Saturday, September 24, 2005 | The local paper says he’s done a shoddy job. He says his division is in good hands and that he’s been the victim of shoddy reporting. The city manager isn’t saying anything. Councilman Brian Maienschein is talking dirty.
Maienschein released a statement Friday calling for the firing of Real Estate Assets Department Director Will Griffith. That call was backed up by at least two other members of the City Council, who cited a recent investigation by the San Diego Union-Tribune, in addition to long-running concerns about the department’s work, as reasons Griffith should be fired.
“Dealing with the Real Estate Assets Department has been a major problem for years,” reads a statement by Maienschein. “The department has a track record of extremely poor performance and should have been reorganized years ago.”
In an interview Friday, Maienschein expanded upon those allegations. He said he has been repeatedly disappointed by Griffith’s performance. He added that recent newspaper reports had little to do with his decision to call for Griffith’s firing.
“If there had been no article,” said Maienschein, “just based on his performance despite any of the issues raised in that article, he should still move on.”
Maienschein’s call was seconded by Councilwoman Donna Frye on Friday, who said that recent claims about the department’s inability to fully account for property the city owns are “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to inadequacy in the department’s management.
“Many of my constituents have wanted this to occur for a very long time,” said Frye. “They weren’t told the truth; they couldn’t get a straight answer; they weren’t treated properly; a variety of issues.”
Griffith, who has headed the department since 1999, defended himself Friday. He argued that he was the target of a newspaper investigation that was neither fair nor balanced.
The results of that investigation, which were published in the Union-Tribune last week, allege that Griffith oversees a division that is incompetent, unreliable and uncooperative. Specifically, the newspaper reports that the department had only a very vague idea of what assets the city actually has on its books. The story also says Griffith did not make himself available for comment.
Griffith said the reporters who worked on that story neither informed him of the nature of the investigation they were conducting, nor asked him to answer some of their allegations.
He said that claims made in the story that he was not available for interviews are completely untrue, and that he has fully cooperated with any reporters who sought information.
In an attempt to rebut some of the complaints made against his department, Griffith released a nine-page memo Thursday that addresses, point-by-point, the arguments made by the newspaper.
Griffith said that document illustrates that the newspaper could only have built a very vague picture of how his department operates, given the minimal information they requested.
“You can get a partial representation (with that information),” said Griffith. “You really need to tour the records section to see how it works.”
Therein, said Maienschein and others, lies the problem.
Touring the department in order to figure out how it works is not exactly user-friendly.
Admittedly, how his office serves – or doesn’t serve – the public has been a concern for Griffith since he joined the Real Estate Assets Department.
Griffith said that when he arrived he noted that the records-keeping system was “antiquated,” “labor intensive” and did not do a good job of serving the public.
Asked why he didn’t take steps to improve that system six years ago, Griffith cited a lack of available funding for computer equipment and software to bring the system up to date.
Maienschein said he has no recollection of the council ever being asked for any money for such equipment by Griffith.
In his defense, Griffith said he’s just started to implement a new PC-based system that would allow the public to access the city’s records on the Internet and would sharpen up the whole records-keeping division of his department. He said the software he’s looking at for this system has only recently become available.
That might just prove to be too little too late.
Councilman Tony Young added his voice to those calling for Griffith to leave city employment on Friday.
In a memo addressed to City Manager Lamont Ewell, Young outlined his concerns about the management of the Real Estate Assets Department and specifically the failings of Griffith.
“I am of the opinion that you should address this matter immediately by either recommending the resignation of the Real Estate Assets Director,” reads the memo, “(or) accepting the Real Estate Assets Director’s resignation if submitted.”
Ewell, who will have the final say on the matter, was unavailable for comment.
Please contact Will Carless directly at