Civic San Diego: Agree to abide by the state's open-meeting laws or prepare to defend those practices in court. That was the gist of a July 31 cease-and-desist letter from open-government advocacy group Californians Aware (CalAware) to executives at San Diego's redevelopment nonprofit.
Over the span of two weeks CalAware's president Donna Frye and lead attorney Terry Francke had battled Civic San Diego staff for calling non-scheduled regular meetings and immediately adjourning to closed session in order to discuss compensation with the then-unnamed incoming president — mayor Kevin Faulconer later announced that candidate was Reese Anthony Jarrett. (While the mayor is the person who selects a candidate, it is Civic San Diego's job to negotiate a salary.)
According to Civic San Diego chair Cynthia Morgan, Faulconer had asked the board to meet before the regularly scheduled July 30 open-session meeting so Jarrett didn't have to wait until after city council's August legislative recess.
CalAware took issue with Civic San Diego's last-minute scheduling. Days before a newly scheduled board meeting, CalAware threatened to file a lawsuit against Civic San Diego for violating state law, which prohibits any legislative body from calling a "special meeting regarding the salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits, of a local agency executive."
Despite CalAware's previous warnings, Civic San Diego board members met on July 16 to discuss the issue as well as to nominate board chair Cynthia Morgan to negotiate with Jarrett.
At that meeting, boardmember Murtaza Baxamusa worried that the controversy could further damage Civic San Diego/Centre City Development Corporation’s already tarnished reputation.
"Why are we spending our resources in trying to hide from the public what the process is? If we were transparent then we would be talking about in open session who this candidate is and what their qualifications are and getting input from communities…. Instead we are going into closed session so the public will not find out what we are talking about; that is not the process I want to engage in. I do not want to talk about this in closed session."
Concerns aside, the board ended up voting to schedule another open/closed-session meeting on July 24 to conduct the negotiations.
The move prompted the July 31 letter from CalAware.
In it, CalAware demanded that Civic San Diego staff agree to never again "repeat the ad hoc designation of meetings." They also requested that the agency follow the law and stick to the previously approved meeting dates unless there is a need for an emergency closed-session meeting, one where labor negotiations do not take place.
Frye, of CalAware, is still confused by the process.
"The only rush of which I am aware was the mayor’s schedule to have the new president’s salary approved by Civic San Diego before the city council went on their legislative recess."
The odd thing is, says Frye, "Civic San Diego had a regular meeting scheduled for July 30 and the council has a special meeting scheduled for August 7, so this could have been handled pretty quickly. And because the city council does not vote on the president’s compensation, the approval of the mayor’s nominee could have been docketed for the August 7 special meeting. It is not clear why waiting a week or so to do it correctly would have made such a big difference."
When asked the reason for the rush, a spokesperson from mayor Faulconer's office said that the position was ready to be filled.