Feb. 3 2012 12:00 AM

Tiny Tots program director says mayoral candidate's staffer asked them to leave so he could promote volunteerism

Carl DeMaio
Photo by David Rolland
Yesterday, City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio held a 10:30 a.m. press conference at the North Clairemont Recreation Center. There to pitch his ideas to boost volunteerism—and to blame city labor unions for limiting volunteer opportunities—he stood in front of the rec center's empty playground and described the facility as closed (at that time of day) and poorly used due to a cut-back in hours. 

While the rec center doesn't officially open to the public until 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays, there's a morning Tiny Tots program and a senior fitness program that use the facility. Kim Bruch, who runs the twice-weekly, 9 to 11 a.m. "Hopscotch Tiny Tots" program, said she was on the rec center's playground with five kids when DeMaio and his staff arrived and asked them to leave. 

"I found that request fairly rude," Bruch wrote in an email to CityBeat, "especially since I am basically volunteering time to support a community program for small children." ---

Bruch said DeMaio's description of the rec center as under-used was "completely ludicrous." 

"He drives up in his Land Rover and talks about how the park is closed, never used, etc.—well, obviously I was trying to use the park, but he asked me to leave. 

"That rec center," Bruch said, "especially during basketball season, is packed to capacity. Everyone in Clairemont uses that park and the rec center for birthday parties, tennis lessons, etc.... The North Clairemont Recreation Council is very active in ensuring that quality programs are offered both in and outside of the building." 

A crew from 10News returned to the rec center later on Thursday and saw that it was, indeed, a busy place.

Update: Kim Bruch later emailed to say she got a phone call from Jeff Powell, a staffer in DeMaio's council office, who "apologized for the confusion." Powell told her on the phone that the point of asking the kids to leave the playground was so they wouldn't be on camera without the consent of their parents. Bruch also clarified that it was not DeMaio but Powell who told her to move the kids, and we have edited the secondary headline to reflect that. 

Bruch maintains, however, that on Thursday morning she was told only to move the kids off the playground; no one said anything to her about securing parental content. 

"He said they were having a press conference," she said in an email. "I was not confused about the request to leave the playground. I mentioned to him this evening that concern regarding consent was not valid, as technology allows for blurring out background video footage so that faces are not recognizable." 

Powell also said that DeMaio doesn't drive a Land Rover. Bruch maintains she saw a black Land Rover at the event. 

DeMaio also issued a statement to Scott Lewis of voiceofsandiego.org, which has been uploaded online here and embedded below. 

*The attached email was actually the same one Bruch sent to CityBeat:

Jeff Powell from Carl DeMaio's office just phoned me and apologized for the confusion. Although I assumed the person that asked me to leave the playground was Carl DeMaio, it was actually Jeff Powell. He said, "My concern was that there would be children in the camera shot without written consent from their parents. I felt that would be an issue." 

I would also like to correct that Carl DeMaio does not drive a Land Rover. I have copied Jeff Powell on this email, in case there is any additional confusion. 

 Regards, Kim Bruch

As for DeMaio's claim that labor unions get in the way of volunteerism, he failed to point out is that it's state law—upheld by state and federal court decisions—that forbids the city from laying off employees and replacing them with volunteers without first meeting (referred to as "meet and confer") with the affected union's bargaining unit. According to an opinion from the City Attorney, volunteers can fill in positions that have been eliminated by the city, as long as the decision to bring on volunteers was not made concurrently with the decision to lay off workers. But, as far as using volunteers to enhance city services, "The use of volunteers to supplement, not supplant, bargaining unit work is not subject to meet and confer where there is no significant and adverse effect on the wages, hours or working conditions of bargain unit employees."

And here's how the photo-op turned out on TV: 


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