Mayor's Race, NFL Settlement, Getting Public Records
August 30, 2013 1:43 p.m.
Liam Dillon, Voice Of San Diego
Jay Paris, San Diego Sports Writer
Joel Hoffmann, Voice Of San Diego
Related Story: Mayor's Race, NFL Settlement, Getting Public Records
MARK SAUER: The list of candidates for mayor includes one familiar name among the papers docket with several big names yet to decide. Eventually facing billions of judgments the NFL settles legal battleWith former players over the debilitating effect of concussions and despite vows to champion open government about Filner administration was hardly forthcoming when it came to public record requests. I and Mark Sauer in the KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome, it's Friday, August 30 I am Mark Sauer. Joining me today on the roundtable are reporters Joel Hoffman a voice of San Diego, Liam Dillon also voice of San Diego and sportswriter Jay Paris. The pressure built for six weeks and the Mayor Bob Filner finally agreed to resign effective today after a score of women accused him of unwanted sexual dances. Now the question is who's going to replace him. The campaigns spent a special election in San Diego on November 19 has already begun. So far more than a dozen candidates have surrendering. Let's take a look at the names so far. And, Liam, only one name, Nathan Fletcher has any real recognition at this point. Let's start with him, tell us about his curious journey from one side of the fence to the other.
LIAM DILLON: So Nathan Fletcher, mid-thirties lifelong Republican up until March of 2012 when he sort of famously told the Republican Party that he was leaving and becoming an independent. Became sort of a national cause célèbre. David Brooks of the New York Times wrote a glowing column about him before she ultimately finished third in the primary behind Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner. Then this past May Fletcher decides okay I'm going to become a Democrat, so he registers with the Democratic Party now he's running as a Democrat for Mayor.
MARK SAUER: We should point out in may of course this was before all of this, he was not running for anything, just positioning himself in his new party.
LIAM DILLON: Right.
MARK SAUER: And now he is, obviously
LIAM DILLON: You certainly have to at least appreciate the gumption of the guy who at least 18 months ago told Republican Party that he probably would vote to literally eliminate welfare now trying to be the Democratic standardbearer in a Mayor's race. It's a tremendous turnabout in a very short period of time.
MARK SAUER: How does he explain how he should switch and that transformation.
LIAM DILLON: Part of it to he sort of said he there were things he told the Republican Party that he did not believe when he said to the party. So he said I'm fairly comfortable with who I am, but I think he is ace huge sale to voters who understandably look at the record of votes in the state assembly, look at the past rhetoric and wonder whether they can trust the guy or not.
MARK SAUER: That is the chameleon aspect which will be a factor in the campaign, now these other folks the long list that we have looked at many names that pop out or have a realistic chance of the short campaign season?
LIAM DILLON: Among those authority formally declared? There's a gentleman who comes from a preservation organization best known for trying to kill the Irwin Jacobs Balboa Park plan he could potentially play a small spoiler role, pick up some votes similar to how in the last election there were some candidates you know, New York Mike, and that shape who advocated for bankruptcy. These guys taking maybe three, four, 5% of the vote. I guess Ingram's playing the same role but aside from Fletcher there's no real candidates.
MARK SAUER: Is that the organization the historical society who presumably support him and come out and also any idea why people with no obvious chance to win an office like Mayor of San Diego actually run, now some of these folks may drop out and never actually mount a campaign is a just an ego trip?
LIAM DILLON: It's really cool to be Mayor, right? It's a pretty cool job you get to stand up and cut ribbons with giant scissors
MARK SAUER: But if you have a chance to get there
LIAM DILLON: We are talking about them now and their names are plastered over TV it's kind of nice
MARK SAUER: We are talking about Nathan Fletcher on the Democratic side who are some of the folks on the Republican side who are notable and maybe not in yet?
LIAM DILLON: We are seeing some potential names, obviously the biggest is called the buyer the standard. The last election he said he will decide on Tuesday whether to run or not but you also have two other sort of more business friendly traditional downtown Senate Republicans the kind of folks from P Wilson to almost the present day who have been running the city.
LIAM DILLON: Establishment folks
JOEL HOFFMANN: Kevin Faulkner and Ron Roberts.
MARK SAUER: kay. So pretty strong field of candidates already said they will not be running. We will look at some of the names there. Who are some of the folks probably starting with Donna Frye over and dies for mayor unsuccessfully as a right and what's not successfully in a conventional campaign. She says she's not running who are some of the other notables
LIAM DILLON: City attorney general to say he's not running on the Democratic side, you have assemblywoman Toni Atkins, former State Sen. Christine Kehoe have also said that they are not going to run.
MARK SAUER: Okay any idea that some may change their mind or jump in at some point?
LIAM DILLON: I think the Republican side you have one or two potentially DeMaio and one of the other sort of more establishment folks on the Democratic side I guess you would see two or three, so Fletcher, plus potentially some Mike City Councilman David Alvarez and some of the former assembly when Lori Saldana, I think all things will be clear in the next week or so
MARK SAUER: Todd Gloria as well he's going to be the interim mayor and get a lot of natural exposure should he decide to jump in
LIAM DILLON: Absolutely he has a really good opportunity or by having them power of incumbency even though the incumbency is very short for him to do the things we discussed, broke up the scissors and cut the ribbon at the scissors and sign the checks things like that.
MARK SAUER: let me ask you others, it is nominally a nonpartisan race here, every window has saidwho is a Republican and who is a Democrat, does the Filner scandal kind of rub off, or take the Democrats here, or do they run as individuals what you think it is speculation at this point, but
JOEL HOFFMANN: I think that the Democrats have distanced themselves as much as possible those that are potentially running. So they've already gotten this far with the taint as they possibly can but it doesn't is not going to affect voters at the polls. They will remember anybody who had a previous relationship with them or previously supported them
MARK SAUER: And of course you have to remember Bob Filner obviously did get elected last fall and he championed a lot of progressive causes. He was the first Democrat in a long time, the first are liberal in the office in a long time so it's kind of a dumbdelicate dance where you want to say I'm a Democrat I'm not a Democrat but I do want to champion these roles. Of course Fletcher has a problem.
JOEL HOFFMANN: More than the filter tank toward the Filner stink of the Democratic Party with a real concern has to be is the voter turnout the voter makeup we had almost 70% turnout in November 2012 and that is something that is absolutely not going to happen in a special election. Democrats turned out to the polls because of Obama, not because of Bob Filner. We will see there is no up on on the ballot, no big-name Democrat, nothing else on the ballot, so we could see turnout half or less of what we saw in November election and that has to benefit the Republican candidates.
MARK SAUER: The Candidate of course who lost to Bob Filner is called the Mayor he announced at 11 o'clock this coming Tuesday he will make his announcement whether he is going to continue with the congressional race against Scott peters of the Democrat 52nd or if he's going to jump in and get into the Mayor race again. DeMaio, he did not went last time and he's got some other developments that have happened in the last week or so J?
JOEL HOFFMANN: I think DeMaio is missing a key date on the calendar he should do this on Labor Day the people he's not going for maybe he could get labor to switch over to him. It would be interesting. Just Fletcher you know, has some interesting ideas that credibility issue is going to be a stumbling block. You did do believe me then do you believe me now you are switching back and forth and I think that's going to be a big hurdle for him. His ideas are there, is the guy telling me what he's going to tell me what is going to tell me next week that's probably what's going to be one of his bugaboos.
MARK SAUER: and we spoke about everybody expects that the low turnout and all but there was so much interest generated in the six week period of the scandal. You think that would maybe elevated turnout a little bit or create more interest for the election?
JOEL HOFFMANN: New York Times, and round by the sea sort of stuff
MARK SAUER: The Mayor resigning
JOEL HOFFMANN: That did not translate into a larger turnout and I don't expect that to happen here, either.
JAY PARIS: If you say you're going to vote then you can also try out for the Chargers, after the preseason that might get a few more people out of the polls.
MARK SAUER: Before we leave the topic I wanted to remind people November 19 is a special election we are talking about all right we are going to shift gears of the Pro football season right around the corner right around the NFL this week and its attendant agreement with thousands of retired players has settled a lawsuit that was expected to drag on for years and potentially cost billions print the proposed settlement is for $765 million not even 1 billion of course the bulk of the money goes to retired players or to the families of deceased players like a Chargers great Junior Seau. The star linebacker died in May of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the test conducted in city suffered by debilitating brain condition, and by people who suffered repeated head injuries. J, let's start by breaking down the settlement. Tell us the timeframe, how much money it is, what it goes to the book of course goes to the players but some is going to research
JAY PARIS: the first case was filed in Philadelphia 2011 I believe it was 4500 former players. Their contention is the NFL knew of the long-term effects of hitting your head against somebody else, to put it simply. And that they covered this up and they did not let the players know about what could happen to them down the line. So they filed this lawsuit, and this has really been a delicate dance for the NFL because let's face it, baseball is may be the national pastime but football is America's sport whether it's driven by love of football, the love for the game, but people liking the bet, it's awfully popular you cannot overstate how the death of maybe Junior Seau push this along there's been some other guys, lesser known guys that unfortunately committed suicide but Junior say I was a star and that was a big hit that the NFL took. So it's hard to say they settled 4 billion and that's not much. A lawyer fees and everything it will be $1 billion. This business makes $9.5 billion a year.
MARK SAUER: A year, and this is over, tell us the timeframe?
JAY PARIS: They're going to pay the billion going on, the lawyers will get it when they get but this will be a 20 year payout, so it is 1 million or two per team over 20 years each year. That is a middle linebacker, you know not even a starter or something. So you know, the other, the other point of the point is when you settle you're not sure you're going to win and while there is mounting evidence or you could run into somebody with the force and violence that they do
MARK SAUER: The science is starting to get pretty clear
JAY PARIS: It is starting to get clear but it's still a little murky entering the game if a guy gets hit or in the old days had his bell rung, you can tell maybe you can't tell 20 years later and three decades later when he is suffering dementia. So, without that and also fearful of going into going into a long, drawnout court battle. A lot of the guys need the help now.
MARK SAUER: We're going to take a look now at some of the breakdown of all this about half the money comes up front now and then as you say over 17 years it pays out and players, they get it in different ways, in terms of how many years you have played, not necessarily the position you are in
JAY PARIS: And also your symptoms are, if it's Alzheimer's it's one amount, if it CTE, it is another and that's another thing about the brain injuries a lot of these guys can't tell until after they are dead and they get in there and really get the autopsy
MARK SAUER: And that's what we saw with Junior Seo the Chargers great player.
JAY PARIS: Certainly, it actually with all those people they think it's about 170,000 apiece, per player which doesn't sound like much unless you are hurting
MARK SAUER: your writing and I've read some comments from all-time players assembling $8500 a month for meds right now, didn't really make that much, so that money coming in is going to help me right now I might not live to see a settlement.
JAY PARIS: It surprised me about this a little bit there is nothing about the current players. They are still, they have to put some hay in the barn, how they are going to factor all that in with the current players. But, they admitted guilt without admitting guilt. Once they admit guilt, they really be susceptible to paying out some big sums.
MARK SAUER: it is almost seem comical usage a statement saying we are not saying all they having repetitively from Pop Warner up to high school college and the pros is a problem
JOEL HOFFMANN: That is the beauty of a no-fault settlement, you get to wash her hands we just give them money because we like to give the money we aren't admitting culpability here and of course he recognize that of course they are injured, but the money will wash the deal clean.
MARK SAUER: Jay, to what extent do you think this is I've seen conflicting ideas and reports on this sort of ends or mitigates the concern about concussions in the NFL? Obviously this was the largest thing from a financial perspective that was hanging out there but as far as that constant reporting and investigation and discussion about this how much do you think it affects?
JAY PARIS: I think the settlement not only goes to the people affected by goes to research and it goes to medical, more tests and concussions are from the Pop Warner high school, people don't talk about it, and now it is not the badge of courage, heat I had, he got right back in there. I still think there needs to be more independent doctors on the side of the game I mentioned a few years back when Chris Tillman went to the Chargers Jets game for some reason I have my binoculars on and he got staggered and it was clear he was in some sort of dress, but they are calling the plays and substituting and is a football game. It's controlled chaos but it seems like you should have one independent doctor looking at the players at all times and having that independent eye. Because you're asking these trainers and doctors to pull a guy out from their employee who is turned to win a game and I know even if they are not trying to do it, the conflict of interest there is huge and there's got to be an independent board of doctors to watch these guys so they don't get hurt further.
MARK SAUER: But in more recent seasons there are far more cognizant of this because they will have at least a non-hockey which is a sport they follow more than a football quite frankly they evaluate they fell immediately when they think there's a shot to the head and they are certainly more aware of it.
JAY PARIS: There where minority being malevolent or covering their backside. A lot of that is they are looking to them wrote because they know that the flood of lawsuits are already coming their way.
MARK SAUER: Junior Seau's family have a comment on this?
JAY PARIS: I have not heard from the family. They will be eligible for the CET, you know, they will probably get a seven-figure sum. It certainly won't bring Junior back, but it's something.
MARK SAUER: the settlement is tentative at this point the judge has to throw the holy water on it
JAY PARIS: He has to sign it
MARK SAUER: I think it's actually a woman federal judge back there. We talked about the concussion issue. You think it takes the game, and using some fans are somehow just turned off because the violence of the game, so many injuries?
JAY PARIS: That's a great question and you certainly would think so and some watercooler talk certainly when I talk to parents their kids are not compelling to going into football as much as they were. Then again you look at every stadium and it is fall, and you look at the TV ratings and they are off the charts and there's fantasy football and they are betting
MARK SAUER: You mentioned how much money the annual business is generating
JAY PARIS: Some signs might point to the dollar signs say otherwise.
MARK SAUER: Here in San Diego of course the Chargers had a hard time selling out games last year several games were blacked out. Is that just because Chargers are not very good right now, or maybe some of this where fans are getting turned off there's other things to do in San Diego
JAY PARIS: Other things to do economic wise to it's an expensive day out there so it comes down to the product on the field but they had eight games last year and four of them were blacked out that's an amazingly high number for the NFL.
MARK SAUER: Yeah, it certainly is some folks that this was a pretty low settlement the NFL kind of one year. They were talking several billion, were they not and here we are at three quarters of 1 billion overall
JAY PARIS: Any time somebody spends $1 billion of the billion dollars and I think if they could have filled out, but I think if we circle back to these guys need help now, especially the older guys and they could no, cannot afford nor they choose not to roll the dice because you know how it can be drowned out in the court system and people who need it most needed now.
MARK SAUER: All right. I'm sure we will hear more as the season picks up in a week or so we will shift gears, the processes when Bob Filner and it entered the Mayor's office last year Filner brought, Councilwoman Donna Frye is the upper first ever open governments are in a new Mayor promised that the people's business of the public. Frye left in April indicating a lot of the Mayor's office and became tougher than ever. San Diego city beat this week noted in the story by Joshua Emerson Smith that Filner responded to public records request within 10 days just 50% of the time. That is a far cry from his predecessor, Jerry Sanders who had a record of 83%. This comes at a time when the California Public records act was under fire. Joe, let's start with that public records act, what is it and why is it important?
JOEL HOFFMANN: So, generally the public records act governs the ability to get certain kinds of records and there are exemptions. There are certain things that would be considered problematic for example if they were to release information from where a military camp and were something like that that's generally the kind of thing that is exempt however most of the governments documents are considered public on a day to day basis. And nonetheless people have run into tons of problems trying to get them to answer to very simple questions, Liam just last week or so was trying to figure out where the Mayor is which is a straightforward question and answering that seem to be very difficult as far as documenting with this calendar that also became a problem for a number of people.
MARK SAUER: Isn't that pretty routine? We've been reporters in this town a long time the Mayor's calendar the Council members calendar that's pretty routine stuff in terms of a request.
LIAM DILLON: Not just that I think reporters tend to complain about this a lot and I think rightfully so. I think we ought to do a better job of emphasizing is that it's not like the media records law, like this is the public records law and this is something that is just simple, taxpayers pay for these things, taxpayers no matter who they are, not just the press are entitled to all sorts of information where their money is being spent how people are talking about how the money is going to be being spent.
MARK SAUER: the information
LIAM DILLON: The on the information and what barriers are put up the public doesn't get to know, the Mayor's office is getting to be so bad you couldn't even ask the lifeguards like how many people were rescued today. That would have to go through Filner and Filner would have to sign off itself, himself that level of proper see and level of disrespecting the public's right to know what's really offensive.
MARK SAUER: Was that a thing with this particular Mayor. Of course he leaves at 5 PM today is that a particular thing with them in terms of micromanaging and hanging onto information is power, as it were?
LIAM DILLON: Well sure.
MARK SAUER: Maybe we will find out.
LIAM DILLON: Sanders was better but in my experience I covered the Sanders and ministration for three years he would play favorites and folks who wrote things that he liked would get information quicker and be able to talk to folks if you got information he didn't like To spend more time and beg borrow and steal to try to get the information. That again is not just about the media
MARK SAUER: With the public site, absolutely, this act across the street was under fire here recently and what is wrong with the act, and how is actually working here and elsewhere in California?
JOEL HOFFMANN: In terms of what was going to be up with the actor was going to be too expensive for local government agencies to respond to public records requests. The state was going to accept them, was going to remove money that typically would've been given to reimburse them for compliance with the requests. However, those kinds of ideas are linked to a time when paper and ink were the only way to get those records that.
MARK SAUER: Expensive way to do it.
JOEL HOFFMANN: Expensive way to do it it's exceedingly easy to do it at their South people who can do against it in local agency should return to those two want to make it easier for everyone not just reporters as Liam said that everyone to access information.
LIAM DILLON: Especially in California and Silicon Valley if we can figure out how to cut and paste something and send it over quickly as kind of a joke.
MARK SAUER: So what happened with the governor and governor and legislature raise the idea that this is a money crunch thing and we are not going to make folks get the records out there was a hew and cry.
JOEL HOFFMANN: Coalition of journalism organizations across the state including voice San Diego wrote a letter to the governor saying that this is an attack on the public's right to know. And, they you know, shrank back at it and decided they're going to take that out of the bill and thankfully they did. But there's still a long way to go and I think the overarching concern that I hear is not so much with the language of the act because the act itself assumes transparency and openness the issue is with the implementation. Implement the issues with the purchase day-to-day of government agencies and complying and one of the things I noted the column for voice is there needs to be a presumption of openness. You have to be prepared and organizer documents in such a way that you're going to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to People's request for information
MARK SAUER: When you say ten-day window what is that, with reasonable customer
JOEL HOFFMANN: It's the ten-day working window to respond
MARK SAUER: Ten-day working window
JOEL HOFFMANN: Depends on the complexity of the question, depends on the Mayor's calendar. 10 days can be way too long if it's something complicated as trying to understand the procurement process works for a very technical item say, some sophisticated computer software or something I get taking longer to do that particularly if there is something in there that maybe
MARK SAUER: Proprietary, competitive, so there are some reasons. You guys make requests all the time of course as reporters what are some of the reasons that a reasonable that's a we are not going to give you this are recapped some of this information customer
LIAM DILLON: Some things like the Mayor's calendar this particular memo that was sent was something should be turned over immediately notify us for six months of e-mail that I expect to wait a while and that's totally fair that's totally fair. But again I think there are ways to do things like and there are things that Mayor promised that he never followed through. He promised not only to release his calendar but to put it up online. He promised any memo that he said he would put up the money promised any policy he initiated he would put upon mine. So it wasn't just about them not responding it was about breaking promises just to simply do things or you wouldn't have to make the request in the first place because they were being fourthly transparent.
MARK SAUER: They were just be there, Joel?
JOEL HOFFMANN: The biggest problems with the to public records right now is that they put officials where they have to choose between their own self-preservation and the public's right to know. I think the best way forward is to take that equation away, get an independent ombudsman or someone who can impartially decide whether or not the records are to be public and this could be problematic and in supplementation and has to be done well, but you really should take away the conflict because that would increase the likelihood of getting the records out.
MARK SAUER: Yeah, some of the recommended changes that could help strengthen this act, can you give us the high points of those?
JOEL HOFFMANN: Sure, the thing that I felt I thought was most important was to add language to the act that would at a presumption of openness. So the idea is that he better assumed from the beginning that someone's going to request the documents and therefore you should organize in a way where you can get it out quickly. Instead of going to do to old files to see if it is there. The other two things I suggested were really tapping into the tech community who want again, want to help get this information out there and make the process easier. And it is unacceptable when you see that somebody has scanned a word document that they've printed out and put it back online as a PDF when you could easily click with a couple of clicks, make a PDF that is searchable.
MARK SAUER: They're just giving you hurdles in a few seconds I have left any sections if you don't comply?
JOEL HOFFMANN: There two-week at the very least to be civil sections that are serious of a high dollar amount or possible threat of criminal charges for obstruction of democracy.
MARK SAUER: We will have to wrap up there that does it for us on this week's edition of KPBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guests sports writer Jay Paris, Joel Hoffmann of the voice of San Diego and Liam Dillon also of voice of San Diego. A reminder of the stories we discussed today can be found at our website KPBS.org I am Mark Sauer senior news editor at KPBS thanks for joining us today at the roundtable.