Walter Mencken 11:47 a.m., May 30
Both City Attorney Goldsmith and Mayor Filner release public records at whim (or not at all)
Problems with the leaders' judgment indicated following closed-session incident in June
It's one for the record books:
"The Quickest Response to a Public Records Request in San Diego's History: The U-T San Diego on June 20, with a time of under eight hours." [Sarcasm off.]
The reporter was Trent Seibert. The issue: the June 18 closed-session meeting where mayor Bob Filner ordered a San Diego police officer to escort executive assistant city attorney Andrew Jones out of the room for being disruptive.
According to a June 24 public records request, U-T "Watchdog" reporter Seibert submitted the following request on June 20 at 9:23 am directly to city attorney Jan Goldsmith's assistant, Carmen Sandoval, as well as deputy city attorney Paul Cooper:
"This is a request under the California Public Records Act. I seek a copy of the transcript from any closed meeting of San Diego City Council that took place Tuesday, June 18. Specifically, I am seeking the transcript of anything that occurred at the meeting that is not considered confidential under the Brown Act."
Less than four hours later, at a 1:30 pm press conference in La Jolla, Seibert asked Filner about the closed-session conflict.
From Seibert's article:
"When asked about the events on Thursday by U-T Watchdog at a news conference in La Jolla, Filner grimaced and walked away without responding.
“I was shocked. It was baffling to me,” Jones told the Watchdog. “For him to remove me, wow, to treat me like that. If you read the transcripts, you can see I was just trying to get a question answered.”
Jones said he was particularly insulted that Filner accused him of leaking confidential information.
By 7:00 pm that day, the U-T posted Seibert's article along with a redacted transcript from the meeting.
The transcript provided a glimpse of Filner's brash management style, with the mayor losing his temper upon first sight of Jones. He accused the executive assistant of leaking information from previous closed-session meetings and asked if he had been censured for that. Jones denied the allegations. Filner then tossed him out.
Accompanying the transcript was a page-long "explanation" listing the players involved and a justification for disclosing the records.
On June 24, the Reader submitted a request of its own for the following information:
-Correspondence to and from the City Attorney's Office for information regarding the closed-session meeting on June 18.
-Any and all requests under the California Public Records Act for information regarding closed-session meetings from January 1 to June 23.
-Correspondence between executive assistant Andrew Jones and mayor Bob Filner dated January 1 to June 23.
The July 12 response contained little information and declared that some of the requests were too broad.
Only after several emails and phone calls did the City Attorney's Office finally send a copy of Seibert's email.
The city attorney's decision to hand over the documents just hours after Seibert submitted his request (an unusual one at that) fueled the feud between Goldsmith and Filner, one that has since been overshadowed by allegations of sexual harassment committed by the mayor.
It also gives some insight into the relationship between city attorney Jan Goldsmith's office and San Diego's conservative daily. Ever since the battle between the two officials erupted, Goldsmith has used the U-T as a megaphone to publicly attack the Mayor, as seen in his June 7 op-ed:
"Then, along came new Mayor Bob Filner and things changed. Less than a month after he assumed office, during my first meeting with Bob, he (very loudly) proclaimed that he is not bound to keep our office apprised of matters or follow our legal guidance. 'Who do you think you are? God? I decide things around here!'
"He has been true to his word. We often learn of matters through rumors or the media, hardly giving us a chance to 'watch,' give 'clear legal advice' or 'push back' as the line of what’s legal is approached. So, we regularly deal with issues after the fact, making corrections and protections for the city more difficult."
But there's a bigger issue than just two public officials going toe-to-toe: the serious problem of withheld public documents and the lack of transparency in city government.
Access, or lack thereof, to public documents has been a hot topic for reporters and citizens in San Diego.
While touting his pursuit of open government, Mayor Filner has basically shut out the media from his office and from other departments — even before the onslaught of harassment charges took center stage.
And then there's the city attorney: his decision to give staff the green light to share information from a closed-session meeting hours after being asked for it while taking weeks to fulfill others' requests shows the severity of the problem. That's bad news for media outlets — some media outlets, who strive to hold public officials accountable and pull back the layers of bureaucracy to make city government more transparent.
(revised 7/25 1:50 pm)
More like this:
- Goldsmith to argue against his own legal opinion — Aug. 29, 2014
- City Attorney Jan Goldsmith slapped with lawsuit for refusing to disclose public records — Aug. 6, 2013
- Council President Todd Gloria's Office says no vote was taken to release closed-session transcripts — July 3, 2013
- Lawsuit coming over City Attorney's refusal to release complete record of Filner and Jones exchange — July 2, 2013
- Questions raised over City Attorney's decision to release transcripts of closed session meeting — June 22, 2013