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Statement: “Dwayne Crenshaw was fired from the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils after mismanaging money that was intended for the community. He got a lot of money from CNC … and then spent it on himself,” San Diego District 4 mailer sent by San Diego Works, which is sponsored by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: In less than two weeks, voters will select Myrtle Cole or Dwayne Crenshaw to represent San Diego’s southeastern neighborhoods on the City Council.

Outside groups have played a significant role in the the District 4 City Council race and an independent expenditure committee supported by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council is the latest to weigh in with a controversial mailer. The labor council has endorsed Cole and its political committee has spent more than $215,000 on the race.

The flier sent to some District 4 voters centered on Crenshaw’s contentious departure from the nonprofit Coalition of Neighborhood Councils. It claimed Crenshaw, the group’s former executive director, was ousted after he mismanaged funds, and that he received significant cash from the group and spent it on himself.

Photo provided by the Crenshaw campaign
A mailer produced by San Diego Works, an independent expenditure committee supported by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

The mailer inspired some debate on Twitter.

Crenshaw supporter William Rodriguez-Kennedy and San Diego CityBeat editor Dave Rolland, whose publication endorsed Crenshaw, panned the claims.

O’Connor, the Labor Council’s communications director, defended those statements.

We decided to vet the mailer because the circumstances of Crenshaw’s departure from the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils are complex and merit further explanation.

In Crenshaw’s four years leading the group, the small advocacy group with a $50,000 budget nearly tripled its revenues and morphed into a social service agency with office space in Emerald Hills.

But with that growth came problems.

The nonprofit participated in a free lunch program, and the California Department of Education cited the coalition for shortcomings associated with its handling of summer lunches.

We summed up the accusations in March:

In early 2009, the department tried to terminate the coalition from running a summer food program, which at one point handled 40,000 meals a month. The state alleged the coalition didn’t keep food at proper temperatures and didn’t have accurate meal counts. Cockroaches were observed during one site visit.

But Crenshaw appealed the decision and won. An administrative law judge found that the coalition hadn’t complied with federal regulations on meal counts and requirements, but that the state hadn’t proven its most serious claims or given the organization time to correct its problems.

After the ruling, the state kept a close eye on the coalition, issuing serious deficiency letters alleging it didn’t turn in an audit on time or keep adequate records.

Later, eight community members accused Crenshaw of sexual harassment of staffers and youth affiliated with the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils. They also claimed Crenshaw, who is gay, had an inappropriate relationship with some youngsters.

The board ultimately fired Crenshaw in late 2009 but didn’t publicly share its reasoning. In the weeks that followed, Crenshaw was served with temporary restraining orders and police briefly held him on suspicion of trespassing at his former office.

Crenshaw responded with a lawsuit claiming he was fired because he’s gay. The coalition sued too.

In the end, Crenshaw and the coalition agreed to a legal settlement with confidential terms.

Crenshaw hinted the settlement involved a payday for him:

“Let me tell you what I can tell you,” Crenshaw said. “I went to law school and didn’t work. I put $20,000 into my campaign, that’s public record. You could never be compensated for the harm that someone does to your reputation. But with that said, I turned lemons into lemonade. Very sweet lemonade.”

The mailer stated Crenshaw was fired after mismanaging cash and that he received money from his former employer and spent it on himself.

There’s some truth to all of those statements. At the time he was leading the group, the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils was accused of some mismanaging some aspects of its lunch program, though an administrative law judge decided not to boot the group from the program. Crenshaw was later fired and did receive cash from his former employer.

Kirsten Clemons, who is leading the independent expenditure committee that produced the mailer, said as much.

“The facts are laid out and they’re laid out in the correct order and they’re all correct,” Clemons said. “There is not one statement in there that is not factual.”

That doesn’t mean the facts aren’t presented in a deceptive way. The mailer implies Crenshaw was fired for financial misconduct, but the reason for his firing has never been publicly shared. And while it’s true Crenshaw received money from his employer, it came as a result of a legal settlement long after Crenshaw’s firing. Therefore, the statement that Crenshaw spent the settlement on himself is illusory. The settlement money wasn’t intended for him to spend in an official capacity for a group he no longer worked for.

We ultimately labeled the mailer misleading because it cites factual details but frames them in a way that leaves a deceptive impression. The independent expenditure committee likely knew this and decided nonetheless to proceed with the mailer to mislead voters about Crenshaw’s history with his former employer.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Liam Dillion contributed reporting.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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