San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio keeps a private calendar that shows he had appointments with newspaper owner Doug Manchester in December and in May, despite his office insisting no records of communication exist between the two men.
During a KPBS mayoral debate Monday, DeMaio said he had taken “a meeting” with U-TSan Diego’s editorial board.
The KPBS/inewsource Investigations Desk obtained 17 pages of DeMaio’s personal calendar. Those pages — covering months between December 2011 and June 2012 — specifically note two meetings scheduled with “Papa Doug,” the nickname Manchester, owner of U-T San Diego, prefers, and one that included his CEO John Lynch.
DeMaio confirmed yesterday that he met with Manchester. He said he did not have to disclose those meetings because they were campaign-related.
The revelations in the personal calendar follow a KPBS/inewsource investigation released last week that documented financial and political ties among Manchester, Lynch, and public officials who could be valuable allies as the newspaper trumpets what it regards as best for the city. The U-T endorsed DeMaio on an announcement that wrapped the front page before the June primary.
DeMaio has had a financial and political relationship with Manchester – the wealthy developer who bought the North County Times this week – and his business partner Lynch – for nearly a decade.
DeMaio said the relationship began in 2003, but maintained that other than one meeting with the U-T editorial board in recent months, he had not communicated with Manchester or Lynch. ”My office has released all emails and it shows we’ve had no conversations over email,” DeMaio said during the KPBS debate.
Earlier, in response to a public records request, DeMaio’s chief of staff, Felipe Monroig, told inewsource, “We did not find anything in terms of communications between the councilmember and either Mr. Lynch or Mr. Manchester.”
The records request, submitted on Sept. 4, asked for “any and all communication among (to, from, copied and any combination thereof) Councilman Carl DeMaio and Douglas Manchester and/or John Lynch.” It further specified: “In this request, communication includes but is not limited to emails, faxes, letters, text messages and voicemails.”
DeMaio has promoted government transparency since before he was elected to the council in 2008. On a video on his campaign website, he says, “I’m a big believer in open government. In fact, I’ve put forward several open government proposals that would make San Diego the leader in Sunshine Laws for local government.”
DeMaio’s personal calendar logs two meetings at the Grand Del Mar, a hotel Manchester built, on Dec. 14, 2011 and on May 16, 2012. The first was scheduled with “Papa Doug” and Lynch. The second was recorded as with “Papa Doug” and Ray Ellis, who is running for a seat in Council District 1 against incumbent Sherri Lightner. Although council elections are nonpartisan, the San Diego Republican Party has endorsed Ellis as it has DeMaio, and if he wins the seat, Republicans would make up a majority on the city council.
Ellis confirmed Wednesday that he and DeMaio met with Manchester in May, as the calendar indicates. He characterized the meeting as “an introduction to a couple of of Mr. Manchester’s business contacts in the community.”
Since the KPBS/inewsource investigation was published and aired, DeMaio’s mayoral rival Bob Filner has flouted the relationship between the U-T and DeMaio, and DeMaio has tried to distance himself from the local media moguls.
During the debate, DeMaio suggested that Lynch had made statements not grounded in reality when he pronounced he had support from a mayoral candidate, labor and others for his proposal to develop the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal into an entertainment center that would include a Chargers football stadium.
Filner demanded that DeMaio release any email communication and any meetings regarding the proposed stadium on the terminal, “from text to email, landline, cell, anything personal, campaign or official.” Yesterday afternoon, DeMaio turned the tables and called on Filner to release all his communications.
“I’m calling on Mr. Filner, to release all of his correspondence with the labor union bosses, with all of his backers, the developers, who are giving money to him, the special interests the lawyers, release all of his correspondence because he is a congressman and he has a double standard,” DeMaio said.
inewsource put in a request Wednesday at noon to Filner’s campaign for the past six months of his personal calendar, minus “truly personal items.” As a congressman, Filner is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act so he is not legally compelled to release calendars or communication.
Last night, Filner responded with this statement: “I am providing my official calendar. And I want to reiterate that I have never had a meeting with Mr. Lynch our Mr. Manchester, both of whom have major projects before the City.” He did not answer a request for comment on DeMaio’s challenge.
The fact that DeMaio keeps a second calendar, connected to a personal Google email account, spotlights a transparency campaign nationwide. Legal experts say the law is not clear on the topic.
The critical issue is when public business is conducted through personal email accounts and calendars. In DeMaio’s case, the question is whether his meetings with Manchester and Lynch included talk of any city business. DeMaio said the meetings were purely campaign-related. He said he posts his official calendar online because he wants to be transparent about his official duties as a councilmember.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said, “Public officials have gotten smart, and they’ve figured out if they want to have communications by email that will not be discovered under the (public records acts) then they use their private email accounts.”
Scheer believes communications that relate to government business “are public records regardless what kind of account one uses.” But he acknowledged, “There are some legal arguments on both sides of the issue.”
inewsource clarified its initial legal request for communication between DeMaio and the newspapermen to specify personal and city accounts. DeMaio’s office has not yet responded.
The KPBS/inewsource investigation disclosed that Lynch communicated with another public official, port commissioner and congressional candidate Scott Peters, through Peters’ personal email account. An email from Lynch, which Peters’ interpreted as a threat, was made public because Peters forwarded part of it to port officials, whose government emails are subject to California’s Public Records Act.
The email — from Lynch to Peters on Aug. 9, 2012 — asked Peters how he intended to vote on a 24.5-year lease extension with Dole Food Company at the Tenth Avenue Terminal. Peters later revealed more from the email. It said the newspaper might lead a “campaign to disband the PORT [sic]” over provisions Lynch wanted to see in the lease.
Because the U-T has made the terminal site its mission for development, the extension of the Dole lease was seen as a blow to the U-T’s vision.
This story was reported by Joanne Faryon and Amita Sharma of KPBS, and Brooke Williams of inewsource. It was written by Lorie Hearn of inewsource.