Tonight (July 29), the board of La Jolla Tennis Club suspended its former president, Phifer Crute, until January of 2016. She was earlier deposed as president — a post she did not hold long.
Crute had complained to the city about accounting at the tennis club (not to be confused with the tony La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club). The City of San Diego's Parks and Recreation Department responded to her complaint and initiated moves that led to a change in accounting procedures.
But the board jumped on Crute for "actions detrimental to the club" and "conduct reflecting unfavorably on the club." Among other things, Crute had written emails complaining of "fiscal mismanagement" at the club and a "mob mentality" afflicting board members.
She says she got threatening phone calls and a letter from a lawyer saying her statements were defamatory and she could wind up defending herself in court. The tennis-club board also criticized her for so-called "defamatory" statements.
But those accusing Crute of sins seem to forget that she won. After she complained, significant changes were made in accounting. Crute has two lawyers who say the defamation complaints are not valid. They accompanied her to tonight's meeting, which was taped. With the lawyers in attendance, and the tape recorder running, boardmembers would not repeat the charges openly; they only referred to letters they had previously sent her.
Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego, says this is a case of the city outsourcing management of a facility to a private organization, which acted in its own interests, not the city's. The manager about whom Crute complained worked for the club. The club does raise money for maintenance of the courts, but the City of San Diego owns them.
"This looks like pure retaliation against the whistleblower," says Erie. Crute has now filed a complaint with the city auditor who, Erie believes, should oversee the accounting at facilities owned by the city.