Call it the ex-admirals' political ball. In any case, it may be one of San Diego's biggest masquerades since Mardi Gras.
A longtime General Dynamics executive has signed the ballot argument against a community plan on next month's ballot as a retired admiral, omitting any mention of his employer, which is footing much of the bill of a costly referendum campaign to defeat the plan.
Kenneth D. Slaght, whose LinkedIn page says he is currently a consultant to the military contracting giant, is listed on his ballot argument against Proposition C simply as "rear admiral retired."
General Dynamics owns National Steel and Shipbuilding, the military contracting operation that on April 28 pumped $250,000 into the campaign to defeat Prop C and its sister measure Proposition B. NASSCO had previously come up with at least $200,000 to help pay for a $729,000 referendum drive by military contractors to force the Barrio Logan plan to the ballot.
"Retired military leaders are urging you to vote NO on Propositions B and C," says Slaght's argument, which also bears the signature of Mark Balmert, another retired rear admiral and currently director for strategic planning and business development for AMSEC, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls, another defense-contracting giant that is spearheading opposition to the community plan.
As in Slaght's case, Balmert's designation says that he is a retired rear admiral, making no mention of his current employer, which has contributed $100,000 to the effort to torpedo the plan. Both signatures are dated March 18, according to the document posted online by the city clerk's office.
Before being employed by General Dynamics as vice president and general manager of its Naval IT Solutions sector, Slaght was enmeshed in controversy over the misuse of government credit cards by employees of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, known as SPAWAR, where he had worked for a decade and of which he assumed top command in May 2001, according to a July 16, 2001, profile in the Union-Tribune.
"Slaght has held various posts at Spawar over the past 10 years, including those of chief engineer and program manager for the joint maritime communications system program office," the paper reported.
“The admiral is also fond of golf," the U-T account added.
"Slaght held the vice commander's job at Spawar before relieving Rear Adm. John Gauss of the commander's job May 25," the story continued. "Gauss retired from the Navy that day.”
On July 31, 2001, the United States General Accounting Office released the results of an audit conducted from August 2000 through June 2001, finding that a "breakdown in internal controls over the $68 million in fiscal year 2000 purchase card transactions" had left "SPAWAR San Diego and the Navy Public Works Center San Diego vulnerable to fraudulent, improper, and abusive purchases and theft and misuse of government property….
"We found purchases for flat panel computer monitors costing from about $800 to $2,500 each, compared to standard [General Services Administration] schedule monitors costing about $300 each," the auditors said.
"In addition, we found routine purchases without documented government need, including personal digital assistants, such as Palm Pilots, as well as purchases of $100 designer Palm Pilot carrying cases and a $400 Coach leather briefcase."
The auditors' findings triggered a congressional investigation and a follow-up GSA audit, conducted between November 2001 and February 2002, and released March 13, 2002, which documented continued accountability problems at the San Diego complex.
"We identified a significant impairment of management 'tone at the top' at SPAWAR Systems Center during the last quarter of fiscal year 2001," the report said. "Following the hearing, for the most part, the ‘tone at the top’ at SPAWAR Systems Center was ‘business as usual.’
"For example, up to the time we completed our fieldwork in February 2002, some cardholders and managers continued to rationalize the questionable purchases we brought to their attention."
The audit went on to recount a litany of costly abuses that had continued despite previous congressional warnings:
"We identified purchases of day planners and calendars from commercial vendors, including calendar refills and designer leather holders purchased from Louis Vuitton and Franklin Covey.
"With the cost of a single Louis Vuitton day planner cover at about $250, the issue of excessive cost and abuse is clear.
"Further, by law, government agencies are directed to purchase certain products, including day planners and calendars, from certified nonprofit agencies that employ people who are blind or severely disabled. The most expensive day planner available from these agencies costs about $40.
"In addition, we identified about $33,000 of abusive or questionable purchases from Franklin Covey of designer and high-cost leather briefcases, totes (purses), portfolios, Palm Pilot carrying cases, and wallets. Other examples include abusive and wasteful usage of cell phones, a trip for about 30 staff for an organizational meeting in Las Vegas, and clothing.
"We identified meeting room rental and refreshments at Bally’s, a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, which is a questionable transaction. This charge was related to a trip for about 30 staff members from SPAWAR Headquarters. SPAWAR officials told us that the trip was an organizational meeting to work out the details of a planned merger of two program management working groups.
"We also identified abusive and possibly fraudulent purchases of luggage, Lego robot kits, and high-cost computer bags that were given away by SPAWAR Systems Center employees.
“Only one of the cardholders referred to in this testimony or our July 30, 2000 testimony had formal disciplinary action — in the form of removal of the purchase card — taken against them."
As negative audit findings continued to pile up, Slaght fired Capt. Ernest Valdes, a longtime center official and high-profile figure in the credit-card scandal, after convicting him in a late 2001 admiral's mast of three counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. The charges were said to be unrelated to the procurement issues then under investigation.
According to a December 21, 2001, story by the Navy Times, Slaght found Valdes guilty "for refusing to allow gate guards to search his personal vehicle sometime after Sept. 11 and conduct unbecoming an officer for refusing to take mandatory drug tests on three occasions and for not taking the required physical fitness test on three other occasions."