relations efforts.

Riel was scheduled to start on June 2.

“I can’t speak to the intricacies of the decision,” Gould told The Lookout.

He added that he had spent some time with Riel, and “I like her and respect her.”

The decision comes days after information surfaced that Riel had contributed $1,000 to a 2006 mailer from the slow-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) charging that Mayor Pam O’Connor had sold out to developers.

Riel also contributed $250 to Council member Kevin McKeown’s 2006 campaign and was pictured with him on a campaign flyer. The information first appeared in a Lookout article published shortly before the 2006 council race. ("O'Connor Targeted by Coalition; Hit Piece Exposes Rift Within SMRR," October 30, 2006)

O’Connor and McKeown are known to be long-time nemesis on the dais.

Riel, who has masterminded media campaigns for major political and social issues, was  president of the North of Montana Neighborhood Association NOMA, a vocal opponent of major development in 2008.

She also was appointed by the Council to the City’s Commission on the Status of Women in 2004 and was reappointed in 2007.  She left the Commission in June of 2008.

It is not known if Gould, who joined the City in 2010, knew of Riel’s past activism when he hired her, but sources say he did learn about it after her appointment was announced. Gould declined to say whether this was the reason he rescinded the offer.

The Lookout was unable to reach Riel by deadline.

The 2006 attack mailer partly funded by Riel accused O'Connor of being "willing to sell Santa Monica out to developers," and focused on contributions made to her campaign by officials and employees of the Macerich Company, which owns Santa Monica Place. It featured a gloomy-looking O’Connor next to large green dollar signs.

O’Connor was not the only person who was the subject of a hard-hitting opposition campaign in 2006. Development interests targeted McKeown. But neither campaigns proved effective, as McKeown and O’Connor received the most and second-most votes, and were re-elected that year along with Bob Holbrook.

Riel was to have filled a newly created position, which included many of the main duties currently assigned to Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez, who will retire this summer. They included overseeing the Public Information Team, Community Relations and CityTV.

Gould said other candidates have been identified for the job.

A longtime Santa Monica resident, Riel has been involved in communications for various political and social campaigns through the years, including the federal lawsuit to overturn California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

Staff writer Daniel Larios contributed to this report

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