A former top official has sued the city of San Diego, claiming he was wrongfully fired for registering concerns over the use of e-mail and a request for computer information by the mayor’s spokesman, Fred Sainz.

Rick Reynolds was forced out of his position as assistant chief operating officer on Sept. 28. In the suit, which was filed in Superior Court yesterday, Reynolds claims that in early September an e-mail from Sainz to a San Diego Union-Tribune journalist was flagged by the city’s e-mail screening system for inappropriate language. Reynolds, believing the message was an inappropriate use of city e-mail and a violation of city ethics codes, brought the e-mail to the attention of his immediate superior, Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone, according to the suit.

From the suit:

On information and belief, the interception, and, more importantly, the reporting of the e-mail to the COO as a potential violation of the City policy and ethics codes and regulations, caused frustration, animosity and resentment by the Mayor’s political advisors, which include Mr. Sainz and his immediate superiors.

The precise contents of the e-mail aren’t included in the lawsuit and it’s unclear what specific ethical codes the e-mail could’ve broken.

The lawsuit states that weeks later Sainz requested the IP addresses assigned to the computers in the City Attorney’s Office. The request, the suit states, came at a time when rancor between the mayor and city attorney had become strong.

Reynolds expressed concern that the addresses, which are essentially identification tags for computer systems, were being sought “for political reasons or some other improper purpose,” according to the suit. In turning in the addresses to his superior, Reynolds claims to have also written a memo describing his concerns “about the potential security risks and unauthorized use of the information,” the suit states.

The suit claims that Goldstone asked to see Reynolds after he turned in the memo. During the meeting, Goldstone handed the memo and address list back to Reynolds and “instructed Mr. Reynolds to get rid of it.”

The following morning, on Sept. 28, Reynolds was called again to Goldstone’s office, the suits states, and asked to resign. “The only explanation given was that Mr. Reynolds did not fit into the mold of the Mayor’s leadership team for the next administration,” the suit states.

In an interview, Sainz called the e-mail “gossip.” He said the request for the IP addresses was in response to a public records request from the Union-Tribune, which was looking into allegations that city attorney employees were posting positive comments about Aguirre on SignOnSanDiego.com‘s message boards on city time.

Sainz said the request was ultimately denied and the addresses weren’t turned over, despite a ruling calling for such information to be divulged in under the public records law. The information wasn’t released “out of an abundance of caution,” Sainz said.

“So, if anything, we followed Mr. Reynolds’ advice,” he added.

Plans to fire Reynolds had already been in the works for upwards of a month before the incident, Sainz said. He said he has e-mail evidence that will prove his claims on the records request and firing, and will be providing us with it.

“It is fanciful of him to say it has anything to do with his reply to a public records request,” said Sainz, who said he couldn’t divulge the reason Reynolds was asked to resign because it was a personnel issue.

Reynolds and his attorney declined to comment. The suit says Reynolds hasn’t yet been able to find new employment.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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