At least Stacey Fulhorst smiles. Her predecessor, a former FBI agent, didn't display the pearly whites too often, but then again, his career revolved around organized crime and the ethics of federal law-enforcement. Not many laughs there.
Fulhorst, a La Jolla High grad, has been tapped to become the next executive director of the San Diego Ethics Commission, and, by appearances, she couldn't be more pleased. Her selection still needs the backing of the city's Rules Committee on Dec. 3 and full City Council next week, but the commission seems equally pleased with its choice.
The commission's investigator for the last two years, Fulhorst was enthusiastically endorsed by commission chair Dorothy L. W. Smith.
“She has not only carried out the responsibilities of investigator in a most outstanding manner, but she has also participated closely in all aspects of enforcement, policy matters, education and training, and legislative reform,” Smith wrote in a confirmation letter to Mayor Yellow Jacket. “She is an excellent legal researcher and communicator, and she has amply demonstrated her abilities as an administrator.
“Her selection will provide for a seamless transition as the Ethics Commission prepares for a challenging 2004 election cycle.”
Fulhorst was chosen from 21 candidates. Commissioners interviewed seven applicants, then narrowed the field to two. Her predecessor, Charles Walker, who resigned suddenly in early October, hailed Fulhorst as “intelligent, articulate, proactive, energetic, resourceful, dependable and motivated.”
Gee, Charlie, you forgot brave, clean and reverent.
The question is, can this slip of a woman—she can't weigh more than 100 pounds soaking wet—take on the fraternity of political ne'er-do-wells who are probably glad that Walker, the ex-fed, has fled? Only time will tell.
Fulhorst declined to be interviewed at length about her new responsibilities, but she's actually been doing the job since Walker left in early October. He was the city's first Ethics Commission executive director, and some political observers wondered how a guy brought in with such fanfare in 2001—after all, he was the overlord of the mayor's Goal No. 1—could walk away from the $90,000-a-year job on just two weeks' notice.
Some, like long-time commission observer Mel Shapiro, noted that Walker went “0 for 15” in cases he had recommended to the commission for further investigation. As executive director, Walker had the authority to reject complaints outright or pass them along to the commission for further review.
Since its inception, the commission has agreed to settlements of minor violations with a couple of local politicos, the most notable being former Councilman Byron Wear and perennial mayoral candidate and county Supervisor Ron Roberts, a couple political organizations and a consultant.
Maybe it's because she hasn't been officially confirmed, but Fulhorst hedged about her philosophy on nailing political crooks. She does tout a 13-year career as an investigator—first for a private firm, then for the City Attorney's office from 1998 to 2002. She said her work for the private company, Bowers & Associates, involved no criminal casework, but her résumé makes reference to locating and interviewing witnesses and conducting jury polls and background checks while overseeing a cadre of investigators and other supervisors.
Asked about her work for the City Attorney's office, she sidesteps the question. “I don't think it's appropriate for me to list any investigations I worked on at the City Attorney's office,” she said.
Alrighty. Well, how about philosophy then? “For the most part, a lot of that is going to be the commission,” the UCLA English literature major said. “The commission really sets the tone for all that, as opposed to the director.”
She'll certainly have her hands full with the varying personalities that make up the board now.
One character she won't have to deal with is Edward Kolker, a private mediator who will probably go down as the shortest-lived commissioner in San Diego history. Sworn in on Sept. 11 of this year, he stepped down the following month after making a campaign contribution to Mayor Yellow Jacket just weeks after his appointment, a no-no for commissioners.
In his departing speech, Kolker lamented his mistake but seemed intent on trying to keep his job. “Let me say candidly that I would like to do anything I could to be reappointed, because I really feel that God called me to be here,” he said at his last meeting.
If that's the case, Shapiro wonders how powerful attorney Charles Dick Jr. remains on the commission. Shapiro refers to a nominating memo from Councilman Scott Peters dated May 30 and a subsequent $250 campaign contribution from Dick to Peters on June 9.
“I don't see any difference in their actions,” Shapiro said.
This week, the City Council unanimously chose Larry S. Westfall, a North Park Planning Committee member and certified public accountant, to replace Kolker. Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins—who was near tears after deflecting homophobic comments from a longtime council gadfly who feared that City Hall would be consumed in an earthquake or flood upon her figure-head elevation—beamed as she described Westfall as someone who “isn't a part of every-day civic life downtown.”
Some commission critics, like city attorney candidate Mike Aguirre, wonder whether Fulhorst has what it takes to sweep corruption out of City Hall. “[The commission] is pretty much letting the ethical violations go through,” Aguirre said. “It's like those construction zones where the guy comes out with a sign that says either ‘stop' or ‘slow'-their sign always says ‘come on through, baby.'”
Added Aguirre: “If you don't have a police officer on the political corruption beat, you're going to have political corruption. If you have political corruption, you're going to have really bad policies.... I read this definition of insanity the other day, and it said that people are unable to recognize the difference between right and wrong and that they don't take care of their personal financial situations. It sounds like San Diego!”
Give us a reason to smile: firstname.lastname@example.org.