Feb. 18 2015 11:22 AM

Mayor’s nascent advisory group launches amid much brouhaha

CSAG Chairman Adam Day, wired up for a stadium challenge.
Photo by John R. Lamb

"You can't spin this. You've got to have a real solution.... This is not a war of words; this is a war."

—John Murtha

You have to kind of feel sorry for Adam Day. As chairman of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's handpicked Citizens Stadium Advisory Group, Day—the son of former SDSU president Thomas Day, himself no stranger to controversy—seems perfectly suited for the heavily spotlighted volunteer role he's been handed.

An California State University trustee and assistant tribal manager for the Sycuan tribe, Day appears cool under media fire. On Monday, he stood before a phalanx of TV cameras with his pockets stuffed with microphone boxes and wires protruding in every direction. He may have looked wired for detonation, but he calmly took questions from a skeptical throng of journalists and mimicked the mayor's trademark gosh-darnitall-we-can-do-this mantra.

"The Chargers have been a great partner in this community for half a century," Day said. "They do great things throughout the community, and weíre here to help find a solution to the stadium question that keeps them in town... if all of us agree to work together in a cooperative fashion."

But the undercurrent of this 14-year quest to build the local NFL team a new home now churns with added intensity as speculation about the siren call of a teamless Los Angeles beckons. Tooting that horn at virtuoso level this past week was Mark Fabiani, general counsel to Chargers honcho Dean Spanos.

It began when Fabiani helped shed light on a previous mystical stadium plan brewed up by New York-based Lazard Ltd. for former mayor Jerry Sanders, who then ditched the preliminary findings that more than $500 million in public funds would be required to build a Downtown stadium.

It continued Monday when he appeared, as requested, before the mayor's advisory group, which met at the U.S. Grant under a shroud of not-so-successful secrecy. (Directional signs to the private gathering were labeled "USG General Manager's Meeting.")

When Fabiani emerged, he headed downstairs into a comfy-chair interview with KUSI—the only media outlet other than CityBeat staking out the Grant.

He discussed the now-hyper-analyzed "principles" doctrine he had forwarded to the media prior to his testimony before CSAG—embargoed until precisely 10:15 a.m., when he figured he would be unleashing the words directly to the volunteer, budget-less panel:

· No faux proposals, he warned, only real-world-tested plans. ("It might be that... there is at least at this time no publicly acceptable solution to the stadium issue in San Diego.")

· Don't figure the Chargers into your backside-protecting schemes. ("It might be worth checking with [former Mayor] Dick Murphy and [former City Attorney] Mike Aguirre to see how that worked out for them," Fabiani zinged. "Simply put, we have no intention of allowing the Chargers franchise to be manipulated for political cover—and we will call out any elected official who tries to do so.")

The latter notion hit like an A-bomb Tuesday, when Fabiani released a letter sent to the mayor calling out Faulconer's handpicked media spokesperson for the group, Tony Manolatos, and his most trusted political adviser, Jason Roe, both of whom attended yesterday's otherwise private CSAG meeting.

"We write to clarify the legal and practical role that your political advisors are playing in the operations of your new stadium task force," Fabiani begins the four-page missive on Chargers letterhead.

Fabiani questioned what roles Roe and Manolatos are "playing with the 'independent' task force." Fabiani noted that Roe is "a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego."

"[W]hat sense does it make to have someone who is your chief advisor on political matters, and who advises a potential stadium vendor on business matters, play any sort of role with the 'independent' task force?" Fabiani wrote.

The Chargers counsel described Manolatos, a frequent media handler for right-leaning clients, as "someone who has recently made negative comments about the intentions of the Chargers" and questioned whether his work with the Port of San Diego—"one of the major opponents of the Chargers' plans for a joint-use facility Downtown"—creates a conflict for him. Fabiani also wondered if the public would be apprised of how Manolatos will be paid by a group with no budget.

Fabiani pointed to a Jan. 16 tweet from Manolatos as an example: "If you believe a stadium won't get built under your terms and you may skip town, do you keep working or launch a finger-pointing campaign?"

After Day's press conference, both Manolatos and Roe did their best to turn the black-hat conversation back toward Fabiani.

When CityBeat asked Day to explain the board's hiring of Manolatos and Roe's meeting appearances, he used the word "volunteer" to describe their status. About compensation, Day said, "Not from us," adding that Roe "provides us some counsel, as many other people do."

"Right now, I'm a volunteer, but I'm not doing this pro bono," Manolatos said. "Money will be raised by donors to pay for it." He offered no other specifics but did say that his "crisis management" work with the port ended last year.

Roe seemed more irked to be questioned about his role. "If we're going to get this done, it's going to be through a ballot initiative that requires a political component," he told Spin. "You don't think I should be part of that conversation to figure out how to get there?"

When asked about lobbying for Delaware North, Roe bristled. "I am not. That's the firm I own [that lobbies]. I am a political consultant. I am not a lobbyist. What Mark wants to focus on is everything other than discussing how we find a solution to the stadium. So, talking about me, about Tony, about if we met with Boltman—they're all a bunch of fucking shiny objects for you guys to try to drag us into a conversation." 

As one interested observer put it privately, Fabiani "is three steps ahead of everyone. And the mayor's team is no match for him."

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