Did Saldaña Get on Gloria’s Bad Side by Filing Ethics Complaint Against His Private ‘Todd Is Back’ Video?

by on May 31, 2022 · 15 comments

in Election, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Screen shot of “Todd Is Back” video

By Geoff Page

A real effort is being expended to torpedo Lori Saldaña’s District 2 city council campaign by sending out hit piece mailers with information based on distortions and falsehoods. There are also emails going around. One is from Jennifer Campbell blasting Saldaña with – oddly – the exact same accusations as the mailers.

As has been reported here in The Rag, the attacks on Saldaña are coming from the mayor’s cronies, including the guy Gloria appointed to chair the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Gil Cabrera. The New San Diego PAC, responsible for the mailers, is Cabrera’s creation.

One has to wonder why such an effort against Saldaña. Is it just because she is testing well in the polls? Maybe one reason is that Saldaña may have offended Gloria because she did not appreciate the ridiculous video that surfaced last year showing Gloria and others dancing and singing through City Hall and other places. In fact, Saldaña recognized it as an ethics violation and filed a complaint.

Saldaña’s complaint was filed October 15, 2021. A copy of an Ethics Commission staff report and recommendation, dated October 18, 2021, was obtained. Those three days did not represent a quick turn around of Saldaña’s complaint. The Ethics Commission staff had completed its preliminary review and had already drafted its memo when it received Saldaña’s complaint.

As it happened, Saldaña’s submission of the ethics complaint coincided with an effort on the part of the Ethics Commission’s staff that was already underway. The staff memo explained this about the video called “Todd Gloria is Back.”:

It has also been the subject of Public Records Act requests from citizens seeking to determine if its production at City Hall violated City ethics laws. Commission staff have followed the media accounts, anticipated receiving a complaint, and proactively analyzed whether the video or its production ran afoul of City ethics laws.

It was interesting to see that the Ethics Commission staff decided that it needed to do a pre-emptive investigation for the mayor even though a complaint had not been filed.

The staff memo said the “high profile” video featured the Mayor, his staff, and three Councilmembers in a song and dance production. The staff then explained that, according to those involved in it, the video was intended “as entertainment for an event.” That was where the ethics violation came in, using city resources for a private event.

In the “Factual Background” section of the memo, staff reported that the video was “produced by the Downtown Partnership, to be shown at a large private event.”  Staff related that people involved with the video described it as a sort of “roast” video. But there was a big difference. The memo stated:

The video is self-promotional for the Mayor, celebrating his return to City Hall with a catchy song and dance number that he sings throughout, called “Todd Gloria is Back.” The Mayor makes his way through City Hall while singing the number. The lyrics refer to ”The Todd Squad” – his long-used name for his staff- as “clean in’ up this act,” in references to the previous Mayor and his administration.

Significantly, the lyrics include the Mayor making derogatory statements regarding former Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Along with Councilmembers Stephen Whitburn and Chris Cate, and Council President Jennifer Campbell, the Mayor sings a repeated refrain of, “he lied to me,” about promises that the former Mayor allegedly made. The video makes specific reference to political issues in which the former-Mayor “lied,” including franchise fee matters and the Sports Arena deal. The video also includes the Mayor making a derogatory statement at the outset regarding former Councilmember Barbara Bry, his opponent for Mayor in the 2020 campaign, stating “Barbara didn’t know.” Mayor Gloria is not currently in an active campaign, and would face re-election in 2024.

The memo went on to explain that a number of city employees, who appeared to be mayoral staff, participated. The City’s Chief Operating Officer appeared the video singing. The “performers” appeared in various parts of City Hall including:

  • Council chambers
  • the Gloria’s office
  • the first floor lobby and metal detectors, along with security staff
  • the area beside the large City seal on the 12th floor and City seals in the Gloria’s office and elsewhere
  • and other portions of City Hall near the elevators and outside of Council Chambers

Other parts of the video were outdoors.

Although the Ethics Commission staff did sort of an investigation, the following wording shows that it was not extensive:

It is unclear whether the video was made and produced during normal working hours, after hours, on a weekend, or when staff was used to perform in it.

Considering that the Ethics Commission recognized the faces in the video, finding this information would not have taken much effort.

Saldaña’s Complaint

Saldaña’s complaint alleged misuse of city resources, such as the city buildings described previously, by the mayor and participating council members to make video to be used at a fundraiser for the Downtown Partnership’s Political Action Committee.

The memo stated that Commission staff needed to investigate the allegation. Saldaña’s complaint stated:

While it is legal for a non-profit organization to host an event for political fundraising purposes, the use of City Hall by elected officials and employees to create a video to be shown at the event appears to be an abuse of public resources for political fundraising purposes. This is especially a concern if those same elected officials had encouraged people to participate and contribute to the PAC via “Behested Payments” and expect to benefit from these contributions in future campaigns.

Here is what “behested” means according to the Fair Political Practices Commission:

Under California’s transparency laws, an elected official who fundraises or otherwise solicits payments from one individual or organization to be given to another individual or organization may be required to report the payment. Generally, a payment is considered “behested” and subject to reporting if it is made:

    • At the request, suggestion, or solicitation of, or made in cooperation, consultation, coordination or concert with the public official; and
    • For a legislative, governmental or charitable purpose.

Certainly, using city resources for political campaigning is not allowed.

Potential Ethics Violations

The Ethics Commission staff said the video did raise two potential ethics issues. One was the use of city employees during work hours for the “political purpose” of highlighting the Mayor and criticizing Gloria’s political opponents.  The second ethics issue was using city resources to produce the video inside City Hall.

The staff memo goes on to state that they do not know much about what was in the video such as when it was produced, during working hours or not, and who was in the video. The memo stated this information would be needed to make a decision on these issues as they related to the Municipal Code.

Commission staff reviewed Municipal Code section 27.3564(b), Misuse of Resources, which is the Ethics Ordinance provision that relates to this conduct:

“(b) It is unlawful for any City Official to engage in campaign-related activities such as fund-raising, the development of electronic or written materials, or research, for a campaign for any elective office using City facilities, equipment, supplies, or other city resources.

The memo explained that Commission staff would need to see if the event where the video was shown was a campaign-related activity and would need to “review all relevant law interpreting this provision.” The memo pointed out that there are restrictions on the use of the City seal that also needed to be reviewed.

Regarding political fund raising and “Behested Payments,” the staff memo related that Saldaña’s complaint included a copy of a tweet from the Downtown San Diego Partnership. The Tweet (@SDPartnership) referred to the event where the video was shown. The Tweet stated:

We reinvigorated our Political Action Committee where we raised and spent over $150,000 to support candidates and initiatives beneficial to Downtown,”@JamesLawson921 on DSDP accomplishments while Chair.

Saldaña’s complaint alleged that the “Todd Talk” event “was tied to raising funds for the Downtown Partnership’s political action committee and that the mayor’s appearance there required behested payment reporting. The Commission staff stated this would need to be investigated and analyzed by counsel.

Saldaña claimed the event raised money for a PAC. That money could be used for future campaigns, including Gloria’s. It could be said that Gloria was raising money for his own future benefit.


The staff conclusion was as follows:

This memo includes Commission’s staff’s preliminary review of the allegations. Based on this preliminary review, and in accordance with the SDMC sections 26.0421 and 26.0422, we have determined that the matter warrants further action. Therefore, in accordance with SDMC section 26.0423, we recommend that the Commission authorize a formal investigation to determine whether the production of the video, and its purpose and use, violated the City’s ethics laws. The allegations predominantly concern Mayor Gloria, and the Complainant also brought her claim against two of the three Councilmembers who participated in the video. We recommend authorizing the investigation as to all four elected officials who participated in the video, to determine whether each of them violated the City’s ethics laws. (Emphasis by OB Rag)

The memo stated this item was docketed for the October 21, 2021 closed session of the commission. It actually was heard in the November 18, 2021 closed session of the Commission. The result was:

Item-2: Conference with Legal Counsel (1 potential matter, continued from meeting of October 21, 2021)

Case No. 2021-25 – Misuse of City Position or Resources

Motion: No Further Action

Moved/Seconded: Voorakkara/Baber

Vote: Carried 4-1 (Hebrank voted nay)

Absent: Cooper

No explanation was provided about this decision. The Commissioners who voted no on this motion, Voorakkara, Caridad Sanchez, and Jimmie Slack, are registered Democrats. Bill Baber, the other no vote, was a Republican and now is a registered member of the Common Sense Party.  Tom Hebrank, the lone no vote, is a Republican.

It sure looks like a vote along party lines.

It is also easy to see how this may have pissed off mayor Todd.

The next step is to find out why the Ethics Commission voted no when its own staff recommended an investigation.



{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Douglas Blackwood May 31, 2022 at 2:14 pm

Go Lori Go! You have our vote!


kh May 31, 2022 at 2:58 pm

I’m eager to learn more about Lori’s relations with her fellow politicos. I’ve heard she’s a pain in the ass, heard she rocks the boat, heard it’s justified and have also heard it’s because she can’t help herself. What I do know is there will never be an unbiased reporting of her history.

Our city government is not supposed to be a club where you have to gladhand each other to do the job you were elected for. That culture needs to end.


Lori Saldaña May 31, 2022 at 3:39 pm

In terms of “getting along” with colleagues:
In 2009- following the historic election of Karen Bass to Assembly Speaker (she was the first Black woman in the nation’s history to lead a state legislative body) I was sworn in as Speaker Pro Tempore – a State Constitutional Officer who presides over floor session in place of the Speaker.

This required being elected to that position by colleagues from both sides of the aisle, to serve alongside Speaker Karen Bass (recently endorsed by the LA Times in her run for Mayor of LA).

That also required being sworn in an extra time, by a California State Supreme Court justice, to preside over floor sessions.

Finally, in my final year in the legislature I was appointed to the Judiciary and Ethics Committees in the Assembly. The Ethics Committee members evaluate complaints and allegations made against other members on various issues that are investigated by the Rules Committee.

Serving as presiding officer and on Ethics requires being watchful of colleagues’ behavior during floor sessions, and evaluating their behavior in and out of the Chamber if it breaks the law or institutional rules.

The Speaker and members entrusted me to do that- and most thought I did it equitably and fairly.


kh June 6, 2022 at 4:50 pm

For what its worth, I think you have my vote this go around. I do hope we can learn from our predecessors and stop making excuses and enabling the suffering of the mentally-ill and drug addicts that refuse services. They need a firm hand to bring them to rehabilitation and salvage their lives and become functioning members of society. There is nothing humanitarian about watching them die in slow-motion on the street.


Geoff Page May 31, 2022 at 3:43 pm

A pain-in-the ass boat-rocker is what this city needs.


Obcian June 1, 2022 at 6:00 am

Complaint aside, they see her as the strongest candidate against Jen and want to prevent her from making the two-person run-off.


David StJohn June 1, 2022 at 12:13 pm

“Smiling Todd” Gloria doesn’t seem to care very much about appearance of his actions. A while ago, I noted that in his filings while he was in the assembly, he accepted $2000 from Mallinckrodt in 2017 (see transaction 2204840-inc345 on his 460 form – this is one donation among other big pharma donations). Mallinckrodt has been noted as recently as last month in the Washington Post as one of the worst culprits in the whole opioid epidemic.

Does he care about his actions?


Mat Wahlstrom June 1, 2022 at 12:31 pm

The Ethics Commission is the equivalent of a vintage Fisher-Price toy phone. It’s meant to look and sound like something functional but is completely useless for its supposed intent.


Geoff Page June 1, 2022 at 1:37 pm

I really shouldn’t be laughing at that one Mat, but it was so well done I could not help it. But, it came out as a maniacal laugh, like the guys in the kung fu movies.


Mat Wahlstrom June 1, 2022 at 1:59 pm

What’s the old saying? If we didn’t laugh, we’d be crying.


Danna Givot June 3, 2022 at 4:50 pm

Mat, you have a way of hitting the nail squarely on the head. It is always a pleasure to read what you write! Thanks for that.


Mat Wahlstrom June 3, 2022 at 6:45 pm

Thanks, Danna. I really wish what I wrote wasn’t true. What is most infuriating is that the pay for the seven Ethics Commission positions listed for 2021 cost us over $684,000, https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/2021-11983777600.pdf. That’s a hell of a lot for window dressing.


Don Wood June 6, 2022 at 12:56 pm

So what came out of the Rags investigation into why the Ethics Commission rejected its own staff’s recommendations and let Todd off the hook? Who paid who off?


Geoff Page June 6, 2022 at 1:34 pm

Well, we are not done with this one. I sent an email to Sharon Spivak last Tuesday. No answer yet. But, it’s only the beginning.


Geoff Page June 6, 2022 at 1:09 pm

I received an email pointing out an error concerning the Ethics Commission vote on the motion to take “No Further Action.” I wrote:

“The Commissioners who voted no on this motion, Voorakkara, Caridad Sanchez, and Jimmie Slack, are registered Democrats. Bill Baber, the other no vote, was a Republican and now is a registered member of the Common Sense Party. Tom Hebrank, the lone no vote, is a Republican.”

I should have said the four commissioners who voted “no” actually voted “yes” because the vote was to do nothing more. The one “no” vote by Hebrank was correct. He did not agree that no more action was needed.

Pointing out corrections is always appreciated, anyone can contribute by helping with the facts.


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