Dorian Hargrove 12:47 p.m., May 19
Declining to take public questions, tax-backed tourism board votes to sue Filner
Four of nine marketing district board members skip controversial vote to sue San Diego mayor over disputed two-percent hotel levy
After an unexpectedly long meeting behind closed doors early this afternoon, five of the nine members of the San Diego Tourism Marketing District finally emerged to announce they had voted to approve suing Democratic San Diego mayor Bob Filner in an effort to force him to sign a contract authorizing a $30 million-a-year tax dollar deal negotiated by previous GOP mayor Jerry Sanders.
No details - other than a one-page statement - of the two hour discussion of the possibly historic vote that could cost local taxpayers a sizable amount in legal fees was provided by the board.
According to a closed session report of today's meeting of the tourism marketing district released early this evening, the five members of the board board voting to sue were Atlas Hotels president and board chairman Terry Brown; Bartell Hotels chief Richard Bartell; Mohsen Khaleghi ,General Manager, Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine; Luis Barrios, General Manager, Best Western Hacienda Hotel Old Town; and John Schafer, Vice President and Managing Director Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, developed by U-T San Diego owner Douglas Manchester, one of the mayor's chief political foes.
The four members reported not present for the vote were Keri A. Robinson, Area Managing Director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts – San Diego; Patrick Duffy, General Manager Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines; Robert A. Rauch, General Manager/Partner, Hilton Garden Inn-San Diego/Del Mar; and William Evans, president of Evans Hotels.
Only one member of the board was willing to speak to the media following the decision, and that was via a statement he read before a television camera after the group emerged from its lengthy non-public meeting.
"I would like to inform you that the corporation regrettably authorized filing a lawsuit today in superior court to compel Mayor Filner to sign the contract with the City Council approved last year with the TMD," said the statement, read by board chairman C. Terry Brown, president of Mission Valley-based Atlas Hotels.
We've filed this suit in the interest of protecting and preserving a partnership with the City that has served our industry and tourism employees, and the many small businesses that work with the tourism and hospitality industry - as well as the City of San Diego and the regional economy.
We look forward to resolving the contract execution problem expeditiously, and moving forward in our efforts to build on past successes and reap the economic, social, and cultural benefits of TMD's collective marketing efforts.
After he finished reading, Brown declined further comment and left the room, as did his colleagues. Agency counsel John Lambeth also declined to be interviewed by those present, including a TV reporter, and quickly departed.
The district's statement brought a swift retort from the mayor, who released his own statement early Friday evening:
As Mayor I cannot and will not allow a small group of wealthy hoteliers to hold our economy hostage to their personal agenda of secrecy and greed.
Now those same hoteliers who have refused to negotiate for three months have decided to sue me in an effort to force me to sign an agreement that rips off San Diego taxpayers. Well I wasn’t elected to fight for the interests of a small band of wealthy hoteliers – I was elected to fight for the taxpayers of San Diego.
Members of the tourism board have been closed-mouthed about their pending decision ever since it was made public here on Tuesday.
According to board treasurer William Evans, president of Atlas-competitor Evans Hotels, who left today's board meeting before the closed session began, some of his fellow board members were not eager to be quoted because they were employees of corporate hotel chains and feared the publicity and negative job consequences such interviews might bring.
"These guys are in a really tough spot," Evans told us.
Today's board meeting was held at the Bahia Hotel, a property run by Evans Hotels on city leased land.
UPDATED 5:53 PM TO REPORT VOTE TALLY
UPDATED 7:04 TO REPORT FILNER STATEMENT