Donna Frye’s longtime chief, Steven Hadley, of District 6, declined, saying he wanted the focus to stay on Donna. He sent along a spreadsheet of his and his staffers’ duties.
When I first emailed Erica Mendelson, communications director for District 5 rep Carl DeMaio, she wrote that “we are declining all interviews unless it’s for the councilmember. It’s a decision we’ve made internally.” Apparently she and Mr. DeMaio reconsidered, and they asked for a list of questions. I sent the list, inquiring about how his chief, Jaymie Bradford, was chosen, her role in advising him on policy, the difficult and the rewarding parts of the job, and whether chiefs have conflicts of interest. Soon, Mendelson called to say that the tenor of such questions was “too intense” for Mr. DeMaio to answer. Instead, he emailed the following: “As my chief of staff, Ms. Bradford manages the day to day activities of the District 5 office. In this capacity she is also my chief advisor on policy issues. Because of her extensive background in city related policy issues and knowledge of the intricacies of the city she was the perfect choice to fill the role of chief of staff.”
Glen Sparrow, a retired San Diego State political scientist and a staffer for Councilman John Hartley in the 1990s, is not surprised that the chiefs won’t talk. “One thing you do as a chief of staff,” he says, “is subvert your personality to the boss. Your shield protects him or her, and you take the arrows. Anytime good occurs, you give the boss credit; anytime there’s bad, you take it on yourself. The last thing you want is the spotlight. It’s in their nature to be quiet about what they do.”
Euphemisms such as “internal decision” and “the member gets the press” are so evasive as to be suspicious — or meaningless. What is this not-talking groupthink really about? Doesn’t the public deserve some appraisal of chiefs, especially since they average $100,000 per year, have the hourly ear of the councilmember, and are unelected? Why, at least in San Diego, have they escaped the journalist’s profile?
Biographies of the Chiefs
Chief of staff for Sherri Lightner
Most chiefs of staff have worked their way through the labyrinth of appointed positions in city hall. Some have had to keep part-time jobs, realizing staff jobs are temporary. Part of their savvy is to stay available by constantly reinventing themselves. The king of reinvention is John Rivera, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s chief in District 1.
According to yourdebteliminated.com, Rivera is a Ph.D. and a consultant. The website markets a program of “debt-free living,” “rooted in the spiritual principles which gave birth to the idea of our great nation,” that will “Save Time, Save Money, Build Wealth.” Rivera consults in “both the public and private sectors” in such areas as “creative problem solving,” “ethics advising,” “effective discipline,” “quality control,” and more. In addition, the speaker and author “has inspired audiences with interests in business and institutional re-engineering,” among other skills. On the website, he is described as a researcher, writer, educator, business/public policy consultant, and cofounder of Financial Freedom International, Inc. He’s given a few keynote addresses, and according to the City of San Diego’s District 1 webpage, he’s run “several small businesses and has been a professor at different California universities.”
In 1983, Rivera lost a school board election to Susan Davis. From 1984 to 1986, he was a part-time administrative assistant to county supervisor Paul Eckert. In 1986, when the city council was choosing from candidates to fill a seat vacated by Councilman Uvaldo Martinez, Rivera added his name to the list; he lost to Celia Ballesteros. At the time, Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer called Rivera “one of the brightest” contenders for Martinez’s seat. Rivera maintained that he was the best choice because he had a “more contemporary way of solving problems.” During the 1980s he was a counselor and instructor at San Diego City College. In 1989, at age 39, Rivera lost the post of chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party’s Central Committee by one vote.
Rivera emerged as the cochairman of the San Diego Christian Coalition, a group that offered training to Christian political candidates. This was part of an effort to recruit Christians to run for every office in San Diego County in 1992. By the mid-’90s, Rivera was a part-time professor at San Diego State.
Rivera was a consultant from 2003 to 2005 and in 2007 for the city council’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, chaired by Councilman Brian Maienschein. Councilmembers have a consultant on their staffs for each committee they head. Among other duties, Rivera helped plan the budgets for the police and fire-rescue departments.
In 2005, Rivera testified in the Strippergate trial, the city hall corruption trial of councilmen Ralph Inzunza and Michael Zucchet. They and Charles Lewis, who died before the trial began, were charged with taking money to change the “no-touch” policy at San Diego strip clubs. In a taped conversation, Zucchet told Lance Malone, lobbyist and bagman for strip-club owner Michael Galardi, that he would meet with John Rivera to have the no-touch policy put on the committee’s docket. Rivera testified that he had been approached by staffers from the offices of Lewis, Zucchet, and Inzunza, who pushed him to get the matter before the committee. Maienschein testified that he had been asked twice by Inzunza, in 2002, to put the no-touch policy on the committee’s agenda. He refused.
Last June, for a report on city workers’ salaries, the Union-Tribune compiled a database. In 2008, Rivera took home $90,171 from the City. This year he will earn $98,010.
Chief of staff for Kevin Faulconer
The District 2 webpage says that Faucett “oversees day-to-day operations” for Faulconer and “is responsible for community representation, policy, communications, office management and legislative relations.” She has been in politics since graduating from San Diego State, when she became a community representative in Councilwoman Judy McCarty’s office; there she worked on community-development, block-grant, and land-use issues. Jim Madaffer, who for a time was McCarty’s chief, hired Faucett as his campaign manager when he ran for the council in 2000. Her reward at his election: the chief’s job.