DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council voted to censure Deputy Mayor Dan Quirk on Monday for what members described as a repeated failure to include a disclaimer when sharing his opinion about the region’s rail realignment project versus representing the council at large.
Councilmembers Terry Gaasterland and Dave Druker, who brought forward the censure resolution, said the city has repeatedly had to do damage control as a result of Quirk’s statements about the Del Mar rail realignment and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the agency managing the project.
In October, the council agreed in a 4-1 vote to send a letter to SANDAG clarifying that Quirk’s statements — calling SANDAG a fraudulent agency in an email newsletter to residents, and calling for an investigation into Hasan Ikhrata, the agency’s departing CEO, in statements to KUSI — do not represent the city’s viewpoints.
Since that meeting, Druker said, Quirk has made additional comments criticizing the rail project in email newsletters to residents that have not included a disclaimer that it is his own opinion.
The council approved the censure, which serves as a formal reprimand for an elected official but does not carry any penalties, in a 4-1 vote with Quirk opposed at a Monday meeting.
“Some of your communications have crossed a line where you’re accusing people and outside agencies of fraud. You’re effectively, whether you’re slandering them or coming close to slandering them, you put the city at risk,” Gaasterland said. “It puts the city of Del Mar in the position of having to apologize. This has happened over and over, and that’s why I co-sponsored this.”
Concerns also trace back to last spring, when the council warned Quirk several times that he was not accurately advocating for the city’s position as a representative on the NCTD board. The council ended up sending a letter to the North County Transit District clarifying its position.
Quirk pushed back against the censure, claiming the council was attempting to silence his outspoken views about the need for a cost-benefit analysis of the rail project and argument that the rail should be discontinued due to low ridership.
“I’m hearing you say you don’t want me to share my opinion to other people,” he said.
Councilmember Dwight Worden said they are not trying to censor anyone, but that if a council member publicly shares a view that conflicts with the city’s official position, they must clarify that it is their own opinion.
“What is not a problem is Dan’s opinion,” Worden said. “If he wants to call SANDAG a fraud, that’s fine. What is a problem is when he’s making statements where there’s an inference that he represents the council.”
While Quirk’s colleagues all approved the censure, they differed in their opinions of when he needs to include a disclaimer that he is not speaking for the city.
Mayor Tracy Martinez said Quirk’s emails to public residents, where he has spoken repeatedly about the rail and other projects, are properly qualified as they state his name and contact information, but that he should make a disclaimer when he is speaking publicly.
Druker, however, said a disclaimer is needed in emails as well.
“That becomes a public document that other elected officials, other staff members of other agencies can see, and unless it specifically states that … it is their own opinion, then someone can assume, because it says Del Mar City Council member, it can be a reflection of what the City Council believes,” Druker said in an interview with The Coast News.
Quirk argued that there is no city policy requiring him to include a disclaimer that he is sharing his own opinion. He also noted that he had already agreed in October to not use the city’s logo as his Zoom background in media interviews about the rail.
“I have been out there very, very prominently on this issue. Everyone knows how I feel, and everyone knows how the council feels,” he said. “I assume when I read a statement from a council member, that is their opinion.”
However, Martinez said that is not always the case.
“Most people in the city know this is your opinion. I think the issue is, people from the outside. I’ve taken calls from people who’ve been concerned about things you’ve said,” Martinez said.
When asked directly by Worden whether he would start adding a disclaimer that he is sharing his own opinion, Quirk said he would “make a best effort.”
A few residents, including Quirk’s brother Steve Quirk and wife Briana Minadeo, spoke during public comment against the censure. Resident Clive Freeman said differing opinions are a good thing, and that it’s important not to stymie them.
“I think its a good thing to express your opinion. I would urge everybody not to try to quell contrary opinions, but … think about them, analyze them, try to understand them, evaluate them, and respond to them logically and carefully,” Freeman said.
The larger issue, Gaasterland told The Coast News, is that Quirk’s comments strain the city’s relationship with SANDAG while they advocate for a rail realignment that will have the least negative impact on Del Mar residents.
“This is a delicate time, and we simply cannot afford to have a council member stomping the mud all over it,” Gaasterland said.
The Del Mar City Council has not formally taken a stance on a rail realignment, but did adopt a set of guiding principles for the rail last month that opposed eminent domain and advocated for the study of various potential realignments, including at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
This story was updated to clarify that one of the public speakers was Dan Quirk’s wife.