Pier South Hotel (image from corporate.pacificahost.com)
The seemingly innocuous announcement of a “state of the city” address by the mayor of Imperial Beach has caused controversy after a potential political rival raised questions about the motives and cost of the event.
Mayor Jim Janney announced at the December 4 city council meeting that he would give his first state of the city address on January 22 at the new Pier South Hotel. "Since I’ve been mayor I’ve been lacking in the fact that I haven’t given a state of the city address the last six years," Janney said, according to published reports. "I thought it was important with the wind-down of redevelopment and a lot of good things happening in Imperial Beach to have a state of the city address."
Soon after the announcement, Imperial Beach resident Serge Dedina cried foul, questioning the timing and the cost. In a public letter to Imperial Beach city manager Andy Hall, Dedina pointed out that the event "happens to coincide with a 2014 mayoral election." Dedina, the executive director at Wildcoast, a conservation organization, is a possible candidate for mayor, saying he will make the final decision "in early 2014."
The public letter also questioned whether the city was paying for the room, food, and the equipment, given that Imperial Beach has long had budget problems. A San Diego County Grand Jury concluded last May that the city has seriously mismanaged its budget for years, an assertion the city rejected.
Dedina said that if the city is not paying for the room, then, “What is the value of the donation and could that be construed as a gift or campaign contribution to the mayor?" Dedina asked if there is an agreement with Pacifica, the hotel management company, "that due to the use of $7 million in redevelopment funds to facilitate hotel construction, the City of Imperial Beach has free use of meeting rooms for the Mayor's political events."
The previous mayor, Diane Rose, had regular state of the city addresses at a modest public space near the pier and "it was very much a public event and wasn't held in an effort to court favor with private interests," Dedina said.
Hall, the city manager, replied in an email that he didn't know the funding sources for the event because he had “not been asked to participate in any manner at this point in time” but that he would “dig a bit deeper and identify the arrangement.” Hall added that private funding of such events requires public disclosure.
Dedina said he is satisfied with the city manager's response. "Overall, new city manager Andy Hall, unlike Mayor Janney, appears to be genuinely interested in building bridges of communication and partnerships with local residents and civic organizations."