Judge tentatively denies TMD demand to have Mayor Bob Filner sign agreement

SAN DIEGO - Mayor Bob Filner said Thursday it is time to return to the negotiating table, following a judge's tentative ruling favoring him in a lawsuit over his refusal to sign an operating agreement with San Diego's Tourism Marketing District.

Filner has discretion over whether to sign the deal, something the mayor has argued since he first refused to give his blessing to the agreement, according to Judge Timothy Taylor's ruling. He will issue a final decision after hearing oral arguments Friday afternoon.

The City Council renewed the TMD last November, but ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders did not sign the operating agreement before he left office. His successor, Filner, calls it a bad deal for taxpayers.

"I have maintained from the beginning that I am open to negotiating with the TMD representatives to come up with a deal that protects taxpayers," Filner said Thursday afternoon. "I also recognize the importance of the tourism industry and want to give the TMD board the ability to market San Diego with a full complement of employees."

In his ruling, the judge pointed to the City Council's renewal resolution that authorizes -- but does not require -- the mayor or his designee to sign "an" agreement, not "the" agreement.

"A plain reading of the 2012 resolution simply does not yield the conclusion that the council directed the mayor to enter the specific contract petitioner now claims must be signed," Taylor wrote.

Sanders seemed to think he had discretion, since he didn't sign the deal, according to the judge.

"The court's tentative ruling was clear that it is within the City Council's authority to adopt a resolution that directs the mayor to sign the contract," said Terry Brown, the TMD's chairman of the board. He said the judge "has outlined the path forward."

The City Council has placed on its Tuesday agenda a resolution directing Filner to sign the operating agreement as it was originally spelled out. It was originally set to be heard this week, but the document was returned to staff before it was introduced.

The judge said he knew about the new resolution but was unaware of its fate as he wrote his ruling.

Filner last week issued a counter-offer to the TMD which, among other things, called for stronger indemnification for the city in case a judge rules against the agency's funding mechanism, which is being challenged in a separate court action.

He also demanded that the TMD spend $6 million on the 2015 centennial celebration of Balboa Park, encourage member hotels to pay a living wage to employees, and prohibit funding to organizations that pay annual salaries above $160,000.

The agency rejected the demands.

The TMD receives a 2 percent surcharge on room rates to advertise San Diego as a destination. Money also goes to organizations that stage events that attract visitors.

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