I reported last week on ex-Chief Operating Officer Kris Michell’s revelation under oath that she handed a copy of a law firm’s purportedly confidential analysis of the 101 Ash St. transaction to then-city attorney candidate Cory Briggs as she mulled whether to blow the whistle on the debacle. Michell also disputed allegations made in a bombshell City Attorney’s Office letter in May.
Mayor Todd Gloria was among the current and former City Hall insiders with opinions about Michell’s testimony. His initial take: “It’s just all very confusing and worthy of follow up.”
Background: Let’s rewind to 2020. Then-Assemblyman Gloria was running for mayor against then-Councilwoman Barbara Bry. Briggs, a longtime legal thorn in the city’s side, was running for city attorney against sitting City Attorney Mara Elliott. In early September 2020, NBC 7 San Diego published a story focused on a law firm’s analysis of the Ash deal that created a firestorm. NBC reported that the memo included a footnote – which Elliott and others later decried as fabricated – that Elliott’s office made an effort to shield Gloria from an outside probe of the 101 Ash debacle. The footnote suggested an interview with Gloria might have clarified why the city decided to go forward with the Ash lease given Gloria’s skepticism about a similar past deal and support of the Ash lease-to-own deal.
Michell said in her deposition that she didn’t recall seeing the footnote in the version of the memo she gave Briggs and had “no knowledge of who wrote it,” according to a draft transcript obtained by Voice.
She also said the footnote “threw me for a loop.”
“I supported Todd Gloria for mayor, and that was harmful to Todd,” Michell testified.
Gloria told me in an interview that, in the months before the footnote fiasco, Michell reached out to him and implied she’d like to remain COO if he became mayor.
“I can recall her calling me sometime in 2020 to share her passion and enthusiasm for being the city’s chief operating officer,” Gloria said. “I interpret that as an ask to be able to stay on and I said to her what I said to everybody who was seeking a position during the campaign, that that was not a conversation I would have. I would not make any commitments to anybody and those were conversations for the day after the election, not right now.”
Given that call, Gloria said he was shocked when Michell abruptly announced she was resigning in late September 2020.
“I had a conversation with Kris in 2020 describing how much she enjoyed this position,” Gloria said. “And then a few months, weeks, months later, I’m reading that she’s resigning or retiring.”
Michell said at the time that her resignation less than three months before the conclusion of then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s term wasn’t related to 101 Ash.
Michell’s story has since changed. She testified that she was frustrated she wasn’t being given “proper information” to get to the bottom of the 101 Ash debacle.
“I was frustrated with the city,” Michell said in a subsequent interview with Voice. “Frustrated that the truth and transparency wasn’t gonna happen, wasn’t gonna come out and therefore there was no need for me to continue to work on this. And the family issues, there was a need there. I don’t regret that decision at all today. At all.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to provide clearer context on the implications of the disputed footnote that was a focus of NBC 7 San Diego’s reporting.