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Mayor Jerry Sanders isn’t answering questions about a deal he pushed through even though the city attorney said it was illegal.

Sanders allowed wireless giant Qualcomm to temporarily change its namesake football stadium to Snapdragon Stadium to promote a new product line. The switch happened without the council’s approval and for a nominal $1,000 fee, according to a contract Sanders’ office released today.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told the mayor the City Council needed to sign off before the switch, but that didn’t happen. And a longstanding Goldsmith opinion requires the City Attorney’s Office to sign contracts before they’re valid. That also didn’t happen.

This situation raises serious questions:

1) Why did the mayor ignore an explicit opinion from the city attorney and go around the council? Why did the mayor also ignore a longstanding second opinion from the city attorney on the validity of contracts?

2) Why did the mayor do it for a company founded by Irwin Jacobs, someone who’s the major donor behind two Sanders legacy projects, the new downtown library project and a renovation of Balboa Park’s main plaza?

3) How much money did the city leave on the table by allowing Qualcomm to make the name change, especially given San Diego’s unending budget deficits?

4) Will any council member or Goldsmith speak out?

We’ve asked Sanders’ spokesman Darren Pudgil the first three questions and have been in contact with Goldsmith’s office.

To recap what’s at stake, Goldsmith told Sanders in a formal opinion a week and a half before the name change that City Council needed to approve the stadium name switch.

If the council didn’t sign off, Goldsmith said, the change would violate Qualcomm’s naming rights agreement and the city rules on signage.

Sanders ignored the opinion.

He allowed Qualcomm to change the name anyway. And no one was the wiser until yesterday when the San Diego Reader first reported Goldsmith’s opinion.

The contract, which was released after public records requests, has signatures from the city’s stadium manager and a Qualcomm official. I forwarded the contract to Goldsmith spokesman Jonathan Heller. Heller declined to comment, but pointed me to another Goldsmith opinion.

The opinion, written in 2009, said city contracts aren’t valid unless they’re signed by the Mayor’s Office, a contractor and the City Attorney’s Office.

This one lacked Goldsmith’s signature. It’s also worth noting that the contract is post-dated and signed after the switch occurred for the Chargers game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Disclosure: Jacobs is also a major donor to voiceofsandiego.org.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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