Eyes On the Bully’s Pulpit

Greg Larkin Eyes on the Bully’s Pulpit, Greg Larkin 12 Comments


Today is the launch of a new column, “Eyes on the Bully’s Pulpit.”

Most political wonks involved in City of San Diego politics have heard numerous stories about the actions or inactions of Mayor Bob Filner, with many experiencing some of the most interesting incidents first hand. Some of his actions may very well cross the bounds of political ethics. If it all continues, it could set San Diego’s reputation back for years.

Could Filner be the Lindsay Lohan of San Diego politics? You can be the judge.

Some of this could be attributed to being new in office and the related learning curve for Filner, with all those nuances of protocol at City Hall as opposed to the halls of Congress. Yet, now that he has settled in, it is time for the Mayor to either start acting mayoral or to alternatively provide continuing fodder for SD Rostra and its readers — and ultimately, the larger mass of citizenry.

If you are aware of any items or actions concerning Mayor Filner that you feel the public needs to know, you can either share them with me via Rostra or submit them as a post. I will post information if is legitimate and worthwhile. Rostra will always respect anonymity, per our rules, while also considering the credibility of the source and the information provided. I completely understand why those close to any of the stories may have worthwhile information, while needing to remain anonymous.

I would also be pleased to share the opposing views of Mayor Filner or any of his supporters.

As a discussion starter, the Mayor has a tendency to speak first and get the facts later — or ignore the facts from the start. He accused the City Attorney and members of the San Diego City Council of having a conflict of interest on the Tourism Management District (TMD) agreement because they received campaign contributions from hoteliers. Those involved in politics for even a short time know that campaign contributions do not create a conflict of interest for elected officials. Check with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which is the enforcement agency of the State of California. If San Diego has a different ruling on contributions, I would appreciate being directed to it.

So, as not to appear a hypocrite, Mayor Filner needs to immediately withdraw from participating in labor negotiations on the pending contracts between the various labor groups and the City of San Diego if he has accepted more than $250 (directly or indirectly) in campaign contributions from any of those organizations.

According to a U-T San Diego article published shortly before the general election Filner was the beneficiary of at least $2 million in union campaign contributions, which includes direct and indirect support.

These organizations are currently negotiating new contracts with the city. Did any of them help Mayor Filner get elected?

  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • Local 127 (AFSCME Local 127)
  • Deputy City Attorneys Association (DCAA)
  • San Diego City Firefighters, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 145
  • San Diego Municipal Employees’ Association (MEA)
  • San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA)
  • Teamsters, Local 911 (Teamsters)

Mayor Filner’s apparent ethical schizophrenia on the matter of campaign contributions has already been pointed out by many including the U-T.

Has Filner apologized yet to the council members, or is it beneath him to say the words, “I am sorry”?

For the sake of his newly found concern for ethics, the Mayor should lead by example and recuse himself from any further discussions in upcoming labor negotiations … or apologize to the council. Surely Filner wouldn’t want to have the contract negotiations tainted with the appearance of a political payback for so much help in getting him elected.

By the way, the most important aspect of legally required ethics training is not simply participating. The really important part is employing the training in your life as an elected public official. Mr. Mayor, now that we know you have recently taken the training, prove to San Diego that you are actually going to implement it in your own actions before you point fingers at others.

One bit of irony in the entire TMD agreement battle is that Filner has repeatedly called it an illegal tax, thus requiring a vote of the citizens. That is, of course, unless he gets what he wants in the agreement. His initial demands included – hold your breath – more benefits for employees represented by organized labor.

Mayor Filner would have you believe he is concerned about workers. That is true to a point, but there is one big catch. He apparently only cares about workers represented by labor groups. Need proof? Watch the TMD discussion from the March 26th city council meeting (click on Item S501). There were well over 100 people in support of the TMD and its funding. Many of the speakers addressed the situation and openly expressed their concerns they could lose their jobs without the agreement signed. Where is the concern for these employees? They must not be represented by one of the many unions owed for their election assistance.

Of course, labor has the right to participate in the election process and Filner has the right to accept the help. The double standard on the part of the Mayor is pointed out simply as a classic example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

After being given the benefit of the doubt for his first 100 days, the mainstream media and others should hold Filner accountable. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith recently got that ball rolling when he correctly opined that Filner could not legally veto the city council’s Port Commission appointments. Since Mayor Filner is all about doing “what’s right,” it was great to see the mayor “allowing” the two appointed commissioners to be sworn in immediately.

We are certain there are many more stories to share that have not yet been made public. Help us, and help Mayor Filner by sending us any information that would be helpful for the citizens of San Diego to know.

We want to keep the Mayor honest, ethical and working for all of San Diego, not just those represented by organized labor. Tell Rostra what you know.


Comments 12

  1. http://www.tinyurl.com/20130415a

    The Tourism Marketing District (TMD) is part of a scam to increase public Hotel taxes without a public vote. City Attorney Goldsmith has recommended the City Council put the issues of the TMD and Convention Center Financing District (CCFD) to public votes as required by our State Constitution.

    The Howard Jarvis Tax Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, and Attorney General Kamala Harris should help shut down San Diego’s minimum $3.22 BILLION scam (5% TOT Increase for 40 years at $16.1 Million for each percentage = 5% x 40 years x $16.1/percent ) to privatize Public Hotel taxes.

    Today at the Budget Committee, it was documented that for the Year to Date ending February 28, 2013, the City of San Diego’s TOT and TMD went up 11.2%, instead of the cherry picked -1% statistic from the TMD.

    However a little discuss legal loophole in the CCFD, gives the private TMD all the Incremental TOT from the 2012 Base Year to finance the remainder of the Convention Center costs over the $525 million in bonds.

  2. Gee La Playa Heritage, I thought the article was about the thug tactics of Mayor Filner?! I guess that doesn’t matter to you but it sure matters to the rest of us who want to make San Diego a thriving city that spends money on things that matter like fixing roads instead of making the elite… city employees, rich. This almost makes me long for the days of Mike Aguirre.

  3. Not associated with unions, but luxury hotels with Master Leases on our public land should pay the Living Wage $13+/hour with or without unions. Otherwise taxpayers are supporting the working poor hotel employees with subsidies for Affordable Housing, transportation, and food.

    There are multiple agreements that give Hoteliers that voted over $3.22 BILLION in taxpayer funds plus all incremental TOT. Strong Mayor Filner a Fighter and is correct in not wanting to give away Billions in Hotel Taxes without voter approval.


  4. La Playa:

    Please explain how it is that the mayor demands voter approval for the TMD, while negotiating an agreement which doesn’t require voter approval, as long as it is to his liking?

    Either the TMD needs voter approval or it doesn’t. Not, yes it does, unless I like it and then it doesn’t.

  5. Hi Spin Zone.


    See Mayor Filner and Councilman Alvarez reasoning. They can speak for themselves.

    Everyone including Hoteliers, San Diego Tourism Authority, the City Council, the IBA, Taxpayer Association, SD Rostra readers, Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Filner… knows that our extremely low local 10.5% TOT can be raised by 5% to a Maximum Effective 15.5% Hotel Tax with no reduction in out of town visitors, or heads in beds. A max rate of 15.5% is still below the California average of 15.6%, and the North America Tourist City average of 16.44%. See Page 3. http://www.tinyurl.com/20120619

    Not raising our TOT by 5% to an Effective 15.5% on out of town visitors and Conventioneers leaves an annual $80+ million on the table because everyone is too scared to put a 5% Tax Increase issue to a vote. The TOT tax for a multi-purpose contiguous Olympic Stadium and Convention Center Expansion, and tourism marketing should pass or fail on its own merits. 1965 was the last time voters approved a Hotel Tax increase in San Diego, and even then, the Hoteliers fought against the TOT. To not collect the pre-approved 2% TMD tax on visitors helps no one in the region including the Hotel and Tourism industry, which need a source of revenue for adverting and marketing. Supposedly if the Tax is ruled illegal in 2+ years, any refunds have a one year time statute of limitations. Therefore the maximum amount of money that may have to be paid back through potential Class Action lawsuits is $32 million. Due to negotiations by the Mayor’s office, the Hoteliers agreed to indemnify the City of San Diego against lawsuits and refund requests.

    The public and General Fund wins because we are not on the hook, and the TMD is now taking all financial risks. The Hoteliers win in that they are allowed to collect the private tax 2% TMD for marketing while this issue goes through the Courts.

    Increasing Hotel taxes without public votes for both the 2%TMD and the up to 3% Convention Center Financing District (CCFD) is still illegal according to our State Constitution. However, instead of upholding their oath of office, the City Council and City Attorney are trying to create legal loopholes to our Constitution.

    It is not mutually exclusive for anyone to think the tax scheme is illegal, but wants tourism to flourish. This illegal TMD is all we currently have, and is better for the region than letting the Revenue source slips through everyone’s hands and leave San Diego. To increase clarity and public accountability, Mayor Filner also got the TMD to agree to follow the Brown Act and the Public Records Act.

    What do you hate about the amended Agreement negotiated by Mayor Filner? What parts specifically?

    What would be your solution to keep marketing going, keep the pre-approved tax in the region, while protecting the City’s General Fund from amateur mistakes?

    Do you believe the original operating agreements negotiated by Mayor Sanders are better deals for the public?

  6. This is a great idea. I have heard many things but quite frankly probably have forgotten most of them. The voters do not have the benefit of really knowing Bob Filner as mayor. All they get is the public image that his handlers spin so effectively.

    I have heard that he has missed numerous events and I know he is chronically late for events. For example, he was at least 20 minutes late for the UT San Diego Latino Champions Awards and they awkwardly had to change the program on the fly because he was so late. The excuse was traffic but when it happens so frequently it is really called “poor planning.”

    If he really is missing events that he has agreed to attend, I think that reflects on his overall character and should be reported. No big deal if it is one or two events, but I have heard it is more than just a few.

    I want to know if what I hear is true or just grossly distorted once it makes its way through the downtown echo chamber.

    Anyone know of an event that Mayor Bob was officially scheduled to attend but didn’t?

  7. La Playa writes these long e-mails that confuse the subject and contain numerous inaccuracies. Unfortunately, the San Diego media is just as bad.

    The original operating agreement that Mr. Filner refused to sign because allegedly it didn’t protect the City actually allowed the City to freeze all TMD funds if a lawsuit were filed challenging the assessment. That’s the same thing we did on the Convention Center tax.

    There was no need for all the drama other than to entertain the media. Mr. Filner could have signed the operating agreement in January, frozen the funds and then discussed an amendment to allow some of the funds to be released on terms acceptable to both parties and the city council. It could have been done in about 20 minutes.

  8. Mr. Goldsmith,

    Under your scenario and assuming the plaintiffs were successful in challenging the legality of the TMD, who would have been responsible for paying back the funds that were “released on terms acceptable to both parties…” Who would have been responsible for legal fees and interest?

    Finally, do you really believe that the hoteliers would have accepted significantly less than all of the TMD revenue while the lawsuit progressed? Wouldn’t they and you have still been chastising the Mayor for crippling the tourism industry?

  9. Hypocrisy,

    What part of the unsigned contract “allowed the City to freeze all TMD funds if a lawsuit were filed challenging the assessment” do you not understand?

    It was in the contract because I insisted it go in the contract….back in the Fall, 2012, before Filner was elected. And, yes, the TMD folks agreed to it.

    Your last paragraph is political junk. I don’t know what anyone would have said or done. But, I do know that we had a lot of unnecessary fighting over the course of four months.

  10. Mr. Goldsmith,

    It was you who wrote “…and then discussed an amendment to allow some of the funds to be released on terms acceptable to both parties and the city council. ”

    Had the lawsuit gone against the TMD, would not the City be on the hook for any of those funds released plus interest on all the money collected plus attorney fees unless the hoteliers indemnified the City for all costs?

    It looks like the judge’s decision may have rendered this all moot, but as you know judges’ decisions do not always go the way you hope they will.

  11. Hypocrisy,

    I mentioned an amendment because that is what occurred.

    Under the operating agreement, the funds could be frozen until the lawsuit was resolved. There is also an indemnity in the operating agreement. The prior unchallenged funds were to be used to pay attorney fees. I believe that is what has occurred.

    I believe there remains a lot of confusion about the TMD matter because the San Diego news media did a terrible job reporting it. They were more interested in reporting the fight than the facts.

  12. “They were more interested in reporting the fight than the facts.”

    Ain’t that the truth?

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