SDOG Sues Poway Unified School District, Three Board Members for Open-Meeting Violations in Hiring New Superintendent

Today San Diegans for Open Government sued Poway Unified School District and three members of its governing board for violating the state’s open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, in hiring Dr. Marian Kim-Phelps as the new superintendent last month.

Following the City of Bell corruption scandal several years back, the state legislature amended the Brown Act to limit what a local agency’s governing body could do privately, at meetings from which members of the public and the press are excluded, when hiring high-level officials and setting their compensation.

PUSD and three of its board members are accused of secretly agreeing on the terms of employment for the new superintendent, including her compensation, and using intermediaries to reach a final agreement with her before giving the public an opportunity to comment on the agreement.  According to the lawsuit, more than one press release announcing the new appointment was created before PUSD’s governing board ever held a scheduled vote on the appointment, and one of these press releases was written by the new superintendent herself.

You can read the lawsuit here: PUSD_Complaint.

SDOG Sues East Village Association for Withholding Public Records

On February 1, 2017, San Diegans for Open Government (SDOG) sued the East Village Association, Inc. (EVA), a non-profit that runs the business improvement district in the East Village neighborhood of downtown San Diego, for not turning over public records.

On January 24, SDOG accused EVA’s board of directors of illegally hiring an interim executive director or interim board liaison in secret on January 20.  SDOG also asked for all communications between EVA board members and the person hired during the secret meeting.  EVA responded by denying the existence of any such communications.

SDOG alleges in its complaint that on January 24 “a person whose initials are B. H. e-mailed members of EVA’s board of directors to thank them for the opportunity to serve them and expressing excitement to begin working for them and appreciation for ‘giving me a chance.'”

You can read the lawsuit here: complaint.

Court Orders League of California Cities to Disclose Secret Jan Goldsmith E-Mails

On May 10, 2016, the San Diego County Superior Court ordered the League of California Cities to disclose portions of nearly 175 e-mail communications, rejecting claims by the League and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith that those items should remain secret due to attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product.  The court gave the League 20 days to disclose the items.  You can read the ruling here: WordPress_2016-05-10_Minute Order.

Hoteliers’ Lawyer Praised SDOG Not Long Ago

Following a judge’s ruling last week that SDOG has standing to challenge the San Diego Tourism Marketing District tax’s illegality in court, several people observed that the years-long strategy of the hoteliers’ lawyer, Mike Colantuono, in making personal attacks against SDOG and our attorney, Cory Briggs, appeared to be even worse than what people see in the movies.  Those people asked SDOG whether we have any idea why Mr. Colantuono would behave in such a way.

As SDOG argued to the judge before he made his ruling, the hoteliers have more than one billion reasons to fight dirty and lie (the TMD tax will generate well over $1 billion over 39.5 years) and Mr. Colantuono has had more than two million reasons to be dirty and dishonest (his firm has been paid more than $2 million so far by the taxpayers).  The top hotelier represented by Mr. Colantuono essentially confirmed this when he said that they “have pursued every legal avenue available to keep this case from going to trial.”

What many people do not realize is that, at the exact same time Mr. Colantuono was developing his scorched-earth strategy to go after SDOG and its attorney in a court of law and in the court of public opinion with lies and personal attacks, he was representing another San Diego client and writing nice things about SDOG.

In 2013 and 2014, Mr. Colantuono was representing the Downtown San Diego Partnership in a lawsuit filed by SDOG to challenge the legality of what is known as the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District.  That lawsuit was settled in October 2014 with the help of a mediator.  The settlement included a joint public statement in which DSDP was very complimentary of the work that SDOG does in the community.  DSDP wrote: “We saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of San Diegans for Open Government’s expertise and its years of experience in advocating for San Diego residents on good-governance and public-finance issues.”

Guess who signed off on that statement?  Mr. Colantuono did.  You can see his signature and read the full statement here: SDOG-DSDP_Statement.

SDOG has no idea why Mr. Colantuono would be praising SDOG at the same time he was in the middle of an ad hominem attack campaign against SDOG and our attorney.  It should make one wonder whether he told the hoteliers that he was taking a contrary position for another client right here in San Diego. Did the hoteliers know their lawyer would waste more than three years and over $2 million from taxpayers to tell a story he didn’t even believe?

Hotel-Tax Battle Gets Closer to the Real War

Here’s how VoiceofSanDiego.org’s Liam Dillon described the San Diego hoteliers’ efforts to prevent San Diegans for Open Government from challenging the illegality of the 2% Tourism Marketing District tax that was put before hoteliers rather than voters in 2012:

“San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil made a big decision in recent days over the fate of more than $1 billion in projected tax dollars.

“For more than three years, activist attorney Cory Briggs has been challenging the Tourism Marketing District, which charges a 2 percent fee on visitors’ hotel bills on top of the city’s regular hotel-room tax. Briggs says the district’s fee is exactly the same as a tax and therefore should have been voted on by the public, not the hotel industry. He and other lawyers won a similar argument to throw out the financing plan for the Convention Center expansion.

“The hotel industry, however, argued that Briggs shouldn’t even be allowed to challenge the tourism district. They said that his clients, nonprofit San Diegans for Open Government, were a sham and simply an alter ego of Briggs.

“Wohlfeil rejected that argument, saying that San Diegans for Open Government passed the ‘microscopic’ examination by the hotel industry. The case will now move to a trial on whether the 2 percent fee is a tax later this year.

“If you want to understand why this is all so significant, check out the statement given to inewsource by tourism district chairman and hotelier Bill Evans after the ruling: ‘This case is vital to our industry and to our city,’ he wrote. ‘As a result, we have pursued every legal avenue available to keep this case from going to trial.’

“Translation: This money is so important to the hoteliers that they did everything they could to destroy their opponent before they actually had to argue it was legal.”