The Mayor’s Summer of Distortion

The Mayor’s Summer of Distortion

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Mayor Bob Filner, pictured in February.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has exaggerated and distorted the truth lots of times this summer. We’ve looked into seven recent assertions made by the mayor or his allies and found some creative spin, significant gaps in logic and even an outright falsehood or two.

The mayor’s office declined to comment.

Issue: Filner Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones resigned.

The cavalcade of bad news for Filner began three weeks before allegations of sexual harassment broke. Jones and the mayor’s former spokeswoman Irene McCormack, who later filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Filner, resigned after a tumultuous staff meeting. Jones was seen exiting City Hall with police officers helping him carry out boxes.

But the day of their resignations, Filner denied it happened. Here’s an exchange with our Scott Lewis:

Did you fire Allen Jones?

I’m not going to talk about personnel issues.

Did he quit?

I’m not going to talk about it.

But he’s not working for you any longer?

As far as I know, he is …

He’s still part of your administration.

As far as I know.

Filner acknowledged Jones and McCormack’s departure a week later.

♦♦♦

Issue: The mayor didn’t know about a questionable quid pro quo at the heart of now-controversial land deal until he read a memo.

Federal investigators are digging into a deal brokered by the Filner administration on an easement for Kearny Mesa developer Sunroad.

Jones, then Filner’s deputy chief of staff, worked out a plan for the project’s developer to donate $100,000 to refurbish a veterans memorial and promote a citywide bike event in exchange for the mayor allowing the developer to get the easement.

Filner has vigorously defended the idea that Sunroad shouldn’t have gotten an easement for free but distanced himself from the specific details of how everything came together.

He said he simply accepted the donation after the developer offered it, but had no idea Jones had brokered a deal until he read a memo about it. Filner said the memo was “contrary to my own orders to him.” Filner returned the donation.

Jones said the mayor knew about the entire situation all along.

“Every decision in the office is made by the mayor. No authority is delegated. He’s aware of and makes all decisions,” Jones said.

Right now, this dispute is a he-said, he-said between Jones and the mayor so we can’t give it a Huckster Propaganda. But the mayor’s micromanagement at the city is legendary. It would be shocking if he didn’t know the details of a major deal like this.

♦♦♦

Issue: Filner Chief of Staff Tony Buckles was a transitional employee.

Less than 10 days after Filner hired his old Washington D.C. chief of staff to fill the same role here, Buckles was gone. Buckles had been flown out from the nation’s capital to help rebuild Filner’s office after the sexual harassment scandal first came out.

In a statement announcing Buckles’ departure, Filner’s office said Buckles had come from D.C. simply to help “transition” his replacement, Lee Burdick, into the chief of staff job.

Filner gave no indication Buckles was temporary before he left and City Council members with whom Buckles had met believed he was going to be around for a while.

Filner’s statement on Buckles departure also didn’t mention what happened the day before Buckles left. A former deputy campaign manager went public accusing Filner of touching her inappropriately during a campaign event in 2005. The campaign manager had copied Buckles, Filner’s chief of staff at the time, on an email documenting the incident.

Buckles couldn’t be reached for comment.

♦♦♦

Issue: Filner vetoed his own pension board appointment for diversity reasons.

This one doesn’t even make sense on its face. Filner appointed a quartet of men to the city’s pension board in May, and the City Council approved the choices. Then the mayor lost an embarrassing and important pension board vote on the city budget, spearheaded by one of his own appointments, Herb Morgan.

Afterward, Filner decided to veto his own appointments. His new choices left out Morgan and another person who said he no longer wanted to serve. Filner replaced them with two women.

“He saw it as an opportunity to flesh out the board in a more diverse way,” Burdick, then-deputy chief of staff, told Council members.

If that’s true, Filner must have not realized he could have diversified the board when he first made his appointments in May or later switched out male board members other than his antagonist, Morgan.

♦♦♦

Issue: The city attorney created the no-meeting-alone-with-women policy.

Here’s one where the mayor’s own people were contradicting one another.

When the scandal first broke, the city decided that Filner had to have a chaperone anytime he was meeting with a woman on city property.

Filner’s lawyer, Harvey Berger, complained to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith about the policy.

“While I believe it is highly inappropriate under the circumstances, pending the investigation, Mr. Filner will comply with your request to avoid meeting alone with women on City business or in a City building,” Berger wrote to Goldsmith July 17.

But in two television interviews, Burdick said it was the mayor, not Goldsmith, who came up with the policy to protect himself from false allegations as much as anything else.

“The fact is the mayor and I together developed that policy,” Burdick told MSNBC.

Berger, the mayor’s attorney, got it wrong. He confirmed in an Aug. 6 email to Burdick obtained by Voice of San Diego that he didn’t know who developed the policy when he wrote Goldsmith to complain about it.

♦♦♦

Issue: A nonprofit paid for Filner’s expensive trip to Paris.

Filner went to Paris in June to speak on behalf of an Iranian dissident group. An Iranian-American group, the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, paid Filner’s nearly $10,000 travel bill.

State law doesn’t allow elected officials to accept gifts more than $440 unless they come from a nonprofit certified by the IRS and the money goes toward the official’s appearance at an event. As a 30-year elected official, Filner’s well aware of gift limits.

For weeks, reporters questioned the details of the trip and Filner’s office eventually released a statement claiming that the Iranian-American group was “an IRC §501(c)(3) non-profit organization” and exempt from the gift limits.

More stories came out questioning the organization’s nonprofit status. Filner backtracked, admitting it wasn’t a 501c3 nonprofit and repaid the organization out of his pocket.

♦♦♦

Issue: A city trainer “unilaterally cancelled” sexual harassment training for the mayor.

Filner didn’t receive sexual harassment training until after the scandal broke, past the deadline to complete training within six months under California law. Filner’s lawyer blamed the city, saying trainers “unilaterally cancelled” an appointment and never rescheduled.

But there’s no evidence city trainers “unilaterally cancelled” anything. Former Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone told us the mayor’s office, not city staff, canceled numerous new employee orientation training sessions. On Filner’s inauguration day, the mayor’s first Chief of Staff Vince Hall was given a copy of an employee guidebook, which called sexual harassment training required within the first six months.

Hall also noted that Filner found the time to do three other mandatory trainings.

“Mayor Filner is solely responsible for his failure to complete the required sexual harassment training,” Hall said.

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Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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14 comments
David Hall
David Hall

Talk about beating a dead horse.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Talk about beating a dead horse.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

So Filner's a liar. Duh. That's the least of his problems right now.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

So Filner's a liar. Duh. That's the least of his problems right now.

Don Blucher
Don Blucher

Can ANYONE suggest a place where one can sign the Mayor's recall petition??????

Don Blucher
Don Blucher subscriber

Can ANYONE suggest a place where one can sign the Mayor's recall petition??????

Don Blucher
Don Blucher

...And the check is in the mail.........

Don Blucher
Don Blucher subscriber

...And the check is in the mail.........

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

... I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

... I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

Nice imagery. Maybe in a more practical sense maybe Fay Wray is now the City of San Diego.

tom fengler
tom fengler

All this reminds me of the final scene of the original 1930s film "King Kong." Alone atop a pinnacle of power, the beast, machine-gunned by encircling bi-planes, reaches out with one hand to swat them down. With the other, he grasps Fay Wray, his human and unrequited love. In Filner's case, what would Fay Wray represent? Misogyny? Love of power? Disregard for social norms? Loyalty to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party that has censured him? Whatever it is, Filner's grasp of it (or the grasp of the "monster" Filner has confessed is within him) is impressive and tragic. Rather than usher in a Greek chorus, however, it might be more fitting to cue up the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" (perhaps as the soundtrack for TV news videos). After all, to paraphrase another Stones tune, "it's only politics but we love it, love it, yes we do!"

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

Nice imagery. Maybe in a more practical sense maybe Fay Wray is now the City of San Diego.