Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Anatomy of a Botched Testimony

The Anatomy of a Botched Testimony
Voice of San Diego
February 1, 2011
by Liam Dillon

It was an idea without an author.

San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald wanted to know who had gone around the council's back to breathe 20 more years of life into downtown redevelopment.

The guy at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting who had answers was Frank Alessi, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of the city's downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp.

Except Alessi wasn't saying much.

Here's a breakdown of Alessi's testimony to the council now that we have the benefit of three months of reporting and the context from newly released emails. It shows that not only did Alessi fail to respond to many of Emerald's questions, but that a key answer was false.

Emerald started her questioning by wondering if she could trust Alessi.

Emerald: If you were monitoring my comments from before you know how very upset I am about what I believe is a gross breach of trust. Going forward, I'm going to have a very difficult time believing anything that you and your staff have to tell us as a board.

Then she launched into him.

Emerald: Who actually hatched this idea?

Alessi: Well.

Emerald: Whose idea was it? To go behind this council's back and go to Sacramento?

Alessi: I don't have an answer to that. Other than (Assemblyman) Nathan Fletcher was the author of it.

Emerald: He just in the middle of the night came up with the idea? Who did he talk to about crafting this idea to bury it in the budget bill? Was it you? Was it the mayor?

Alessi: I can't speak for the mayor.

Alessi now is CCDC's highest ranking official following the resignation of former interim head Fred Maas in December. Alessi has been with the agency since 1979 and makes $176,800 a year. Ultimately the City Council, as the board of directors for the city's Redevelopment Agency, is his boss.

Emerald continued asking whose idea it was.

Emerald: Fred (Maas)? Who?

Alessi: Unfortunately, Fred, our chairman, is unavailable today. He's back East on personal matters. And he ...

Emerald: So who was involved, once the mystery person came up with the idea, who sat down and came up with the plan?

Alessi: There were several people involved. It's ...

Emerald: They were who?

Alessi: I defer, I would like to defer the answer to that question.

Emerald: Why?

Alessi didn't answer. He just stared straight ahead.

Emerald turned next to Alessi's personal involvement.

Emerald: C'mon I mean it's out here on the table here, you did this, you didn't talk to us, but at least let us know who was involved.

Alessi: Well, I personally was knowledgeable of the information.

Emerald: Were you involved in it?

Alessi: To a degree.

Emerald then began asking him how long he had been discussing the deal. His answer, the most significant he gave to any of Emerald's questions, was wrong.

Emerald: Can you tell us when this idea fell out of the sky or what?

Alessi: There was probably a week or, two weeks ago that was.

Emerald: Two weeks ago, you think?

Alessi: I'm guessing. I mean I can only tell you from my perspective.

Emerald: When did you first learn of it?

Alessi: I believe it's been about two weeks. I don't have ...

But that's not what emails we obtained through a public records request show. Alessi was involved as far back as August, six weeks earlier than when he said he was.

Alessi's answer to council fit the deal's official narrative at the time — that it was only weeks in the making. But that narrative fell apart a few days after Alessi's testimony. The deal's formation began in August, around the same time Alessi got involved...

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