PERSPECTIVE: Fletcher Hasn't Resigned Yet & He May Not
The region has been watching and waiting as disgraced San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher clings to his political life after he announced he will resign amid allegations of sexual harassment from at least two women.
Fletcher made a surprise announcement late on Sunday, March 26th, that he was seeking rehab treatment for PTSD, trauma, and alcohol abuse, and ending his campaign for State Senate in next year's election cycle.
Many of us were shocked by the announcement but expected more information as to why one of the most ambitious and high-profile politicians in town was suddenly ending his new campaign when he had no opponent and over a $1 million war chest.
Then just a few days later Fletcher admitted he had "consensual interactions" with a woman outside of his marriage, but he waited three more days before admitting it was with a subordinate female employee of our regional transit agency where Fletcher was the Chairman.
Under increased pressure to resign, Fletcher then said he submitted his resignation "effective May 15th at 5:00 pm" but did not give any indication as to why he would wait more than a month to actually leave office.
A few days later, La Prensa San Diego heard from a source in Silicon Valley that Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez was the person chosen in secret by the Supervisors to be hired as San Diego County's new Chief Administrative Officer, the person who runs the day-to-day functions of our $7 billion county government.
When we learned that secret process to hire the new CAO was to culminate in a final Board of Supervisors vote on May 2nd, then Fletcher's extended resignation made sense in that he expected to be able to vote to make one of the most important hires of the next decade.
Chavez is a friend of Fletcher and his wife, Lorena Gonzalez, who shares similar backgrounds with Chavez as former labor leaders and elected officials.
After La Prensa San Diego broke the news about Chavez three weeks ago, the pressure intensified for Fletcher to resign immediately and not be able to influence the selection of the County CAO. All four of his Board colleagues called for his immediate resignation and agreed that he would not vote in the CAO selection.
Yet, weeks later, Fletcher has not resigned and, if he's smart, he won't. At least not yet.
Fletcher's career is clearly over without even having to wait for a formal legal process or debate whether we "believe the victim." We have all read the text messages he sent to an employee of an agency he headed where he engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior and violated the duty of an elected official.
So why hasn't he resigned in shame to save himself, his family, and the public even more pain and costs as he drags out the inevitable?
Because Fletcher now faces legal and financial jeopardy that could cost him hundreds of thousand -if not millions- of dollars, if he were to lose the pending lawsuit filed by Grecia Figueroa, the now-former Metropolitan Transit System employee who was not only harassed by Fletcher, but was then fired by the transit agency seemingly in retaliation.
Fletcher surely understands that his political career is over, but this lawsuit could also ruin him and his family financially.
Although Figueroa sued Fletcher and MTS, the County of San Diego will surely be on the hook as well because Fletcher was only on the MTS Board by virtue of his position as a County Supervisor, and was acting as such when he harassed Figueroa.
Much like San Diego Mayor Bob Filner did when he was facing similar sexual harassment claims in 2013, Fletcher knows he could hold out on resigning until he negotiates a legal indemnification deal to protect his personal finances.
Filner held on for weeks even after a line of women accused him of harassment and several prominent elected officials -ironically including Fletcher's wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez- called for Filner's resignation.
It wasn't until the City agreed to cover Filner's legal bills and settlements that he finally resigned, went to rehab, and eventually pleaded guilty to charges of false imprisonment and battery charges involving three women.
The City was spared the continuing saga of a politically wounded mayor and Filner was protected financially from the fallout of his harassment.
Fletcher is now in a similar situation where the only card he has left to play is his resignation on his terms.
Although he has communicated his intention to resign effective May 15th, Fletcher has until 5:00 pm on that day to change his mind without any legal obligation to move forward with his resignation.
And if Fletcher were to pull back his resignation and continue to serve out his term, there is nothing the other Supervisors could do to punish him or remove him from office.
Only a recall petition filed by voters could potentially remove Fletcher, and even that is not only difficult, but could take at least until December to remove him.
Under state law, a recall petition would require valid signatures from at least 10% of the nearly 400,000 registered voters in Fletcher’s district -or over 40,000 signatures- just to get it on the November 7th special election ballot, then a majority of voters would have to approve it.
Unless and until such a recall were to take place, there isn't much else the County Board of Supervisors or the public can do to remove or punish Fletcher for not resigning.
Fletcher is in the driver's seat as far as if and when he resigns.
Although the County's Charter Section 500.3 states that "the Board may suspend from office, at its discretion, an officer who has been indicted for official misconduct, an offense involving moral turpitude, or an infamous crime," that requires that a Supervisor actually be criminally indicted, not just sued civilly.
For now, Fletcher could hold out, return to fulfill the remaining three and half years of his term, and continue to draw his $15,000 per month government salary.
Given that his political career is pretty much over, he has been publicly scorned, and his colleagues voted unanimously last month on a resolution of "No Confidence" in him, Fletcher doesn't have much to lose by holding out for a deal, but he has a lot to gain.
Although no one knows for sure if any more accusers may come forward from among MTS and County staff, or more former UCSD students who may also claim harassment connected to his professorship there, Fletcher surely knows what he has done and he knows how much he still has to lose.
The County Board of Supervisors will be meeting on Tuesday morning to decide whether to move forward with appointing someone to fill Fletcher's remaining term or to allow voters to decide in a special election in November.
Given Fletcher's violation of the public trust, allowing District 4 voters to select their new Supervisors seems like the most democratic and healing thing to do.
But even that decision may be premature: There is no vacancy yet and there may not even be one.
If Fletcher decides to rescind his resignation notice, anything the Board decides to do regarding his vacancy would be void. Until and unless Fletcher resigns, all of the hand-wringing about how to replace him is purely academic.
The voters of District 4 -which stretches from Balboa Park to Mount Helix- elected Fletcher, and only they can remove him from office before the end of his term in December 2026.
Unless the public pressure on Fletcher to resign becomes so unbearable for him that he voluntarily leaves, or his continued presence becomes such a distraction that his colleagues agree to cover his legal costs and negotiate his resignation, this saga may continue for months or even years.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin DeLeon has withstood months of calls for his resignation, booing crowds at Council meetings, and even a failed recall attempt after a recording of him participating in a racist and derogatory conversation with other politicos went public on October 2022, and he may now even run for re-election next year.
Fletcher may not be lucky enough to survive the political mess he created, but he still has some options on how to play it through.
This week's Board meeting and the next two weeks will determine if Fletcher will go away quietly into the annals of San Diego political history, or if he will fight to protect himself through protracted negotiations for legal indemnification.
It's certain San Diego taxpayers will be paying costly legal fees for some time to come caused solely by Fletcher's selfish and dangerous actions, and potentially even more for settlements or judgments.
What we don't know is how much Fletcher himself may have to pay in actual dollars in addition to the cost he has already paid in terms of the loss of his once-promising political career.
We hope Fletcher does the right thing and resigns immediately to salvage some self-dignity and spare the public even more pain and costs than he has already caused, and not hold out selfishly for his own personal gain.