SAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith had a testy exchange Wednesday at a news conference called by Goldsmith about the controversial extension of the city’s Tourism Marketing District.
Goldsmith called the news conference to discuss legal aspects of four changes Filner wants in the 40-year TMD deal, which has been approved by the City Council. Filner has not signed off on financial transactions called for in the agreement.
Filner, who showed up partway through the event, accused the city attorney of failing to provide him with legal advice.
“It would have been nice, Mr. Goldsmith, to have a memo, it would have been nice to have advice,” Filner said. “I am your client. That’s privileged communication. You not only have been unprofessional but unethical in your press conference, and I resent it greatly that you’re giving your advice to the press.”
Goldsmith said he only learned about Filner’s objections to the TMD extension by reading the newspaper.
Filner responded that he has “no obligation to inform you of any policy decisions I make; you have the obligation as my attorney to give me private and privileged communication.”
“I do not have to advise you on my policy considerations, but you have the obligation to defend me in any court action and to give me any advice in a privileged fashion,” Filner said.
Goldsmith said he represents the city of San Diego, which he calls a “municipal corporation” which includes the mayor and the City Council.
“I just hope to learn of these (issues) earlier, and we will give guidance. But when I see something that is not right, I have to speak out,” Goldsmith said.
Filner countered that Goldsmith sees himself as a policy-maker, not a city attorney.
Goldsmith responded by saying, “We used to have a city attorney who wanted to be mayor,” in reference to his outspoken predecessor Michael Aguirre, “and now we have a mayor who wants to be city attorney.”
The TMD agreement establishes a room tax levy on hoteliers that raises around $30 million to spend on advertising San Diego as a destination. Area hoteliers have threatened to sue to get the funds released.
Filner said he wants to make sure the city is indemnified against adverse court decisions over the charge in a pair of lawsuits; direct more money to public safety; shorten the deal to a couple of years; and have hotel workers be paid a “livable” wage.
He called the agreement a “free ride” for multinational hotel corporations.
Before the verbal sparring started, Goldsmith said the agreement already includes an indemnification provision; that directing money into the city’s general fund to pay for public safety would make it an illegal tax; and that the other two issues were policy questions for the City Council.
When the mayor said he expects the funding mechanism to lose in court, he addressed a woman in the back of the room who he believed shook her head. “Are you an attorney? Are you an attorney? Are you an attorney?” Filner asked.
Goldsmith told the mayor she was his assistant.
After Filner left, Goldsmith said Filner was welcome to speak at his news conferences but should also be willing to listen and consult more often.
“I’m fine with him acting the way he wants to act,” Goldsmith said. “He’s the mayor, he’s got his own personality, his own character. It’s not for me to criticize him, but I’m going to be the city attorney I promised I would be.”
Filner previously got into a public spat with City Council President Todd Gloria, when he went to a meeting to challenge appointments to the San Diego Association of Governments.