Back on February 15, ex-GOP assemblyman Nathan Fletcher tweeted his fans with some big news: “Just accepted award from Chancellor Khosla for work on behalf of UCSD while in the legislature.” The former San Diego mayoral candidate, who proclaimed he had switched from membership in the Republican party to assume the mantle of an independent during his ill-fated 2012 race, had recently taken a job as senior director of “corporate development” at Qualcomm, the cell-phone giant whose executives have been big financial backers of Fletcher’s campaigns.
In addition, the university had just announced that the former political operative was being named its first “professor of practice,” a new academic spot where he would be “advising and mentoring students as well as connecting them with internship and employment opportunities.” Qualcomm co-founders Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi are ex-UC professors who now throw their considerable weight around at the state-taxpayer-funded institution.
As it turned out, paying tribute to Fletcher, who many observers of local politics believe may be eyeing another bid for elective office with Qualcomm’s assistance, was more complicated than university officials apparently bargained for. One of the first problems, as revealed by documents obtained from UCSD under provisions of the state public records act, was that Fletcher wasn’t actually going to be in the country to receive the award, and demanded to use Skype, the internet video service, to beam himself in from the Far East, where he was apparently on a business trip.
“It’s possible, but our tech folks say they would want to do a test-run with Nathan earlier this week & they can’t provide a camera back into the room, for Nathan to see the audience, without additional costs of @ $300,” wrote Dominique Cano-Stocco, UCSD’s director of Advocacy, State & Local Government Relations to Fletcher aide Stephanie Sanchez. “Honestly, some of their points are valid, but I also feel like they are overcomplicating the situation. The best recommendation was for Nathan to pre-record a message on his computer, that we can upload during the event. Do you know if Nathan has a newer computer & if so, what make & year? Our tech folks could work with him to record a message from his computer.”
Fletcher rejected that idea out of hand. “Has this person ever used skype before?” he emailed Sanchez. “Lighting and audio at my location are fine—I will be in a hotel room in Hong Kong. I have done live broadcast television interview from more desolate locations and a marine I know watched his baby being born from a ditch in Afghanistan between mortar attacks over skype.” Cano-Stocco hastily emailed university head of public relations Jeff Gattas: “Nathan wants to do this. Let me know if we have to use advocacy funds to get it done.”
Already, costs for the small event at the faculty club — which also was set to pay homage to ex-Democratic state senator Christine Kehoe and “San Diego Region Elected Officials” — were considerable. A document approving a $3100 expenditure for the ceremony, signed by UCSD associate chancellor Clare Kristofco on January 24, called for “refreshments” costing $1900; $500 worth of invitations; “facility fees” of $250; and $100 in VIP parking.
Then there was the problem of finding a Skype account to use. “Do you have a Skype account we could use?” university systems administrator Andrew Chan emailed Cano-Stocco. She wrote: “Nathan is willing to do a test run on his Skype, but we need to give him time options. (And by test run, I mean 15-20 minutes — because he is traveling.) He does not want to run-up costs for the University, so he does not want us to go ahead with 1) a camera so he can see the audience or 2) sound canceling/normalizing equipment.”
With all else in final readiness, Brook Williamson, senior director of chancellor communications, emailed a draft of the script that UCSD chancellor Pradeep Kholsa would read during the ceremony. “And now, let’s turn to the video screen so we can recognize former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher,” Kholsa’s lines went. “He couldn’t be here today because he’s out of the country…but he is joining us by Skype.
“Like former Senator Kehoe, he worked tirelessly on behalf of UC San Diego. For example, he is credited with re-appropriating funds for our recently opened Structural Materials Engineering Building. He even took his representation of our campus quite seriously, naming his pet fish ‘King Triton.’ Whether meeting with campus representatives or surfing with the UC San Diego surf team, Nathan Fletcher is part of the Triton family.”
Fletcher did not respond to a phone call left on his assistant’s voice mail at Qualcomm.