Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!
In last week’s episode of Voice of San Diego Radio, I named Donna Frye the “Goat of the Week” because of a detail in CityBeat editor David Rolland’s account of how the former councilwoman helped instigate Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation.
After Frye started as Filner’s director of open government, she quickly learned he wasn’t going to let her do the job she’d signed up for. She couldn’t talk to the press or basically anyone in other council offices, and her initiatives weren’t going anywhere.
Then she started hearing credible accounts from women of Filner’s harassing actions toward them.
In her letter of resignation, Frye mentioned being told it wasn’t her job to force business improvement districts to comply with the Brown Act. She also brought up what she was hearing about Filner’s behavior toward women and expressed frustration with how those concerns were handled.
Here’s how Frye described the exchange she had with Filner’s chief of staff when she resigned.
“I said, ‘But I am going to do something. I’m going to give you a nice cover story.’” In February, Frye had been elected president of Californians Aware, a prominent statewide open-government-advocacy organization. “I’m going to say that that is why I’m leaving,” Frye told Hall, adding that he’d better deal with Filner’s habits with women. She didn’t tell Filner that she was quitting, and she didn’t speak to him about her resignation until three months after she left.
When Frye’s departure became public, all the press and the public knew was the cover story about Cal Aware.
It seemed obvious there was something else going on — potentially issues relating to her pension, or that Filner wasn’t letting her do her job — but the official word was simply that she’d moved on to a better opportunity.
In fairness, the local media probably deserves its own Goat of the Week award for not getting a look at the resignation letter until this month.
Nonetheless, it’s not acceptable for the city’s most credible and visible advocate for transparency and open government to lie to the public about why she left her position as director of open government, especially if one of those reasons is that her boss isn’t committed to open government.
The open government movement — not to mention those who supported Filner because of his campaign promise to install Frye in that role — deserved a public airing of why she was really leaving.
But Frye told me after the radio show that she really left over the harassment allegations – and that’s also why she had to lie about it.
“If it had just been the open government stuff, I’d still be working there, fighting him and trying to make progress,” she said.
She said she crafted the cover story because she told many victims of Filner’s harassment, some of whom still haven’t gone public, that she’d keep quiet.
“It was very uncomfortable for me, because it went against everything I’ve ever been in support of,” she said. “Avoiding the press, coming up with the excuse, it caused a lot of turmoil and great deal of distress on me over those months. And I certainly take full responsibility for that.”
Frye conceded it was fair to point out that she shouldn’t keep information from the press while advocating for greater government transparency, but she said she felt she had no choice.
That means at least one thing I said on the radio was totally wrong.
This has nothing to do with the sexual harassment scandal, I said. This is about Frye lying to the press about why she was leaving Filner’s administration.
For Frye, one had everything to do with the other.