SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council Tuesday passed a resolution to require Mayor Bob Filner to sign an operating agreement for the city’s Tourism Marketing District that the panel originally approved in November, despite his contentious plea for a two-day delay.
Filner has refused to sign the deal, which would release administrative funds to the agency that takes a 2 percent surcharge on hotel room rates, and uses the proceeds to promote San Diego as a vacation destination.
Last week, a judge ruled that Filner was not required to sign the document because the council only “authorized” his signature. The resolution passed today requires him to sign the contract.
While the judge didn’t make it part of his order, he did say in Friday’s hearing that Filner would have to sign the agreement if directed to by council members.
Filner told the council members that he came close to reaching a deal on a revised operating agreement with district officials in the last couple of days and asked them to wait two days before taking up the issue.
At a news conference after the council decision, Filner said he and district officials had resolved 90 percent of the issues and was confident he could complete a deal if given more time.
Filner said the remaining hang-ups were over how to publicly report the salaries of tourism officials, how to protect the city from adverse rulings from separate lawsuits over how the agencies are funded, and wording over the spending of $6 million to organize a year-long celebration of Balboa Park’s centennial.
However, the resolution that was passed will cause nothing but delays, Filner said.
“As you know, I can veto the resolution,” Filner told the council members. “As you know, I think it’s illegal. As I’ve said, I think it’s a bad deal for taxpayers. I’ve tried to make it better; I think we’re this close.
“You can override the veto,” Filner said. “I can refuse to sign it. We can go back to court. The court will make a decision, and I can appeal that decision. As the city attorney pointed out, right in the contract is the ability to hold up the whole expenditure of funds as long as there is litigation.”
Filner said the delay could “go on and on” for a year or more.
Filner also told the council members that they should recuse themselves, because they all received campaign donations from district board members. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and council President Todd Gloria both received thousands of dollars from the tourism officials, Filner said.
“Why are they giving this money? So they can get this kind of backroom shady deal approved,” Filner said.
Goldsmith told the council members that they were covered by a legal exemption.
Filner said it was a sad day for San Diego that the dispute has polarized the city, and that everyone involved should apologize to residents. He also criticized Gloria for bringing the resolution forward.
“This was an attack, I think, on me rather than an attempt to come to a solution,” Filner said. “It was very irresponsible, frankly, Mr. Gloria, for you to have this on the agenda today. We could have brought this any time.”
Before the vote, Gloria said he would schedule a special meeting to offer amendments to the operating agreement, should Filner and the district negotiate a settlement.
Filner spoke for 13 minutes, was confronted by a hotel industry representative, and spoke for several more minutes despite Gloria’s attempts to begin council discussion.
Councilman Scott Sherman said there was a lot of “political theater” involved in the dispute in a veiled rebuke of the mayor.
“It kind of reminds me of a term I coined a while back regarding politicians, it’s what I call the arsonist-firemen,” Sherman said.
“They come in and start a fire and then say, wait a minute, I’ll come put it out and be a hero. It’s a different way of thinking about things and it’s usually political theater time to get on a camera.”
The council vote was 6-1, large enough to override a veto.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who agreed with the mayor that indemnification in the contract was not strong enough, cast the dissenting vote. Separate lawsuits have been filed over the way the TMD is funded.
According to the resolution, the mayor’s obligation to sign the agreement is a “ministerial duty” and “he has no discretion to refuse to sign said Operating Agreement, and has no authority to further negotiate said Operating Agreement.”
The district distributes funds to organizations that stage events that attract visitors. A $5.4 million campaign advertising San Diego as a vacation destination this summer has been put on hold.