February 23, 2024
Port Commissioner Sandy Naranjo throughout an everyday session Tuesday. Picture by Ken Stone

Sandy Naranjo was censured Tuesday by six fellow San Diego port commissioners on the energy of a 23-page investigative report she didn’t see till late Wednesday.

Censure report and appendices. (PDF)
Censure report and appendices. (PDF)

The report, by Bay Space-based attorneys Jane Kow and Ilana Parmer Mandelbaum, paints a darkish image of battle between Naranjo, 36, and the port’s chief lawyer and ethics officer, Thomas Russell, 70.

Russell’s title was redacted some 260 instances within the report — displaying up as Worker A — however a slew of clues level to him.

The report says Naranjo launched a “shock assault” on Russell at a Dec. 13, 2022, closed assembly as a part of his efficiency analysis. She allegedly questioned his integrity on the idea of what the investigators known as defective data.

“One commissioner interjected to interrupt Naranjo’s interrogation by exclaiming, ‘Sufficient! This sort of inquisition will not be acceptable,’” the report mentioned.

Commissioners have been “alarmed” that the Nationwide Metropolis rep failed to supply advance discover of her allegations or give Russell an enough likelihood to meaningfully reply.

Regardless of the drama, Naranjo ended up voting to offer Russell a increase, award a advantage bonus and prolong his contract to 2025.

Friction between Naranjo and Russell apparently started shortly after she took workplace in January 2021 when Russell raised questions on Naranjo’s short-lived consulting enterprise and her husband’s work for Baker Electrical, which supplied electrical companies for some district initiatives.

Finally, no conflicts of curiosity have been discovered, and Naranjo might have recused herself from issues she was concerned in.

However Russell’s efforts to evaluation potential conflicts of curiosity and collect information from the brand new member “created pressure between him and Naranjo, who resisted responding to his inquiries and contended that he was unfairly focusing on her for scrutiny and mistreatment.”

Interviewed twice, Naranjo informed investigators that Russell was condescending and handled her with a “lack of professionalism and respect.”

“Naranjo contends that [Russell] is biased in opposition to her as a result of ‘she’s a queer lady of colour and decrease earnings’ and is a staunch advocate for racial and environmental justice,” the report mentioned. “She contends that [Russell] believes the District will not be the place for such advocacy.”

Commissioners essential of Naranjo weren’t named.

General Counsel Tom Russell.
Basic Counsel Tom Russell, the port’s ethics officer, defends himself in opposition to Sandy Naranjo allegations. Picture by Ken Stone

Neither have been two “labor leaders” who supposedly informed a commissioner a couple of proposed “Pay to Play” scheme by Naranjo’s now former husband, Andrew McKercher, “whereby he tried to leverage Naranjo’s position as a commissioner to assist sure unions safe work on contracts with the district.”

McKercher, based on a divorce doc filed in November 2022, made $220,000 a yr as a union organizer with IBEW Native 47. (They have been married in 2015 and separated June 1, 2022. They share custody of a daughter, 8, and son, 6.)

In a press release that accompanied the report, lawyer Sonia Carvalho of Finest Finest & Krieger mentioned the censure decision addresses “varied breaches of fiduciary duties together with violations of state regulation. … Within the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, the board additionally approved the discharge of the investigative report after receiving requests to take action from Commissioner Naranjo’s lawyer and members of the general public.

“The board’s motion is meant to uphold the integrity and public belief of the Port, shield its workers, protect the integrity of Port contracts and commitments, shield in opposition to interference with the company’s skill to conduct the general public’s enterprise, and restrict authorized legal responsibility created by Commissioner Naranjo’s actions.”

Board Chair Rafael Castellanos.
Board Chair Rafael Castellanos says Sandy Naranjo retaliated in opposition to Tom Russell. Picture by Ken Stone

On Thursday, board Chairman Rafael Castellanos issued his personal assertion:

Nobody disputes that Commissioner Naranjo is a vigorous advocate for her group. What’s at concern right here is her conduct towards the Port’s Ethics Officer — who was simply doing his job. Her subsequent conduct towards the Ethics Officer was clearly retaliation.

Sadly, Commissioner Naranjo would moderately change the topic than take duty for her egregious retaliation in opposition to the Ethics Officer. Let’s take a look at the info. The board voted unanimously to censure her – a critical consequence for her retaliatory conduct towards the Port’s Ethics Officer as decided by an unbiased investigation.

The claims she makes on this report in opposition to the worker, myself and others are simply one other instance of her private assaults in opposition to those that she perceives are elevating considerations about her conduct.

Two attorneys representing Naranjo fired again.

Dan Gilleon, an lawyer for Sandy Naranjo, beforehand helped her and others settle lawsuits in opposition to labor chief Mickey Kasparian. Picture by Ken Stone

Late Wednesday, Dan Gilleon informed Instances of San Diego:

Retaliation is the act of punishing a whistleblower for reporting probably illegal conduct. It’s unlawful as a result of it’s unhealthy for a society that condemns corruption. Anyone who isn’t slumbering would see the Port’s censure of Commissioner Naranjo as patent retaliation.

She raised considerations over an objectively troubling, potential battle of curiosity involving a strong Port official. The Port purportedly investigated her allegations, however as quickly because the investigation was full, solely Commissioner Naranjo was censured.

It appears apparent that, regardless of its representations on the contrary, the Port was by no means investigating the considerations raised by Commissioner Naranjo. The Port was investigating her, and the Port did so as a result of the powers that be didn’t like Commissioner Naranjo meddling with the beloved secrecy that cloaks their enterprise dealings.

Attorney Cory Briggs.
Legal professional Cory Briggs outed port lawyer Tom Russell because the unidentified district worker Naranjo allegedly defamed. Picture by Ken Stone

On Thursday, lawyer Cory Briggs, who spoke at Tuesday’s board assembly on Naranjo’s behalf, known as the report a “hatchet job.”


“As a result of it fails to attribute any substantive accusations to anybody besides Tom Russell, which makes this a ‘he mentioned, she mentioned’ state of affairs,” Briggs mentioned by way of electronic mail, including:

It’s worse than that, nevertheless, as a result of the docs within the appendices don’t help the investigator’s evaluation (e.g., there have been no cooperation delays by my shopper, no financing was ever in danger, there was no retaliation … There’s no such factor as defamation in an official continuing, and so forth.) The report was hyped to be one thing horrible about Sandy, when actually it exhibits that she was solely doing her job in making an attempt to carry Tom Russell accountable for his conduct whereas refusing to violate the Brown Act by unlawful serial conferences.

The hatchet was for certain swung by Tom Russell by his subordinate, Rebecca Harrington, who’s listed on the “cc” line of the investigation. If TR had nothing to do with the investigation, why is considered one of his subordinates within the loop moderately than the report being completely between outdoors counsel and the board?

Additionally, you recognize that [Russell] was within the loop as a result of he waived his privateness rights in order that the report might be disclosed earlier than the report had been disclosed. How did he know what was within the report? He’d clearly been knowledgeable in regards to the contents prematurely or else he would have insisted on seeing the report earlier than agreeing to waive his privateness.

Regardless of the lack of her vice chair title — and likelihood to ascend to chair of the board — Naranjo will proceed to get a stipend for mileage and cellphone bills. In her divorce judgment, she mentioned she was getting a $13,200 annual port stipend.

On the time, she was working for San Francisco-based Local weather Plan. However she left that job in December 2022.

Right this moment she does administrative work for a non-public regulation agency (not Briggs’ or Gilleon’s) that does no work involving the port, Briggs mentioned.

Moreover her attorneys, La Prensa San Diego writer Arturo Castañares got here to Naranjo’s protection with a searing 1,400-word indictment of the redacted report, which he known as “filled with innuendo and subjective conclusions that didn’t show that she really did something flawed.”

Castañares wrote: “So what does the report show Naranjo did to advantage her colleagues’ rebuke? Nothing. A giant fats nothingburger. Because the previous lady within the Eighties Wendy’s commercials used to ask, ‘The place’s the meat?’”

A one-time chief of workers for former state Sen. Steve Peace, Castañares famous that one concern the report didn’t tackle was Naranjo’s complaints of discrimination towards her by Russell.

“However the report curiously states that these points have been ‘past the scope of this investigation,’” his story says.

Castañares concluded: “In the long run, the report affords no smoking gun proof of any violation of regulation by Naranjo. The report doesn’t show she violated her duties or did something greater than voice her considerations with the efficiency of their lawyer — one thing she is each empowered and anticipated to do in finishing up her duties as a commissioner.”