Dear Jerry Sanders:
Sir, lately you've made statements to the public that haven't been truthful. If, when you made these statements, you believed they were true, then we have to conclude that you've lost control of your office. However, if you're engaging in damage control, and you've been lying to us, the problem is more severe. Either way, if you remain on your present course, you'll surely lose the faith and support of the city's residents, and San Diego will suffer yet another leadership crisis. Consider recent events:
Last week, we published a story reported and written by Kelly Davis that caught you in what appeared to be a straight-up lie. Davis noted that you'd told the press and the public on July 17 that you hadn't seen City Attorney Mike Aguirre's proposal for a mandatory-recycling ordinance. You said your staff had asked Aguirre for it but he hadn't given it to them.
But, as Davis reported, a member of your staff was given the proposal on June 4 at a meeting of the City Council's Natural Resources and Culture Committee. Also, your spokesperson, Fred Sainz, told CityBeat that the committee had not given the mayor's office a deadline to respond to Aguirre's proposal. That, too, was wrong. The committee had indeed given your staff a deadline.
If your goal is to delay implementation of a mandatory-recycling ordinance because your friends in the business community don't want to be saddled with a burdensome mandate, we don't like it, but we understand that's politics. But misleading the public by unfairly shifting the blame to Aguirre is unacceptable. All you had to say was that your staff needed more time to evaluate the proposal.
When confronted about this, Sainz told CityBeat that what you were saying was that your staff had given Aguirre some questions and hadn't received answers. But that's a far cry from what you said. You said: 'We have not seen the recycling ordinance. The city attorney, he has never given it to us. We've asked for it, we have not seen it to this day. Staff will be at the [July 18 committee] hearing, but they will not be able to participate because they have not seen it.'
We can't imagine you'd say that if you knew one of your policy advisors had been given a copy of the proposal. Our guess is that someone advised you to blame Aguirre. If so, that advisor made you look awfully silly and uninformed.
Far more troubling is this Sunroad business. Following an internal investigation, Jo Anne SawyerKnoll, chief of your ethics office, concluded that no one in your administration violated any laws or behaved corruptly in allowing Sunroad Enterprises to get away with building an office tower so high that it ran afoul of federal aviation-safety guidelines. But, Mr. Mayor, even though SawyerKnoll's investigation ignored key aspects of the controversy-such as whether your office inappropriately conspired with the police chief to thwart a warrant to search the Sunroad offices, among others-the contents of the report, and your response to it, give us great cause for concern.
First, you sent a letter to Airport Authority Chairman Alan Bersin asking him to loan your office someone to help find a solution to the Sunroad issue. The loaned executive, Ted Sexton, immediately began working hand-in-hand with Sunroad to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration to relax its stance against the building's height. But publicly said Sexton's activities had nothing to do with Sunroad.
When investigators interviewed you about this, you said you recognized your signature on the letter to Bersin, but you couldn't recall 'reading its contents... or understanding that the letter specifically asked for assistance with the Sunroad issue only,' according the report. But you admitted that when you told the press that Sexton wasn't working on Sunroad you 'did know that Sexton was working on Sunroad issues....'
Sainz, your spokesperson, took responsibility for misleading the press, saying it was a misunderstanding, and SawyerKnoll concluded that you didn't intentionally lie about Sexton because her investigators found you 'credible.' When pressed, she had a hard time explaining why she didn't simply say she found no evidence that you lied on purpose. Instead, she went the extra mile by saying that she's certain you didn't intend to mislead the public. We're not lawyers, Mr. Mayor, but we don't know how one could conclude that misleading the public wasn't your intent when you yourself said you knew at the time that you weren't telling the truth. If we were jurors, we'd have a tough time with that one, especially since the author of the report works for you.
Again, we suspect that you were given a script by your political advisors to read to the press, probably the same people who put the letter to Bersin in front of you and asked for your signature. Did you read the press statement before you gave it? Did you read the letter to Bersin? Did you know what you were talking about when you said your staff had never seen Aguirre's recycling ordinance? Who's in charge of your office, Mr. Mayor? Who's in charge of what you say and what you do?
SawyerKnoll's report said the city's handling of the Sunroad issue 'gave the strong impression that the city was allied with Sunroad in [its] disputes with FAA and CalTrans.' That, sir, is the understatement the century.
Sexton and the head of your real-estate department flew to Texas, at taxpayer expense (see side story), to try to convince FAA officials to go along with what was essentially Sunroad's proposal to settle the matter without having to lower the building to a height deemed safe by the FAA. This, after Sunroad violated terms of a stop-work order that your staff had already loosened once-at Sunroad's request and against the wishes of state transportation officials, the city attorney and one of your own building officials.
Were they acting under your direction? Did you, after meeting personally with Sunroad owner Aaron Feldman, who raised money for your mayoral campaign, tell your staff to loosen the stop-work order?
The Sunroad mess confirmed what many of us already knew-that your Development Services Department is a clear case of truth in advertising. It's run by people who serve developers rather than regulate them, too often at the expense of the public interest. It's these folks who violated the city's lobbying laws by working with Tom Story, a former city official hired by Sunroad, before the required one-year ban on lobbying had expired. Looks like your expensive Department of Ethics and Integrity didn't get there in time to stop them from doing the wrong thing. That part of the report must have been painful for SawyerKnoll, who gets $150,000 a year to teach city workers right from wrong.
We knew your administration was going to be friendly to developers and other business interests, what with all your talk during the campaign of 'streamlining' the building process and your hiring of Jim Waring, a former developer himself, to head up the city's land-use and planning efforts. Not to mention other alarming events, such as your administration allowing developers to exert influence over long-term land-use planning efforts in Otay Mesa. But even we're surprised by the lengths to which your people went to accommodate Sunroad, after state and federal officials blew the danger whistle.
Mr. Mayor, we were impressed back in January 2006, when you announced the end of City Hall's 'delay, deny [and] deceive' operating philosophy and promised us that you'd 'tell the whole truth.' Even though we didn't support your candidacy, we nonetheless believed you to be a sincere person.
But we're feeling deceived, sir. You haven't been telling us the whole truth, have you? Your past declarations of honest reform now sound like lip service. Empty rhetoric disguising business-as-usual. Meaningless sound bites diverting attention away from back-room dealing.
You say you're personally accountable for mistakes made, but that just doesn't cut it. It just sounds like more rhetoric, to be honest. It sends the message to everyone working beneath you that the status quo is acceptable. It isn't. You're breaking your promises.
You can still regain control and set a new course. But heads have to roll. You have to forge a new path. If you're not willing to take control of your office, if you're not willing to start serving all the citizens-not just the ones with money and clout, Mr. Mayor, then we don't want you to lead us anymore.
Got something to say? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.