Is Ballard the new Byorn?


Newsom press secretary Nathan Ballard -- who got the job after his predecessor was caught lying to reporters -- has always seemed to me a fairly robotic center-right spinmeister, delivering carefully scripted comments without much feeling or human warmth. Or maybe he just hates me and the Guardian, as I've heard from others at City Hall, which is why he's generally fairly unresponsive to our requests and terse when he finally does answer. For example, I had to hound him for days, even after he'd missed the Sunshine Ordinance deadline for the resignation letters Newsom requested and blown off a 10 a.m. appointment with me, before I could finally see the documents and ask him a few questions about them in his office on Monday, which he answered while distractedly looking at his computer almost the entire time.
That was when I was able to finally corner him into admitting that Newsom didn't seek legal advice before announcing his unorthodox and overreaching demand for everyone's resignations, a scoop that the Fog City Journal followed up today with a story on whether Ballard had lied to them and other reporters. So today, I followed up with an e-mail to Ballard (CCed to FCJ, the Chron, and the Examiner, who have also sought a straight answer) asking a simple question: Precisely when did Newsom seek legal advice on his resignation request plan? His answer, delivered a couple hours later, follows:

Here's the timeline, Steve.

September 7, late afternoon: At a senior staff meeting, Mayor discusses
September 10, @ 10:15 a.m.: Mayor verbally asks department heads for
resignations. Deputy City Attorney Linda Ross, who is the Mayor's
counsel, is present. (Hence my use of the word "simultaneous.")
September 10, right after the meeting: Mayor's top aides confer with
Ross in person on legal matters related to the Mayor's request for
resignations, including but not limited to the language to be used in
the letter to department heads and commissioners.
September 10, @ 5 p.m.: letter from Mayor goes to department heads and
September 10-present: on an ongoing basis, Mayor's top aides continue to
seek legal counsel from Ross related to this matter.

OK, back to me. So Newsom didn't seek legal advice before asking for the resignations of his department heads, even those that the City Charter places under the purview of independent commissions. Clearly, Ballard's intent has been to mislead the public and the press about whether Newsom's plan was rash and poorly considered, or even whether it was legal. I just asked Ballard the following two questions:

Given the thorny legal issues involved, why didn't the mayor seek legal advice before making this pair of announcements?
Was he aware that he didn't have the legal authority to remove commissioners serving fixed terms?

Meanwhile, it does appear that Newsom is doing postmortem damage control. He sent the following letter out just as my blog item yesterday was being posted:

TO: Department Heads
Mayor’s Senior Staff
FROM: Mayor Gavin Newsom
DATE: September 18, 2007
Thank you for the overwhelming response to my request that you help create a renewed sense of
purpose in the coming mayoral term by submitting to me an offer to resign effective the last day
of my current term, January 7, 2008.
This letter confirms that your offer to resign will be effective only if it is accepted by me. If I do
not accept your offer to resign on or before January 7, 2008, your offer to resign will not go into
effect. If I do accept your offer, your resignation will be effective close of business January 7,
If any of you intended your letters offering resignation to operate in any other way, please let me
Thank you again.