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San Diego council may use obscure part of City Charter to oust Filner

City attorney will suggest the council invoke a charter provision about removal of 'officers' for misusing public money.

August 16, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's removal from City Hall will occur, the city attorney said, with the only question being what method is used.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's removal from City Hall will occur, the… (Gregory Bull / Associated…)

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council, unanimous in its desire to oust Mayor Bob Filner, will be asked to consider using an obscure part of the City Charter to force his removal.

City Atty. Jan Goldsmith, asked by council members to find a way to remove Filner, will suggest to the council at its Aug. 28 meeting that it could invoke a charter provision about removal of "officers" for misusing public money.

If the council agrees, the city attorney's office would then proceed to build a case against the 70-year-old Democrat, to be presented to the presiding judge of San Diego County Superior Court for a decision. How a judge would react to such an unusual maneuver is unclear.

The case would involve not recent accusations of sexual harassment that have been leveled against the mayor, but alleged misuse of a city credit card for personal expenses.

Goldsmith has said that Filner's removal from City Hall will occur, with the only question being what method is used. His spokesman late Friday said that as "a possibility as a last resort," the office might seek a restraining order barring Filner from City Hall because his presence creates a hostile working environment for women.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents three women who have made allegations against Filner, said she would support Goldsmith's bid for a restraining order to keep Filner away from City Hall "unless and until an independent medical examiner appointed by the court declares under oath that the mayor is no longer a threat to females and no longer presents a risk of sex harassment to them."

On the issue of alleged misuse of public money, the San Diego County Taxpayers Assn., citing news reports, asserted Thursday that of the mayor's $11,095 in credit card expenses, nearly $1,000 were for personal items, including pizzas, juicers and expensive lunches.

"City credit cards cannot be used for personal expenses. Period," said Felipe Monroig, president of the taxpayers group.

There have also been questions raised by council members about Filner's trip to Paris to attend a June rally of pro-democracy Iranians. He was accompanied by two San Diego police officers, whose airfare and other expenses totaled $21,244.

Though the City Charter does not include a provision for impeachment, Goldsmith has said that Section 108 could, in effect, accomplish the same thing. The section was approved by voters in 1931.

Under the section, Goldsmith said in a memo this week to council members, "every city officer who willfully approves or allows an unauthorized payment from the city treasury is subject to removal from office."

Use of the Section 108 would leave the council in uncharted legal territory, Goldsmith's memo indicates. The charter provision is not explicit on how it should be enforced.

If the council authorizes use of the section against Filner, Goldsmith said, his office could then file a request with the Superior Court for enforcement stating that Filner has misused public money and should be removed.

Though Section 108 has never been used to remove a San Diego elected official, there is precedent for an official being removed from office for misusing a city credit card.

In 1986, then-Councilman Uvaldo Martinez resigned as part of a plea bargain with the district attorney in which he admitted guilt to two felony charges.

Martinez had initially been charged with 27 felony counts of using the credit card for $1,800 in personal expenses, mostly meals, and then filing phony expense reports. After Martinez resigned, the council appointed a replacement who promised not to seek election.

In 1987 an election was held to select a replacement. The winner was a former school board member and San Diego State history professor: Bob Filner.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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