City attorney: Former city COO ordered removal of 101 Ash records before resignation

City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office accuses the city’s former chief operating officer, Kris Michell, of ordering the removal of documents regarding the city’s acquisition and management of 101 Ash St. and the Civic Center Plaza in its final days at City Hall.

In a Wednesday letter obtained by Voice of San Diego, Elliott’s office advised Michell that destroying any documents would violate city municipal code and state law.

“We recently learned that during the last few days of your employment with the City of San Diego, you instructed City Information Technology personnel to erase your cell phone and computer public records found in emails, text messages and other tools related to this litigation,” Assistant City Attorneys Travis Phelps and Elliott wrote.

Phelps and Elliott also wrote that destruction of public records could result in penalties for the city, including court-ordered penalties and attorneys’ fees if the city is “unable to produce public records to which a third party has lawfully straight”.

“My office seeks your cooperation in recovering the documents that were destroyed and returning them to the city,” Phelps and Elliott wrote. “Please contact me by Monday, May 16, 2022 to begin the process of identifying and retrieving all city records.”

The city attorney’s office confirmed that Michell received the letter.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Michell said she couldn’t speak because she was busy sorting out a personal matter. She did not respond within the 5 p.m. deadline.

As COO, Michell oversaw the city’s IT department and was able to direct its employees. Under the city’s strong form of mayor government, Michell was the city’s highest unelected representative until she abruptly resigned in September 2020.

101 Ash St. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The city attorney’s office did not immediately say whether it had confirmed that the documents Michell allegedly ordered destroyed were kept elsewhere by the city or were original copies.

The bombing allegation is the latest in a series of revelations in the years following the city’s 2017 lease-purchase agreement for 101 Ash St., a building he only occupied. weeks before rushing to evacuate city workers in January 2020 following a series of asbestos violations. The rush to evacuate personnel from the city sparked a fact-finding mission and later a series of prosecutions. Litigation also revealed last year that as part of the city’s acquisition of 101 Ash and a similar deal for the neighboring Civic Center Plaza, its owner paid the city’s volunteer real estate adviser Jason Hughes 9 $.4 million for his work on the two leases – and had secret deals. with the town owner. City attorneys argued that the payments to Hughes violated state conflict of interest law and that both leases should be terminated.

In response to requests from Hughes’ lawyers, the city’s former real estate chief, Cybele Thompson, recently turned over hundreds of documents that Hughes’ lawyers say she has not previously received in response to their discovery requests. of the city, a problem they have since raised in superior court. A judge recently ordered the city to hand over documents it had pledged to produce but had not yet delivered on Friday.

Elliott spokeswoman Leslie Wolf Branscomb said Thursday the city will meet the Friday deadline, but city attorneys are still reviewing documents provided by Thompson and cannot immediately say whether they were previously in possession of the city. In an April 15 deposition, Thompson said she left City Hall with documents related to 101 Ash out of concern that her actions would be misrepresented by “virtually everyone involved,” according to a draft transcript obtained. by Voice.

Then, in an April 28 deposition, Thompson testified under oath that Michell provided at least some of those documents — and not at Thompson’s request, according to another draft transcript obtained by Voice.

“I just remember her giving me quite a few documents and saying, ‘You might want to keep these with the others you have,'” Thompson recalled.

Thompson said she did not recall discussing with Michell why she brought him the documents.

In its letter to Michell about the allegedly ordered deletion of records, the city attorney’s office also raised questions about Michell’s decision to turn over documents to a former city employee.

“We would like to understand your actions: what documents were shared, for what reason and were copies or originals of these documents kept by the city? Phelps and Elliott asked.

In her deposition, Thompson said she understands Michell obtained the records she provided as part of the document review process requested by the city under the state public records law. She did not say whether she understood the documents to be original copies.

Thompson resigned from the city in August 2020, less than a week after a devastating toll on the city’s acquisition of 101 Ash St.

Michell abruptly left town hall itself less than two months later – and less than three months before a new mayor took office.

Michell, a City Hall veteran who had overseen city operations and employees for nearly three years, said at the time that she planned to pursue opportunities in the private sector and had considered moving on. “since a while”.

She told Voice that the 101 Ash St. scandal was not the reason for her departure.

“My resignation has nothing to do with 101 Ash,” Michell said on Sept. 21, 2020, the day she revealed her plans to leave City Hall.

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