REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on April 11 unanimously approved a non-binding vote of no confidence calling for the immediate resignation of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
Fletcher announced his resignation on March 29 after admitting to an affair with a Metropolitan Transit System employee who is suing him for alleged sexual assault and harassment. Fletcher, who has denied the allegations, planned to step down on May 15.
Chairwoman Nora Vargas introduced the resolution of no confidence in Fletcher for Tuesday’s special meeting and requested that Fletcher immediately resign. The board approved the resolution on a 4-0 vote.
According to a county attorney, the board has no authority to remove Fletcher from office, and it would be up to Fletcher to decide when his resignation will take effect.
The board’s vote comes after calls for Fletcher’s immediate resignation have picked up steam. Over the past several days, many Democrat elected officials have released statements either acknowledging the allegations or calling for Fletcher’s immediate resignation.
San Diego City Councilwoman Vivan Moreno, Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, Carlsbad Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel and Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz all made statements calling for Fletcher’s immediate resignation.
In Bhat-Patel’s statement, she recalled her own experience with sexual harassment during her first campaign, which she detailed in a column with the Voice of San Diego several years ago.
On April 7, Congressman Scott Peters called for Fletcher’s immediate resignation and advised the Board of Supervisors to halt the hiring process for a new chief administrative officer. According to La Prensa, since the position was opened, two candidates have emerged — Santa Clara Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a former labor leader and friend of Fletcher and his wife, former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, and Paul Worlie, Fletcher’s chief of staff.
Fletcher, once considered a shoo-in to replace termed-out State Sen. Toni Atkins, disclosed on March 26 that he was entering an inpatient facility for treatment related to alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder from his combat service as a U.S. Marine and childhood trauma.
It was unclear Tuesday whether Fletcher was aware of the board’s decision. According to a statement from his office, “Fletcher is unable to respond due to the fact he is in treatment.”
“Our board will be careful in presenting its options when considering its decisions,” Vargas said in reference to replacing Fletcher. “Over the next few weeks, we will follow the process established by our board policy and our charter, which gives us options on filling the vacancy for District 4.”
Supervisor Jim Desmond, the first on the board to demand Fletcher’s immediate resignation, said county taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying Fletcher’s estimated $25,000-$35,000 salary over the next six weeks. According to county records, a San Diego County government contract to protect Fletcher shows a $1.9 million bill from Pinkerton, a private security contractor with a history of union busting.
Desmond said all elected officials and county staff undergo sexual harassment training, and a primary example of inappropriate workplace conduct is an individual in a higher position engaging in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.
“While the Board of Supervisors does not have the ultimate power to remove Mr. Fletcher, this resolution will serve as a powerful statement for him to resign,” Desmond said Sunday. “Mr. Fletcher has let his constituents down and should no longer receive taxpayer funds. Also, given these circumstances, the search for a new chief administrative officer should be restarted without input from Mr. Fletcher. This is an important decision for the future of San Diego County, and he should not have any input in future decision-making.”
Both Supervisor Joel Anderson and Lawson-Remer agreed with Desmond about handling the CAO replacement without Fletcher’s input.
“We have to be above reproach in our choice of CAO,” Anderson said.
The plaintiff in the sexual assault and harassment lawsuit against Fletcher, former MTS Public Information Officer Grecia Figueroa, 34, alleges that Fletcher groped her on two occasions and pursued a sexual relationship with her for months before she was abruptly fired on the day Fletcher announced his state Senate candidacy.
Fletcher resigned as MTS chair on April 4.
Fletcher’s resignation came shortly after Figueroa filed a lawsuit alleging sexual assault and harassment against the prominent Democrat.
Figueroa claims Fletcher, then chairman of the MTS board of directors, sexually assaulted her twice last year. She also alleges sexual harassment, sexual battery and whistleblower retaliation.
Fletcher has publicly denied the allegations but admitted to “consensual interactions” with Figueroa and violating the trust of his family and wife. Fletcher’s attorney, Danielle Hultenius Moore, said Figueroa’s allegations “are false and are designed to drive headlines and not tell the truth.”
The attorney said the woman pursued Fletcher, who “does not and never had authority over her employment.”
“We will aggressively fight this issue in court, and the full record will show the truth,” Moore said.
Figueroa further alleges that on Feb. 6, she was fired during a closed-door meeting and believes “that MTS terminated her employment because she was sexually harassed by Defendant Fletcher.”
In a closed session last week, the MTS board decided to hire outside counsel for an investigation into the behavior of former Board Chair Nathan Fletcher.
“After discussion, the Board of Directors decided that we will hire an outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation and report its findings directly to the board,” acting MTS Chair Stephen Whitburn said in a statement. “The board has instructed counsel to reject any request to indemnify or defend Nathan Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher failed to act in good faith and in a manner reasonably believed to be in the best interest of MTS.”
But a demand letter sent on Feb. 17 from Figueroa’s attorney to MTS apparently notified the agency of pending allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Fletcher approximately six weeks before he resigned from the MTS board, raising questions about why the board took no action on the matter until the lawsuit was filed.
When asked during the press conference about this discrepancy, Whitburn insisted the board did not know about the allegations until after the lawsuit was filed.
“We have, as a board, decided that we are going to hire an independent counsel specifically to help us understand some of the questions that are being asked,” Whitburn said.
Whitburn is also a named defendant and witness in a civil lawsuit from Oscar Rendon, who claims he was raped by former San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy last year.
Lawson-Remer thanked residents for speaking out during the April meeting, noting that the public sentiment regarding Fletcher spans the political spectrum. Lawson-Remer said she was incredibly sad, disappointed, frustrated and angry at the situation the board finds itself in and that “my former colleague betrayed that public trust and acted in a way that is just unacceptable.”
“We need to get back to the business of serving our community” and tackle the major issues, including homelessness and climate change, Lawson- Remer said. “We can’t address that when we’re stuck dealing with a crisis that we did not create.”
Supervisor Joel Anderson said there has been “much misinformation” in terms of how the county will move forward.
“I’ve always been concerned when an elected official vacates their office without representation,” he said.
Anderson said there are a number of cities in District 4, and only a few elected officials from those cities have publicly commented on Fletcher.
While people have the right to be angry and lash out, only District 4 residents can remove Fletcher or vote for a new supervisor, Anderson said.
During an at-times emotional public comment period that lasted a little over an hour, almost every speaker demanded that Fletcher resign immediately not only for his personal behavior but also for policies he advocated that critics say harm the county.
A few suggested the board appoint Fletcher’s November 2022 election opponent Amy Reichert to replace him, while others said an election was the best route.
The board on May 2 is expected to discuss its options for replacing Fletcher. Supervisors could call a special election or appoint a replacement to serve out the remaining three and a half years of Fletcher’s term.
Sarah Rogers, a retired Naval officer and psychologist, told the board that it was no insignificant thing to be treated for combat-related PTSD. But she said the county shouldn’t have to pay for Fletcher’s care outside of San Diego as there are great facilities here, including the Veterans Administration.
District 4 resident Lee Rogers thanked Desmond for being the first supervisor to demand Fletcher resign, adding that it was important for supervisors to pass the resolution unanimously “because we do need to move on.”
Eric Weber, an attorney and coach, said that if Fletcher “cares about veterans, he should resign yesterday — now.”
“His lust for power and wealth has destroyed this county,” Weber said. “He has no honor.”
City News Service contributed reporting to this article.