"Ms. Hooven influenced the decisions concerning the final agreement that included the requirement of a CEO."
An official behind San Diego's stealthy streetlight spy program can't become the permanent head of San Diego Community Power because she's had a crucial role in negotiating terms of a deal setting up the newly minted joint powers energy authority.
Hooven oversaw the city's controversial streetlight surveillance program.
So say lawyers for the California Fair Political Practices Commission in an August 24 advice letter to Community Power's assistant general counsel Nicholaus Norvell regarding a push by longtime city employee Cody Hooven to take charge of the Community Power Joint Powers Authority, aiming to take on San Diego Gas & Electric.
"Ms. Hooven currently serves as the city of San Diego's chief sustainability officer, a position she has held for approximately five years," the letter says. "The sustainability department operates under the mayor's office and reports to the city's deputy chief operating officer, Erik Caldwell."
Among other assignments she has had over the years, Hooven has overseen the city's controversial streetlight surveillance program, officially known as Smart Streetlights, as initially reported by the Reader in February 2019.
Revelations in that story about police use of the system to conduct video surveillance without public oversight drew subsequent scrutiny and criticism of the project, ultimately resulting in its suspension by lame-duck mayor Kevin Faulconer on September 9.
The Faulconer administration originally pitched the video operation as an environmental enhancement project without mentioning secret plans by San Diego police to monitor allegedly criminal activity for later use against possible suspects.
Video collected by the system would consist of "anonymous data with no personal identifiers" and "is not as detailed as security camera footage," mayoral spokeswoman Jen LeBron insisted to Reuters in February 2017.
But Faulconer and the police knew otherwise. "Video data from digital smart city infrastructure will make it easier to identify, and, therefore, arrest criminals," according to an internal report.
A 2019 public records request by the Reader forced the city to release documents describing local law enforcement's extensive use of the system to spy on the public.
"The department may elect to integrate Intelligent Streetlights with other technology to enhance available information," according to the records made public in March 2019 in response to the records act request.
"Systems such as gunshot detection, incident mapping, crime analysis, and other video-based analytical systems may be considered based upon availability, nature of department strategy, and seriousness of the crime investigated."
In addition to overseeing the surveillance network, Hooven has spent her time on the city payroll as interim administrator of the Community Power project. Her duties have included the arranging of permanent staffing for the new agency.
"This has been done through a temporary arrangement between [San Diego Community Power], and the City of San Diego," says the FPPC's advice letter. "Ms. Hooven has no contractual or employment relationship with SDCP itself."
According to the FPPC, in her role as interim administrator, Hooven "would regularly meet with [San Diego Deputy Chief Operating Officer Erick Caldwell] to share progress and determine next steps."
"Moreover, along with Mr. Caldwell and sometimes [a staffer referred to by the letter as "A.L."], she attended several meetings with other agencies to work on the term sheet. At these meetings, Ms. Hooven participated in the discussions, including some with potential member agencies' staff and counsel from other cities."
As a result, the FPPC's lawyers concluded that Community Power's CEO spot, which will likely pay in the mid-to-high six figures, is now off-limits to Hooven, though she may still apply for lesser positions.
"We believe the facts reasonably support the conclusion that Ms. Hooven influenced the decisions concerning the final [Joint Powers Authority] agreement that included the requirement of a CEO through her participation in the planning, preliminary discussions and negotiations involving [San Diego Community Power.]"
"While we recognize that Ms. Hooven insulated herself from the CEO search and hiring process after expressing an interest in the position, in our view, the fact that [Shawn] Marshall, who reported to Ms. Hooven as the city's consultant, participated in developing the CEO position qualifications - as well as Ms. Hooven's three interviews for the position -only adds to that perception."
"We also point out that this conclusion does not suggest improper motive on the part of Ms. Hooven."