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Taxpayers Association's School Bond Calls Cause Board Resignations

Two directors resigned from the Taxpayers Association board and one released a blistering letter about why.

Andy Berg is head of the local chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, and chaired San Diego Unified’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association is facing some inner strife.

Josh Gaffen and Andy Berg resigned this week from the organization’s board of directors. Gaffen sent a blistering letter explaining his decision.

“My experience has been that SDCTA is essentially run by lobbyists, and the Taxpayers brand is used to bolster the positions of the lobbyists’ clients under the guise of an impartial nonprofit,” he wrote.

The association’s decision to endorse some school bond proposals and oppose others triggered the move. In particular, Gaffen and Berg objected to the association’s opposition to San Diego Unified School District’s newest bond and tax hike and a similar measure from Sweetwater Union High School District.

Gaffen wrote that it was obvious the group only opposed them because of labor agreements the school districts had signed. But he also wrote he was upset SDCTA had not taken a position on important issues in the city, including the future of the former Chargers stadium property in Mission Valley and the hotel tax increase meant to fund the Convention Center expansion, homeless services and road repair.

Gaffen works for Gafcon, the construction company founded by his father, Yehudi Gaffen, and Berg is the leader of an electrical contractors association aligned with union contractors. They are themselves conflicted, as beneficiaries of contracts funded by school bond programs. But Gaffen wrote that SDCTA’s decision-making process seemed haphazard.

We need organizations that lead on important issues, that help shape public policy and make our region a better place to live, work and play. SDCTA circumvented its own rules and rushed to take a position on multiple ballot measures. At the same time, it was absent or soft on other important regional taxpayer issues that should have engaged an organization that says it “promotes effective and efficient public policy on behalf of all taxpayers throughout the Greater San Diego Region.”

Haney Hong, president and CEO of SDCTA, sent his remaining board members a response, calling Gaffen’s allegations that the group circumvented its rules were “patently false.”

Hong said the group researched and debated the school bonds.

“I know the quality of our work and our processes, and I stand by it. We research and debate like any healthy group does, and membership does not guarantee your favored outcome,” he wrote in a text message.

He also produced a passage from the group’s bylaws explaining why it was OK for the executive committee of the board to handle the endorsement decisions.

“Some folks didn’t get their way so they’re trying to cause a stink,” Hong wrote.

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