City Council president Tony Young joined councilmembers Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald and David Alvarez to support Lightner in her attempt to dispel claims made on mailers distributed by Ellis’ campaign and the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, which assert the incumbent awarded $28 million in bonuses to city employees. The mailers refer to a former city program called Bid to Goal, which, according to the Voice of San Diego, awarded city workers up to $4,000 per year in extra pay for helping the city’s bottom line by finding efficiencies in their jobs. The program, Voice of San Diego reported on Oct. 26, was voted in and reached its peak of spending — where the $28 million figure comes from — before Lightner came to office in late 2008.
“For her opponent to claim she awarded $28 million to city employees when those decisions happened before Sherri even took office is outrageous,” Young said at the press conference. “The Ellis campaign has been misleading. It has been inaccurate and continues to send out mailings that are blatantly false. I’m disgusted with it, all of us here are.”
Gloria, representing District 3, expressed his dismay at being featured on a mailer in support of Ellis, “which is weird,” he said, “because I support Sherri.”
Gloria said he has “been disturbed” by several allegations he claimed were disseminated by the Ellis campaign, one of which he said claimed Lightner took 17 weeks of vacation every year.
“I can tell you, I park next to Sherri Lightner. Her car beats me to City Hall every single day of the week,” he said. “The woman has not taken a vacation — I don’t even think she’s left the county — since she took office.
“I hope the people of District 1 will understand not to believe what they get in a mailer or what they might hear on the phone or TV. Look at four years of hard work, work that has helped restore the city’s finances, paved roads, moved forward critical projects that create jobs,” he said. “I’m proud to stand in support of Sherri Lightner.”
District 7 City Councilwoman Emerald said while the claims made by the Ellis mailers were offensive to all San Diegans, they were especially offensive to working women.
“Her opponent not only attacks this fine, upstanding working woman, mother and professional,” she said, “he takes a stab and offends every working woman in this city.”
Emerald also made the argument that if Ellis is making false allegations during the campaign, voters should have some doubts about his future actions if he were to win the election.
“One thing I’ve learned in the two years I’ve been involved in politics is that a campaign is a true test of character,” Emerald said. “When you have candidates that go out and tell lies about their opponents to win votes, that tells you a lot about how they would function in public office … We need to send a message to other politicians that you will be fact-checked. You will be fact-checked. And facts are stubborn things …”
In response to the press conference, the Ellis campaign issued a statement on Nov. 2:
“It is baffling that Lightner continues to defend a program that is indefensible. Sherri Lightner had a chance to act on Bid to Goal in 2009 and didn’t, and continued to approve tens of millions of dollars in Bid to Goal payments, even against the warnings of some of her council colleagues. Lightner voted to expand this wasteful program that granted bonuses to more than 90 percent of water employees, even as water rates dramatically increased.”
(According to the Voice of San Diego, Lightner, along with other councilmembers, “authorized spending $190,000 for additional auditing of the program. At that point, she hadn’t been required to approve the actual program because it was already operating under a five-year contract.” A vote to end the program came before the council in 2011, with Lightner voting in favor of ending it. VOSD reports, “But by voting to end the program, Lightner also potentially supported giving retroactive bonuses to workers. Employees had been paid about $7.2 million in bonuses for completing work in the 2009 fiscal year but hadn’t yet been compensated for the 2010 or 2011 fiscal years.
“The council’s vote approved labor agreements that would retroactively pay employees for those two years once audits of Bid to Goal had been completed. Those audits are still in the works, so it is unknown how much extra pay — if any — will be provided to workers for the two years.”)
Ellis’ campaign manager asserted in the post-press conference statement that “When elected, Sherri Lightner chose to take one of the most expensive pensions of any city employee; taxpayers pay 300 percent more than she does for her pension. The U-T [San Diego] estimates her pension’s lifetime payout at more than $500,000.
“Sherri Lightner touts the fact that she repaved 25 miles of streets in District 1, which is less than 7 percent, including repaving her own street,” the statement continued. “It is disingenuous on Lightner’s part to take credit for repaving some streets but not her own.”
Following a brief speech in support from each of her colleagues at the press conference, Lightner addressed the crowd by summarizing her record on the City Council — something she said she was “incredibly proud of” — and distinguishing between what she called “good, clean hits” to a political opponent and “blatant untruths designed to confuse the voters and damage my reputation.”
“Right now, my opponent is creating a bizarre alternative universe where I am responsible for projects and decisions that happened years before I took office,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing. And you want to know why my opponent isn’t attacking me on my real record? Because he can’t. He knows full well how hard I’ve worked to represent the communities in my district, rarely taking even a day off.
“He knows I’ve helped balance the budget, making the hard choices and supporting pension-reform measures … he knows I’ve fought to improve public safety, maintain library and rec center hours, and yes, I fought to get more streets repaved in my district, successfully I might add … He knows the important work I’ve done to create a long-term vision for San Diego’s economy …”
“So Mr. Ellis,” Lightner concluded, “let’s just stick to the facts and let the voters decide who is a better candidate to represent them. I believe they will choose me and that my council colleagues and I will continue to move this city forward together.”
To read the original Voice of San Diego report addressing the claims made by the mailers, visit www.voiceofsan-diego.org/fact/article_290bb9d0-1fbb-11e2-9827-001a4bcf887a.html.