Lawsuit Highlights “Political Death Spiral” between San Diego Mayor and City Attorney

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is this any way to run a city?

San Diego’s two top political figures, one a Democrat and one a Republican, are locked in a “political death spiral,” according to a lawsuit filed by a local watchdog group that seeks release of an unredacted transcript from a June closed-door session of the city council where the mayor had an assistant city attorney tossed out. 

San Diegans for Open Government filed the suit in Superior Court to find out what really happened when Mayor Bob Filner, a Democrat, had Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jones removed from the meeting for being “disruptive.” Jones works for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, a Republican who may end up running against Filner for mayor in the next election.

Filner is the first Democrat elected mayor in the historically Republican city since 1986 and has regularly clashed with the establishment there since taking office last year. Filner reportedly proposed whacking the city attorney’s budget by $1.4 million and eliminating 13 positions.

Jones, who is African-American, likened his ejection to an iconic civil rights moment, when Rosa Parks was told to sit at the back of the bus, and refused, in 1955. A report in the U-T San Diego, a conservative newspaper that has been highly critical of Filner, cited a partial copy of the meeting transcript to paint a picture of Filner as being overbearing, accusatory and unfair.

It quoted Filner accusing Jones of having leaked confidential information to the press from other meetings and ordered him to leave. When Jones refused, Filner had him removed by an officer. The lawsuit seeks to present a more complete picture of what transpired: “There is substantial public interest in knowing what the other participants were saying and observing during the Filner-Jones encounter.”

A redacted transcript of the June meeting was provided to the U-T San Diego shortly after the clash. The watchdog group said it was rebuffed by the city attorney’s office when it tried to obtain a full transcript of the meeting.

The group cried foul in its complaint: “Anyone who regularly seeks information from the city under the CPRA [California Public Records Act] knows that a two-day response to a request for public records is about as rare as Halley's Comet—even when the records already exist at the time the request is made.”

By law, transcripts of closed-door council sessions cannot be released without a vote of the city council. But the city attorney’s office defended its action by saying the partial transcript contained no confidential information.

The lawsuit opens with a statement that captures the state of San Diego politics. “San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith are locked in what appears to many onlookers like a no-holds-barred political death spiral, with each trying to undermine or humiliate the other on practically every aspect of the other's essential job functions. What they cannot seem to appreciate—or perhaps they hate each other so much that they just don't care—is that they are taking the City down with them.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Uncivil War on San Diego City Council (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Council President Todd Gloria's Office Says No Vote Was Taken to Release Closed-Session Transcripts (by Dorian Hargrove, San Diego Reader)

Pumping Up Filner’s Flaps for Fun and Profit (by Doug Porter, San Diego Free Press)

Mayor Boots City Lawyer from Meeting (by Trent Seibert, U-T San Diego)

Redacted Transcript of Closed City Council Meeting (pdf)

San Diegans for Open Government v. City of San Diego (San Diego County Superior Court) (pdf)

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