Back in October 2016, the City of San Diego proposed a program to replace old street lights with new ones that could collect data on traffic and pedestrians while simultaneously reducing lighting costs. Known as the “Smart Streetlight” system, General Electric would install about 3,000 of the new lights around San Diego. However, the controversy of the program grew once it was revealed that General Electric would have unlimited access to the data.
It was evident that San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott was responsible for notifying the City Council about the privacy violation the contract enabled. Instead of employing accountability, Elliott attempted to pass the blame on former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. However, Goldsmith rebutted the blame via his memo, which clearly articulated that Elliott was fully responsible for approving the contract with General Electric.
Within the last month, it has been revealed that City Attorney Mara Elliott had a severe conflict of interest with the General Electric contract. According to Elliott’s California 700 form, she owned anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 worth of stock in General Electric. Elliott’s conflict of interest serves as a blatant violation of the City of San Diego’s Charter, specifically Section 94.
According to Section 94, Elliott could be subject to a misdemeanor accusation, loss of office, potential disbarment, and prohibition from ever holding a City office. Moreover, any contract made with the conflict of interest would be deemed void.
Genevieve Jones-Wright, a representative on the City Council’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention, explained the severity of Elliott’s behavior. “The city attorney’s glaring conflict of interest appears to be what’s preventing policymakers from addressing the coalition’s concerns. We will be asking the mayor and city council directly to hire outside legal counsel immediately so we can get our concerns resolved,” she said.
Interestingly, the conflict of interest began before Mara Elliott took office as city attorney. In her tenure as chief deputy city attorney, Elliott was responsible for overseeing the division that dealt with the legalities of information technology, communications, environmental services, and public contracting. Elliott’s inability to step aside, as a result of her conflict of interest, maintains her consistent corrupt narrative.
She is willing to take actions that not only harm citizens, but the City of San Diego as a whole. The behavior revealed from the conflict of interest is unbecoming of an elected official and only fosters the bad reputation of many San Diego politicians.