Dan Forster, chief of staff (as of press time) for Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, has found himself squarely in the sights of the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose stories on him are noteworthy not just for what they reveal about the man, but also what they don't.
The newspaper reported Nov. 21 that Forster provided paid consulting work for his previous employer, Alaska's remote North Slope Borough, while also on the Chula Vista payroll. U-T staff writer Tanya Sierra wrote that Forster traveled four times to the borough and used the city's Internet service to do borough business—all while collecting his $124,000 annual paycheck from Chula Vista taxpayers. Sierra noted that Forster had requested and received permission from Cox to provide the consulting work and that “the city's Internet and e-mail policy prohibits employees from operating a business through the city's Internet link.”
Sierra reported Forster's assertion that he traveled to Alaska on his own time, but she went on to include—in the next paragraph—that Chula Vista “faces a $5.5 million deficit this year and up to $20 million next year.”
The story also noted that Cox had once criticized the moonlighting work of an aide to her mayoral predecessor and that City Manager David Garcia was fired in September “over his personal Internet use at work.” But it didn't note that the aide's moonlighting involved spying on Cox or that Garcia's personal Internet use involved accessing porn on city computers.
A second story by Sierra, published Dec. 12 under the grabby headline “Mayor's top aide got pay for other job on city time,” reported in the lead paragraph that Forster received at least $25,000 for his consulting work. Not until the fourth paragraph is it revealed that $11,257 of that $25,000 was reimbursement for travel expenses Forster had paid out of pocket, meaning he actually received $13,700 for the work.
But neither story mentioned that Forster's trips—the overwhelming lion's share of his work for the borough—cost the city not a dime. Invoices and city leave-of-absence requests, provided by Forster to CityBeat, show his trips to Alaska occurred when he was off Chula Vista's clock. Forster says this same information was provided the U-T prior to the second article's publication.
Nor did the articles answer the central question of why Forster would want to split his time between the North Slope and sunny Chula Vista. Forster's $13,700 consulting take-home may seem considerable, but not so considerable given the staffer's city salary and the risk and bother of traveling repeatedly to one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.
Forster says the answer is that he simply fell in love with Alaska and the Inupiat—the indigenous people of the North Slope Borough. A big part of Forster's job as the borough's deputy director of planning was to work closely with the Inupiat, finding ways to mitigate the damage caused by oil and gas exploration to their subsistence lifestyle.
“I was assisting the Inupiat people against encroachment on their ancestral land,” he says. “My participation was in some small way to help them maintain their identity as Eskimos in order to pursue their traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and whaling.”
The controversy over Forster's consulting work may soon prove a moot issue. According to Sierra's Dec. 12 story, Mayor Cox—perhaps feeling a bit beleaguered herself—has proposed eliminating Forster's position. The story notes the suggestion to cut the position was made to Cox by Forster himself.