Skip to comments.San Diego, CA: Party a bit too lavish for public officials
Posted on 09/09/2007 3:02:31 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
SAN DIEGO Downtown San Diego developer Doug Wilson threw a party so posh this summer that it violated state and local gift limits for the public officials who attended, barring five of them from working on his projects for a year.
It was hardly the splash he wanted.
San Diego City Councilman Jim Madaffer and four Centre City Development Corp. staff members, including President Nancy Graham, are disqualified from reviewing or recommending any of Wilson's projects until next summer.
They, along with other public officials and hundreds of invitees, attended the lavish party Wilson threw in July for a new luxury condominium project, but they did not reimburse him in time for the gift, barring them from being involved with Douglas Wilson Cos. projects for 12 months.
The disqualifications may be more embarrassing than anything else because Wilson, a prominent builder in San Diego for decades, said he doesn't expect to have any projects working their way through city government in the next year.
Under state and city laws, it is illegal for public officials to accept one or more gifts in excess of $390 from a single source in a calendar year. Officials have 30 days to reimburse the donor for gifts over the limit.
The per-person cost for Wilson's July 14 celebration including food, drink, entertainment and other amenities totaled a whopping $805. Wilson defends the cost, saying the shindig was a thank you to a whole cadre of friends that made up for two years without marketing during a housing slump.
A trio of council members who attended and reimbursed Wilson in time Council President Scott Peters, Toni Atkins and Kevin Faulconer said they wouldn't have gone if they knew how much it would set them back.
That's the most expensive Heineken I've ever had in my life, Atkins said.
I'd have eaten more food if I'd known this while I was there, Peters added. We wanted to represent and show support. I didn't want to show quite as much support as that.
The council members said they all checked with Wilson's company before the party and were told the per-person cost would be $65, well within the gift limit. That estimate only included food and drink, not other costs.
Wilson, who said it's rare for him to throw this type of party, is now apologizing for the inconvenience he caused financially and otherwise. He said he didn't know about the incorrect estimate until his company began fielding inquiries from council offices in August, nearly a month later.
We just wanted to do it and do it well, he said.
Wilson invited 650 guests, including city and CCDC officials, to celebrate the opening of his 32-story condo project called The Mark.
The invitation was engraved in white and gold on Lucite, and arriving guests received a necklace bearing a green glowing M-The Mark medallion and then a flavored martini at check-in, early signs that the party might cost much more than the elected officials expected.
Peters, Atkins, Faulconer and CCDC board members Jennifer LeSar and Janice Brown attended Wilson's party but reimbursed him, at least partly, for themselves and in some cases guests on Aug. 13, the last day to comply with the gift limit. Some of them were on vacation, so staffers made arrangements.
Graham, CCDC's president since late 2005, and four other CCDC staff members Brad Richter, John Collum, Suzanne Drolet and Sachin Kalbag also attended but did not pay back any money within that deadline.
Since then, all but Kalbag have reimbursed Wilson for attending. CCDC spokesman Derek Danziger said Kalbag didn't stay long enough to have the per-person party cost apply to him.
Public officials who don't stay for dinner or entertainment but instead help themselves to minimal drinks and appetizers only must pay for what they consume, under a drop-in provision of state law.
Helen Peak, CCDC's lawyer since 2001, has been working out the details of who paid what and who would be disqualified from working on Wilson's projects.
Peak said her preliminary assessment is that Graham, Richter, Collum and Drolet would be disqualified but that Kalbag would not be because of the drop-in provision. CCDC officials still are awaiting a written opinion.
Madaffer, who like several council members was on vacation in August, paid $2,026 to Wilson toward the end of the month. His total covers the party cost for himself and two guests minus $389 he will count as a gift.
Wilson's event isn't the first time Madaffer, Atkins and Peters have run afoul of gift limits by attending an expensive party.
They were among a group of 42 city officials in 2003 who were caught up in a flap over an exclusive party for 4,000 people put on by the National Football League two days before the Super Bowl was held in San Diego.
The per-person cost of that party ballooned far beyond the initial estimates of $100 to a range of $350 to $400, which exceeded the $340 gift limit at the time. Each official paid down the gift to be under the limit.
After last month's scramble, the city Ethics Commission prepared a form that city officials can tailor to send people who invite them to parties, asking for a per-person cost and explaining the nuances of the law.
Peak poses another solution, which would avoid any conflict of interest.
In light of the complications that can ensue, I think just say no is a much easier way to go about things, she said.
A wave of San Diego public officials reimbursed developer Doug Wilson's company after attending an event he held that violated the $390-per-person gift limit. The payments vary based on the number of guests each person brought and whether the official accepted some of the party cost as a gift:
$2,026: Councilman Jim Madaffer
$1,610: Council President Scott Peters
$1,610: Councilman Kevin Faulconer
$1,222: CCDC Current Planning Manager Brad Richter
$1,221: CCDC Senior Project Manager John Collum
$416: Councilwoman Toni Atkins
$416: CCDC board member Janice Brown
$416: CCDC board member Jennifer LeSar
$416: CCDC President Nancy Graham
$416: CCDC Senior Planner Suzanne Drolet
SOURCE: CCDC and council offices
And the really bad news is that Jack McGrory and all of Qualcomm-bond-deal buddies showed up and ate all of the jumbo shrimp off of the buffet before the politicians could get at it.
Jim Madaffer and Kevin Faulconer are GOP
Scott Peters and Toni Atkins are Dems
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