The story broke May 19 on U-T San Diego’s website: "Port CEO seeks tenant work for son," read the headline. "Darbeau asks for help from those he holds sway over."
On its face, the paper — owned by GOP real estate magnate and bayside hotel developer Douglas Manchester, who is fighting a legal war against the California Coastal Commission to build a massive commercial development on the old Navy Broadway office complex — had nailed a sizable bureaucratic hide to the wall.
"CEO Wayne Darbeau, 61, asked Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, for help contacting port tenants about the job, according to emails obtained by U-T Watchdog," said the account.
Three days later, on May 22, the U-T ran a follow-up, reporting that "Pasha Automotive Services — one of the port’s largest tenants — was asked by Port CEO Wayne Darbeau to employ his son in 2012, and the company did so, letting him work as a warehouse inventory clerk from June to August, according to Darbeau and his son’s resume."
Though Darbeau denied he had extended favors to Pasha and withdrew his request for a summer job for his son, the paper was not yet done.
Enter Tony Manolatos, former U-T reporter, one-time city-council staffer and mayoral campaign aide to Kevin Faulconer, GOP Lincoln Club spokesman, and campaign consultant.
On June 10, Manolatos and Port District attorney Thomas Russell quietly signed a contract for Manolatos "to provide strategic communications services to [Russell] and the Board of Port Commissioners."
The document, released by the port after a request under the California public records act, set the consultant's hourly fee at $175, plus expenses, including "wire service fees, large-volume (more than 25 at a time) photocopying, clipping service, travel outside San Diego County, parking, overnight mail delivery and courier services, which shall be billed at actual cost….
"The maximum payable to consultant under this agreement shall be $20,000 unless amended to increase this amount," the contract says. "This agreement shall be effective as of June 10, 2014 and shall terminate on December 31, 2014 unless extended by amendment."
Though the document itself offers no specifics regarding the consultant's duties, Manolatos confirmed in a telephone interview that he had been retained to assist with media requests regarding port records and information on Darbeau.
His services were required, he said, because the port's public relations and clerical staff reported to Darbeau, creating a purported conflict of interest.
According to a July 1 invoice, Manolatos logged 36.5 hours during June, billing the port $6387. The port redacted descriptions of his activities before it released the document.
However, an August 1 unredacted Manolatos invoice that the port subsequently said had been mistakenly divulged shows that the consultant had repeated contact with U-T reporter Ashly McGlone and also communicated with U-T editorial writers.
"June 10, 1 hour, Emails, calls with Ashly, [and] Bob [Nelson]," says one entry. "July 11, 3.5 hours, Review documents, Emails with Port Staff, finalize replies for Ashly, send replies," says another.
On July 14, Manolatos spent two hours, on "Emails, phone calls with Ashly, Port Clerk, port staff and Bob," according to the invoice.
Two days later, on July 16, an hour was billed to "Monitor and review news coverage. Talk to Bob, U-T editorial department, Ashly."
Manolatos spent a total of 13.5 hours on "document review" through the middle of July, according to the August invoice. The consultant billed the port for 40.5 hours, valued at $7087.50.
Meanwhile, the U-T had sharpened its focus, including a June 20 piece reporting that, based on "a new letter obtained by the U-T," Darbeau "eased contract requirements for waterfront tenant Pasha Automotive after the company employed Darbeau’s son for a summer job."
Darbeau was fired by the port commission on July 25. Manolatos spent an additional 13.5 hours prepping for a “News Conference and Special Board Meeting” for that event, the invoice says.
"At the end of the paid leave, Darbeau — whose annual base salary is $267,800 — will receive an additional six months of severance pay," the U-T reported, not noting the Manolatos fees. “The port will also cover $10,000 of his legal fees from an internal review of his conduct."