Port Commissioner claims U-T CEO threatened him; CEO says, Not True

by Brooke Williams | inewsource
and Amita Sharma | KPBS

The CEO of U-T San Diego Thursday denied sending a threatening email to a port commissioner running for Congress, suggesting the email had been doctored and “somebody could go to jail” for sending it.

Commissioner Scott Peters, who received the email and released it to the Investigations Desk of inewsource/KPBS, said, “That’s a doozy,” when told John Lynch was contending the email “is not accurate.”

Port Commissioner Scott Peters sent I-Newsource and KPBS this screenshot of his email account he says proves he did not tamper with U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch’s email.

“You guys can come and examine my server,” Peters said. “I will turn my computer over and you can verify it.”

The email — from Lynch to port commissioner Scott Peters on Aug. 9 — asked Peters how he intended to vote on a 24.5-year lease with Dole Food Company at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal downtown. It also purports to threaten Peters with a “campaign to disband the PORT [sic]” over provisions he wanted to see in the lease.

The U-T has made the terminal site its mission for development of an entertainment complex, including a football stadium. The extension of the Dole lease was seen as a blow to the U-T’s vision.

The email, which sounded like a power play by the county’s largest newspaper, has now taken on its own significance. Lynch and Peters are at odds about exactly what was said. And the email itself has been released publicly in two different forms.

Both Lynch and Peters sent inewsource/KPBS emails – one shorter than the other — late Thursday. They both say are authentic.

Lynch insisted all he said in the email to Peters was, “Do you intend to vote for the Dole lease?” He continued: “If someone is changing emails that is serious. Someone could go to jail for this.” Lynch said he’s consulting lawyers about the email.

Peters said Lynch sent the email to his personal account. Peters said he took out the portion about the campaign when he forwarded the email to port lawyers. Peters’ response to the email, in part, assured Lynch the Dole lease could be rescinded.

He said he removed the sentence because the port had been under assault and he didn’t want to demoralize the staff with a “threat of extinction.”

That two-sentence email was cited in an inewsource/KPBS investigation aired and published Monday, documenting financial and political ties among U-T owner Doug Manchester, his business partner Lynch, and elected officials.

Thursday, Peters said, there was more to the email, sharing what he said is the entire email exchange.

The investigation detailed how Lynch has boasted publicly about having “concrete meetings” with “hopefully the right people” who could help with the U-T’s vision for developing the port terminal. But Lynch said the U-T has “tried to keep it down low.” He also told Peters in another email, “We actually have made significant progress, with labor, Chargers, County, business, Navy, and one of the Mayoral candidates.”

Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican who was endorsed on the front page of the U-T in his bid for mayor, has known Manchester since 2003, not long after DeMaio came to San Diego. Despite the endorsement, DeMaio said he does not favor the U-T vision but rather supports continued maritime uses at the terminal. He insists he is not the candidate Lynch was referring to in the email.

In an interview yesterday, Lynch said he didn’t mean to say he had the support of one candidate.

“You know, there was no one mayoral candidate. I was referring actually to all of the mayoral candidates who had come in and the mayor himself,” he said. “I was trying to say something that was poorly said. There was never any one candidate that we made progress with.”

Peters’ two-sentence email was shared with inewsource/KPBS as part of a Public Records Act request to the port. The email, sent to his personal account, showed up as a public record because it had been forwarded to port lawyers with port email addresses.

The law is unclear in California and across the country about whether emails sent to private addresses are public, even if they deal with the public’s business.

Peters defended cutting the line.

“I was trying to avoid making the battle any bigger,” he said.

Peters also did not include an email from former Port commissioner Peter Q. Davis, which Lynch forwarded to him, when he cc’d the Port attorney. In his email, Davis appeals to Lynch’s position as head of the newspaper, hoping he will have a reporter quiz the port on the lease.

“This would appear to be about 1/5 of the space at 10th Avenue Terminal—But it ends stadium talk for 24.5 years—-I have to believe the Port will make a big deal about that and rubbing it in the uT’s face at next Tuesdays meeting–Sure hope you have a reporter cover that and ask investigative questions–Like How much is Dole Paying—-Also once unl;oaded [sic] “where do these containers go”? Davis wrote.

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