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In an exclusive interview, former mayoral chief of staff Vince Hall said he believes the sexual harassment allegations made by a former top Filner aide and thinks the mayor needs to go.
Former mayoral chief of staff Vince Hall believes Bob Filner sexually harassed his former communications director, willfully refused to complete the city’s sexual harassment training, created a “dehumanizing” work environment and isn’t capable of changing his behavior.
In an exclusive interview with Voice of San Diego, Hall, a longtime Filner aide and confidante, said he told Filner to resign the day he left the mayor’s office – two days after the sexual harassment scandal broke on July 10. Filner, Hall said, didn’t respond.
“I walked away,” Hall said.
Former Filner spokeswoman Irene McCormack alleges in a lawsuit that Filner sexually harassed her on numerous occasions.
“I believe her,” Hall said. He called McCormack a person of high integrity whose work was beyond reproach.
In her lawsuit, McCormack details the June 20 staff meeting where she and deputy chief of staff Allen Jones resigned. According to the filing, Filner had challenged her to cite one instance where she had been mistreated, and McCormack noted the time Filner had said she’d work better without her panties on.
Hall, who was in the meeting, confirmed McCormack’s account.
“She gave that horrific and disgusting example as she was exiting the room,” Hall said. “The conversation resumed after she had left with all of us in the room siding with the two individuals who had walked out, expressing in our strongest possible ways that the situation had to change immediately.”
A few days after the meeting, Hall emailed then-interim chief operating officer Scott Chadwick, who told him Human Resources was following up.
Hall said that he had long heard infidelity rumors involving Filner, but McCormack’s comment in the June 20 staff meeting was the first time he had heard any allegations of sexual harassment against the mayor from his staff.
Hall, who had worked for the mayor on and off since the late 1980s, said all he heard before becoming mayoral chief of staff was that Filner was a “womanizer” and that he never confronted him on any of those rumors.
“The mayor was my supervisor,” he said. “We never had a personal conversation about any personal issue.”
Nine accusers, including McCormack, have now come forward publicly to say the mayor sexually harassed and/or groped them. Most have recounted incidents that took place before Filner became mayor.
Filner’s attorney contends the mayor failed to complete sexual harassment training within six months of taking office, as state law requires, because city trainers “unilaterally cancelled” scheduled sessions.
Hall says that’s not true.
Hall said Chadwick came to him to express concern that the mayor hadn’t completed the training, which is done online. At the time, Chadwick was doubling as the city’s human resources director.
“I knew that Mr. Chadwick would be in a position to more authoritatively describe to the mayor the importance and the legality of this requirement,” Hall said. “I directed him to have that conversation with the mayor, and he did.”
Hall noted that Filner did find the time to complete two separate two-hour ethics trainings and a 90-minute financial securities disclosure training.
“Mayor Filner is solely responsible for his failure to complete the required sexual harassment training,” Hall said.
Hall also said that the training was available online and Filner could have taken it any time he wanted.
“To say that the city didn’t make the training available is to imply in a bizarre way that the internet was unavailable,” he said.
Hall said the mayor constantly demoralized and demeaned his staff.
“The level of bullying, the frequency and the intensity of the mayor’s anger over the most trivial matters, the complete lack of any positive connection to people who were working so hard for his success was very, very disheartening and demoralizing and ultimately one of the reasons I left,” Hall said. “It was an ever-present, serious problem in the office and it is difficult to put into words for anyone who wasn’t there to understand just how vicious the outbursts could be and how dehumanizing the work environment was.”
Hall’s opinion mirrors what Jones, the former deputy chief of staff, said when he resigned. Jones said the mayor had acted “demeaning and abusive” to staff and others.
Hall said he did his best to protect the staff and reform the mayor, including bringing in outside experts, holding interventions and having “very frank, finger-in-the-chest discussions” with the mayor, but nothing helped.
At one point, Hall said he was asked to participate in a meeting with Miles McPherson, pastor of The Rock Church in Point Loma.
“The mayor had told me that [McPherson] was trying to help him to cope with these issues of anger and bullying,” Hall said.
When he took the job, Hall said he could deal with the mayor’s reputation as a tough manager. Hall said he tried his best given the circumstances.
“I did, but at the end of the day it didn’t work,” Hall said. “You have here a 70-year-old man who has been in elected office for the better part of 30 years. When challenged on any aspect of his conduct (he) is quick to remind you that he’s been in office for 30 years and he knows how to do this. He is unwilling to change.”