Last July, Cindy Martin sent an e-mail to Jim Madaffer questioning the City Council member's integrity. Later that same day, Madaffer wrote an e-mail of his own, showing that the elected official isn't above committing petty acts of vengeance.
In her e-mail, Martin, a community activist, took Madaffer to task for, as she perceived it, misrepresenting his plans for future development in Grantville, a neighborhood that runs along Mission Gorge Road just north of Interstate 8 and is home to a controversial redevelopment project that Madaffer's aggressively pursuing. Martin, currently the president of the Allied Gardens Community Council and a member of several other community planning groups, promised to alert her neighbors and start a letter-writing campaign.
In response, Madaffer plotted behind the scenes to get Martin in trouble with her employers at Highland Partnership, a local construction and design firm.
The July 1 e-mail exchange shows that after receiving Martin's letter, a staff member in Madaffer's office, Jaymie Bradford, crafted a polite response in her boss' name, stating that Martin had misunderstood Madaffer's plans and asking for her input. Bradford then forwarded the message to Madaffer for his approval.
Madaffer responded to Bradford with the following:
"Great reply. Pls find Ian Gill's email address w[ith] Highland Partnership and send to him either from you or intern acct as an FYI. I'd like him to know what one of his employees is up to considering he's a developer."
The e-mails were provided by Madaffer's office after CityBeat requested documents related to the Grantville redevelopment project using the California Public Records Act.
Martin said she wasn't surprised by Madaffer's response but did question his intent. "What was his anticipated response? That I would be terminated, that I would be chastised?" she asked. "What did he hope to gain from that?"
Madaffer responded on Tuesday to CityBeat's request for comment with a written statement, noting his commitment to his constituents and district. "Recently," the statement said, "I exercised judgment inconsistent with that commitment. As a result, I apologized to Ms. Martin for comments I made in response to concerns she shared with me. I am fully responsible for my comment made in a moment of emotional response to our conversation.
"This has been a humbling experience and one from which I hope to learn and grow. I have learned an important lesson in patience, empathy and understanding."
However, Martin, who said Madaffer called her on Monday-after CityBeat contacted him for comment-described their conversation as "not a warm call" and said Madaffer told her he was just blowing off steam when he wrote the e-mail.
"That's baloney," Martin told CityBeat. "I still feel his intentions weren't good, whether he was just blowing off steam" or not. "I think he just needs to realize that the people who live in his district deserve the respect that every person deserves, and he isn't beyond reproach."
CityBeat provided a copy of the e-mail exchange to prominent ethicists, civil rights experts and government watchdogs. None liked what they saw, calling Madaffer's response "troubling," "offensive" and "illustrative of some very sleazy behavior on the part of an elected official."
Steve Levin, the political reform project director at the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that deals with ethics laws and campaign finance, said he doesn't think Madaffer's behavior was as unethical as it was "petty" and "disconcerting."
"He's definitely trying to cause trouble for this woman," Levin said. "It's pretty clear, and it's not a particularly nice thing to do.
"You would expect more from an elected official or a City Council member."
David Blair-Loy, legal director at the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Madaffer's missive could have a deleterious impact on his constituents' First Amendment rights. "You have a right to free speech, and you have a right to petition your government, which includes your elected officials," Blair-Loy said. "One would think you should be able to do that without fear of retribution or retaliation.
"My instinct is... that there's a chilling effect on your right to free speech and your right to petition your government for aggressive grievances," Blair-Loy added, "and I think people would be chilled from doing so if they felt that their elected officials were so in cahoots with private employers that anything I send to my council member is going to get forwarded to my boss."
"What you want to chill is the kind of crap that this guy Jim Madaffer is pulling here," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, a public-interest organization dedicated to open government and free speech. "It's pretty clear that [Martin's] elected representative tried to screw her-not literally-but tried to hurt her professionally."
Scheer was particularly alarmed by what he called Madaffer's attempt to create "plausible deniability" by having a subordinate forward the message to Martin's employer via her own or an intern e-mail account.
Scheer called it a "transparent attempt to distance himself from the communication" in order to "both be associated with it and not be associated with it, depending on what serves his personal and professional interests.
"It ranks high up on the scale of political sleaziness," he said.
Jo Anne SawyerKnoll, deputy chief of Mayor Jerry Sanders' newly established Office of Ethics and Integrity, declined to comment on Madaffer's actions, noting that she has jurisdiction only over the departments under the mayor's purview, not City Council offices.
However, asked how she would describe a similar e-mail written by the head of a mayoral department in response to a citizen complaint, SawyerKnoll said, "I suppose I would think of this as not being an act of playing fair."
Martin said she doesn't accept Madaffer's apology, but she was quick with an answer when asked how Madaffer could rectify the situation:
"He could resign."