Orange County Great Park Audit
Gafcon hired Southwest Strategies to help respond to misinformation stemming from a biased government audit that contained false statements about the company’s work.
Expertise: Crisis Communications
Location: Orange County
Gafcon is a nationally recognized, family-owned project and construction management firm based in Southern California that has successfully overseen more than $4 billion worth of construction projects. Gafcon worked on the planning and design phases of the Orange County Great Park project. Gafcon completed its work on time and within budget, and the project’s planning went on to receive numerous national awards. During its work on the project, Gafcon cooperated with several audits and reviews that found no issues regarding its performance, but in 2014 a preliminary audit report was released that was starkly different from past audits. The report contained false and misleading information about the work of consulting firms associated with the Great Park project. The preliminary audit report was Gafcon’s first opportunity to learn about the new audit’s areas of inquiry, and the media had already begun to publish false statements and incorrect assumptions based on the unfinished report. With its reputation being unjustly damaged, Gafcon turned to Southwest Strategies. Upon closer examination, we determined that the project – along with our client’s reputation – had become a political football and was being unfairly used as a political issue.
We worked closely with Gafcon to develop a plan to immediately address the false information already published and limit the release of additional misinformation in the future. To accomplish this, we needed to reach three groups. First, the media needed to be provided with a more complete picture of events and decisions surrounding the Great Park. Second, the public needed to be shown the unbiased evidence regarding Gafcon’s work on the project. And third, key stakeholders needed to be encouraged to get involved to ensure future findings were fair, prudent and accurate.
To address the misinformation in the media, we provided support with media relations and conducted media trainings for Gafcon representatives. We helped Gafcon respond quickly and accurately to media inquiries, ensuring that dozens of future articles were balanced and factual. In addition, we helped Gafcon generate several positive news stories, including an interview with Gafcon’s CEO that aired on primetime news.
Reaching the public with the facts about the project took a more creative approach. Given the complexity of the topic and need for a thorough rebuttal to the audit’s false claims, we helped Gafcon develop a video to refute each allegation made against it.The video was made using footage from the City’s own records to ensure transparency, and was made accessible through a public website, along with key supporting documents.
To help shine a light on the lack of transparency and biased nature of the ongoing audit, and help ensure future findings were more accurate, we assisted Gafcon in engaging key stakeholders who would be interested in the issue. These efforts resulted in a bipartisan request from several state legislators to the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee for an independent review and investigation of the audit process.
Through our crisis communications efforts to address false information, we were able to change the narrative surrounding the Orange County Great Park project. The California State Auditor conducted an independent investigation that found flaws in the audit process that compromised the audit’s credibility. The investigation criticized the poor governance surrounding the audit and found that auditors failed to conduct an independent audit and did not follow appropriate industry standards. “We believe that the State Auditor’s report set the record straight and helped us protect the reputation of our employees and our company,” said Gafcon CEO Yehudi Gaffen. Since the State Auditor’s report, Gafcon has been able to continue with its business and was recently selected to help redevelop the Seaport area in San Diego Bay.