How a Summer of Scandal Could Cripple the City - Voice of San Diego

Bob Filner

How a Summer of Scandal Could Cripple the City

The drip-drip-drip of Mayor Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal means not much is going to get done.

We could be in for a scandal-filled summer in San Diego – and that’s not good for much else getting done.

Mayor Bob Filner’s trio of progressive allies-turned-sexual harassment accusers called on him to resign this week, but didn’t provide any specifics about Filner’s alleged conduct. Filner released a statement apologizing for intimidating and “not fully respecting women” in his office, but didn’t give any details or answer any questions about his behavior. Filner’s accusers responded Friday that his mea culpa wasn’t good enough and said they’d release more information next week.

This information vacuum makes certain the drip-drip-drip nature of this scandal will continue for the foreseeable future. It makes news stations, for instance, herald as “exclusives” 13-second videos of the mayor walking and ignoring questions.

The biggest domino to fall Friday was Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the former union leader credited with getting Filner elected last November, calling on Filner to resign in an interview with U-T San Diego. Gonzalez’s earlier comments had been more measured, but she said she heard Friday morning from some of Filner’s alleged victims.

Gonzalez said the allegations against Filner are “shocking and inappropriate” and “go beyond harassment.” But she too didn’t name names or detail what the mayor’s accused of doing.

Even without specifics, Filner’s admission of some kind of wrongdoing might legally compel the city to investigate, employment lawyers said, though the city attorney’s office said Friday it is unaware of any formal claims against the mayor. Just the process of deciding who will do the investigation – it’d be kind of tough for the mayor to investigate himself – will take time.

While all of this is going on, there’s a 10,000-employee city with a $2.6 billion budget to run. Here’s just a smattering of the issues the city’s facing right now that could get overrun by the scandal:

• People: The city has no permanent chief operating officer, chief financial officer, Development Services director, head of code enforcement or director of its nearly $1 billion water and wastewater systems. Filner’s also lost his deputy chief of staff and top communications person last month. It’s tough to imagine what kind of talent the mayor can attract with sexual harassment allegations hanging over him. (Update: Filner Chief of Staff Vince Hall resigned late Friday afternoon.)

• Big projects: The city’s trying to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate the centennial of the 1915 exposition in Balboa Park. It’s also supposed to be working toward a $500 million expansion of its Convention Center and at least an $80 million loan for street, storm drain and building repairs.

• Filner’s agenda: The mayor’s nationally renowned planning director started work two days before the scandal broke. Filner’s also made big promises with little to show for them so far, such as solar-powering all city and school buildings by 2017.

• Other scandals: In case you’ve forgotten, federal investigators are reportedly looking into a pay-to-play deal involving Filner and a Kearney Mesa developer. And the mayor hasn’t said who paid for his trip to France last month. Taxpayers spent more than $10,000 on the mayor’s security detail to tag along.

The only good news for getting business done seems to be that the city’s entering its five-week summer recess soon. The City Council shuts down from Aug. 5 through Labor Day.

“It’s doldrums in July and August,” said Seth Gates, a deputy in the city’s independent budget analyst office.

That means less is happening in the city than at other times of the year. But it also could mean there’s nothing the mayor or anyone else can do to distract attention from his scandal.

Update: Filner released a statement at 6:30 Friday evening pledging support for an independent investigation into his conduct, but maintaining his innocence. 

“While I stand by my comments and pledge of yesterday to make changes to improve the workplace environment in my office, I am confident that a fair and independent investigation will support my innocence with respect to any charges of sexual harassment,” Filner said.

His statement indicates that he’s encouraging any complaint against him to be filed formally through the city’s equal opportunity office, which he says doesn’t report to him. Filner also said he’d back hiring an independent investigator to look into the allegations if they’re filed formally.

Filner’s Friday statement also seems to draw a distinction between “sexual harassment,” which he now says he’s innocent of, and his admission Thursday that he “intimidated” and “failed to fully respect” his female employees.

But, as former assistant city attorney Karen Heumann pointed out on Twitter, the city’s equal opportunity policy includes intimidation in its definition of harassment.

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