On Wednesday, September 16, Stacey Fulhorst, executive director for the ethics commission, testified before San Diego's Open Government and Rules Committee and requested authority to issue subpoenas and to sanction officials that lie, mislead, and knowingly obstruct the commission during its investigation. Fulhorst, appearing alongside chair of the ethics commission Richard Valdez, said the commission modeled the request for additional power after other large municipalities in the state. She started off her testimony by listing past examples where she felt the commission could have used some extra muscle.
"We had a situation involving a high-level city official who prepared a document that included what he knew to be false information and submitted to the commission as evidence," said Fulhorst. "And we had another situation with a campaign consultant for an elected official who absolutely refused to be interviewed during an investigation and there was nothing we could do.
"The proposals in front of you," continued Fulhorst, "are not solutions in search of a problem; they are remedies that the commission needs to ensure that its investigative and enforcement activities are as effective as can be."
Unfortunately for Fulhorst and the ethics commission, Council President Ben Hueso didn't forget about his own ethics investigation -- the commission ordered him to shell out $17,000 for violating campaign finance laws during his 2006 run for city council. After councilmember Donna Frye expressed her reluctance to grant more power to an "untrained" legal body, Hueso had questions about his investigation.
"In my experience you told me I could not go out and get information from witnesses because that was considered intimidating and that I needed to hire an attorney," said Hueso. "So is that your policy for elected officials?"
"You're asking me to comment on a case in which you were the respondent?” asked a confused Fulhorst. "Okay...you were contacting city employees and interviewing them. We had city employees contact us and indicate that they were very uncomfortable being interviewed by an elected official...."
"I understand the city employee contacted you just to ask if it was okay to provide you with information and not that he felt uncomfortable,” answered Hueso. "You can argue that a city employee would feel intimidated by you asking them questions."
After stumbling through several unintelligible sentences about his own investigation, Hueso clumsily concluded, "Again, the evidence you obtained could be wrong."
"I'm not understanding your point council president."
Moments later, Hueso ended the discussion: "There are no motions from the committee so we're going to move on. Thank you for coming today."