On the campaign trail, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer promised that his administration would be way more open than the disgraced mayor he was replacing.

“Kevin Faulconer believes restoring trust, integrity and confidence in City Hall starts with transparency,” Faulconer’s campaign website said.

Now more than eight months into his term, Faulconer has stalled on a number of key transparency promises. And Faulconer blames other city officials for his inability to follow through.

Faulconer isn’t sticking to his pledge to make all city communications related to public business public and he’s delayed an audit and task force to examine the city’s transparency policies. Let’s take them one by one.

Faulconer’s Not Making All City Communications Public

Faulconer pledged that all communications by city employees related to public business would be made public. That included emails and text messages from city employees’ private accounts and cell phones if the messages involved city business.

But at least one city department is refusing to turn over such information, and Faulconer isn’t doing anything about it.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The San Diego Police Department is refusing to turn over records related to public business from the private cell phone of Chief Shelley Zimmerman and any text messages from department brass. Even text messages from department-issued cell phones weren’t public records, officials said, because they were held by the city’s cell phone carrier, and not SDPD. (We sought these records to try to confirm claims made by congressional candidate Carl DeMaio about the SDPD investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a former campaign staffer.)

These kinds of records are important because city leaders have a history of using private accounts to broker public deals or otherwise conduct business in an effort to shield them from public view. The chief of staff to former Mayor Jerry Sanders used private email to make a major agreement related to the Convention Center expansion. And the city refused to disclose former Mayor Bob Filner’s text messages during his sexual harassment scandal.

For these reasons, Faulconer said that all information related to public business would be made public – even if it came from city employees’ private accounts.

After SDPD denied our request, I took the department’s response to Faulconer, who is the boss of the police department. A mayoral spokesman told me that responses to public records were the city attorney’s problem, not Faulconer’s.

Yes, there are legal disputes both locally and at the state Supreme Court over information sent from public officials’ private accounts. But nothing is stopping the mayor from requiring all communications related to city business to be made public. He’s just decided not to do it.

“There is no new policy being proposed at this time,” Faulconer spokesman Matt Awbrey said.

The Public Records Audit Isn’t Happening

During the mayoral campaign, Faulconer also called for an independent audit of the city’s public record process. He even said one was already happening based on his direction as chairman of the city’s audit committee. But that wasn’t true. No audit was started nor is one scheduled. Faulconer blamed the auditor.

“Ultimately, it is up to the city auditor to decide whether to conduct the audit,” Faulconer’s office said in a statement.

That’s not entirely true, either. The audit committee, which is made up of City Council members and San Diego citizens, signs off on planned audits each year. If a public records audit was a priority for Faulconer or other city leaders, it would be happening.

Faulconer’s Public Records Task Force Is Stalled, Too

The mayor had pledged to empanel a task force of transparency experts to make recommendations on city open-government policies. That hasn’t happened yet.

Faulconer said he was waiting until he hires a chief data officer. This person would be the leader on open data initiatives, such as the online permit-tracking system Faulconer has unveiled, and serve on the transparency task force, Faulconer said. The chief data officer will be hired soon, the mayor said.

But in creating the chief data officer position, Faulconer killed another transparency job that Filner had created. Faulconer is eliminating the position of open government director. Faulconer said transparency duties will be shared among multiple departments.

Delaying initiatives like audits and task forces means serious delays for any demonstrable changes to take place. Often these initiatives are ways for politicians to make a show of doing something to resolve a problem while deferring any definitive action on it. In other words, they’re punting. But by not yet doing either of them, Faulconer hasn’t even snapped the ball on making the city’s open government processes better.


    This article relates to: Kevin Faulconer, News, Open Government, Share

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

    SDResident subscriber

    Public business is public business regardless of the method of communication.

    michele wood
    michele wood subscriber

    Him and Jerry Sanders are two yahoo's who really don't do anything other that posture for the camera. Last night KUSI's weather man Mark was trying to do an interview with them, but they were rude and just laughed at him. DISGUSTING PIGS

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    It is almost impossible for any Executive branch operation to practice the level of "transparency" candidates pretend to offer to pander to voters. That is true whether one likes or dislikes Faulconer or Obama. Governing requires some departures from transparency,

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Yes....and the public waits for that polywonks departure by terms limits, losing re-election or re-call.

    Diogenes subscriber

    The issues on the federal level are quite different because they involve national security. On the local level, we are legally entitled to open government. The courts are upholding what the legislature had enacted. Impossible and inconvenient are two different concepts. If you want privacy, do not go into local government. Without local transparency, politicians line their pockets. Our local election laws are different, too. It is a false equivalency argument that you have used. Being powerless is a choice that I refuse to make.

    Maybe I will be the next person to file a lawsuit against our city officials. They can pay me for my time and expenses. Or, the Mayor can spend the money to comply with the law. He might try to overturn the Public Records Act. Poor man... trapped by his own words and compelled by law to be transparent. May I point out that he is a hypocrite? That Obama is one, too, is not a defense.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    I think "the public" is largely unconcerned about the "transparency" issue,

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Candidates are almost required to promise more than they will deliver, regarding this issue and others. Transparency seems to me to go beyond what is required by law.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Apparently you are unconcerned about transparency in government. I don't know that applies to the majority of the public whether they are vocal about it or not.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Mayor Faulconer's actions reflect the Republican "actions" of his political backers. If the Public actually knew what goes on in City Hall behind the "Smoke and Mirrors" they might be appalled. The Auditor can be requested to do an audit, as took place for the Jerry Sanders/Todd Gloria/Kevin Faulconer (Audit Committee Chair) failed Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. efforts. That $2.7M in City Money had no findings of fault, and there is no reason to believe that another Audit would find anything - or is there?

    Mayor Faulconer's failure to follow through on his pledges is nothing new.

    What would be new is Politicians with Integrity who actually do what they say and say what they do.

    There Must Be Something To Hide - otherwise why no Transparency?

    Keep digging Liam - and report your findings.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    "Pay no attention to the men behind the Curtain" - as you look at the financiers of the Elected Officials. Oh, that's right, you cannot look at what goes on behind the Curtain because access is blocked.

    Did you read VOSD article on how Faulconer was selected over DeMaio and Roberts by Republican Backers that included Jerry Sanders?

    The Problems include not knowing who's in charge, resulting in a lack of trust in the System.

    romulan10 subscriber

    @Kevin Swanson If there is someone behind the curtains, more or less, manipulating the mayor, than that would make our mayor more or less a figurehead of sorts.

    Geoff Page
    Geoff Page subscribermember

    Why would anyone expect anything different from Faulconer?  Those of us who live in the District he used to represent would call this a yawner.  The man is a pure politician meaning he will say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get elected or to mollify people. His follow through is non-existent.

    Diogenes subscriber

    City officials are dodging the issue of using text messages on their smartphones in violation of the California Public Records Act. The plain language of the PRA does not exempt texting. I am sure if I texted my ex - girlfriend, my wife would claim that I was "communicating" with her. Likewise, the NSA might be interested in texts.

    Obviously, the city needs to be slapped with multiple lawsuits in the interests of open government. Our City Attorney will probably lose those cases and pay the attorneys fees and costs out of taxpayers funds. In some cases, no doubt, individuals in the city government should pay these attorneys fees and costs rather than the taxpayerd.

    Former Councilmember Donna Fry brought the use of texting as a back - channel means used by city employees and officials to defeat open government to our attention. Attorney Cory Briggs has obtained favorable court rulings.

    Let us all get together on this issue and demand that these practices end. The city cannot use the excuse of "national security" to conceal their communications.

    In automobile accident litigation, parties are able to obtain by subpoenas copies of texts to show texting while driving. Security agencies can obtain these communications as well. Thus, there should be no expectation of privacy while doing public business on a smartphone. That would effectively defeat the purpose of the PRA.

    San Diego needs to get ahead of the curve on this issue, as promised by the current mayor. Lack of funds is not a defense. What are they hiding? We all know the answer to that.