Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More bare facts about San Diego government: how we got from there to here

Around this time last year San Diego’s former mayor Bob Filner was forced out of office.  As it happens, he was the first bona fide “strong mayor” our city has yet seen.

We voters had no choice but to wield our black markers once again and fill in the ballot bubble to select a new mayor.  The winner this time around was Mr. White Bread personified, Kevin Faulconer.  San Diego’s lead newspaper, the U-T,  summed up the occasion in a neat sentence: “At least the day brought us one step further from Our Time Of Scandal And Farce.”

The UT likes to play coy.  They know perfectly well that scandal and farce are what make our city tick.  San Diego is bright and sunny but the truth is, it’s a very shady place.

Last week we followed the bouncing ball and tracked the historical progression that led to the moment when a small village called San Diego became an incorporated city, defined by its own City Charter and governed by a “common council.”  The year was 1850.

Two years later the fledgling city of San Diego went bankrupt. 

A board of trustees took over city management and for the next four decades  administered the city’s operations and finances.  The city grew in fits and starts, cycling through mini-booms and busts.  By the late 1880s San Diego’s attempts at becoming an active player in regional commerce fizzled.  And after years of wild land speculation the city’s bloated real estate market crashed, throwing major investors and developers into bankruptcy and ruin.  

In this depressed economic setting the movers and shakers of the time created a new City Charter, this time with a “strong mayor” system of governance.  

The city eventually emerged from its deep slump, but for the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th growth was slow, handicapped by a scarcity of resources – like water, cheap fuel, and/or multiple investors willing to spend big capital.   San Diego was branded a one-horse town, dominated for many years by the bigger-than-life banker/ property owner/ developer/ tourism promoter John D. Spreckels.   A backdrop of power struggles, con games, and political corruption went hand in hand with this company-town reality.  

San Diego got on the municipal reform bandwagon at the tail end of the Progressive Era – a period of sweeping political and social reform that spanned the presidential terms of Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.  

In 1931, following the trend set by other Southwestern cities, San Diego voters threw out their “strong mayor” system and installed a nonpartisan city manager form of government.  Goodbye to political vices.  Hello, responsible management.   The city maintained this council/manager form of government for close to 75 years.

Now we all know that corruption and mismanagement are outgrowths of greed and other human frailties and are not necessarily the consequences of a particular method of running a government.  But blaming a system rather than acknowledging the human factor is often an effective ruse to confuse and mislead the voting public.

In 2004, after several years of pension shenanigans, political unaccountability, and teetering fiscal insolvency, San Diego voters were shanghaied by the downtown elite with claims that our city manager system of governance was the devil and exorcism was the city's salvation.  Voters swallowed the bait and approved a major Charter amendment to resurrect a “strong mayor” form of government.  

And thus did it happen that a fresh load of scandal, farce, confusion, and dysfunction in present-day city government was begotten.

Next time we’ll look at how city government is structured and why a “strong mayor” seems like such a big deal.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How government begets government

As I stated last time, bare facts come in many shapes and sizes.  So do governments.  

Today we'll uncover some basic facts about how government begets government.  Don't be surprised at how many partners are needed for the act.  Your role is just to follow the bouncing ball.
The first bounce is on the Declaration of Independence – the pugnacious pronouncement signed by 56 residents of Britain’s 13 American colonies, dated July 4, 1776, proclaiming: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…" 
Now bounce ahead to 1789, landing on a polished gem called the preamble of the United States Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” 

One more bounce brings us to President Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, which starts like this: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”  And it concludes with this: “government of the people, by the people, for the people…” 

 Obviously, the luminaries of American history who created these documents shared a similar viewpoint about the rightful purpose of government: to ensure just and equitable treatment for all generations; keep peace among fellow citizens; raise the people's standard of living; oversee mutual and collective safety; and facilitate everyone’s ability to get on with his and her own life. 

To them it was a self-evident truth that government served as a dynamic force for human progress (but yes, it would take a bloody war to abolish slavery and a major struggle to enfranchise women).  

Nowhere did they suggest that families, churches, nonprofits, charities, rugged individuals, corporate business, or general goodwill could or should substitute for the role of government in the lives of the people.  Or that government should be starved to death…  shrunk down to the size of a dried lima bean.

But like all human creations, governments require continual oversight and improvements.  Far from being sacred or immutable, our Constitution has been modified by 27 amendments, undoubtably with more to come.

One of them (the 10th Amendment) concerns the limits of top-down control: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”   Meaning that each state has the right to create its  own constitution. 

Which brings us back to the bouncing ball.  Watch it as it lands on the California Constitution, first adopted in 1848 (remember the gold rush?) and overhauled in 1879.  Since then it has been transformed by over 500 amendments from a short and succinct document to the world’s third longest constitution. 

If you dig deep enough you'll find a provision in the California Constitution (Article 11) that deals with the formation of California cities.  

(FYI: the purpose of grassroots entities called cities is to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their local hometown residents.  Cities can be either general law cities controlled by state law or charter cities answerable to most of state law but primarily controlled by a local constitution/city charter.  In contrast, counties are local entities that generally function as pass-throughs for state mandates in a more top-down enterprise.)

This bouncing ball drops down on the city of San Diego, which –  when a small village in 1850 (pop. 650) – was incorporated as a city.  By 1931, San Diegans (pop. 150,000) created their own constitution/charter and voted to become a charter city.  It's been many times amended and is still in use today.

What's in the San Diego City Charter?  Nothing as elegant as the historical documents cited above.  

The bare fact is that our Charter is a pedestrian compilation of articles and sections laying out our election process; city government system; formation of council districts; power and responsibility of elected officials; rules for city finance, budget, and accounting systems; civil service system; employees’ retirement system; Board of Education powers, duties, election, and districts; and a miscellaneous hodgepodge of provisions about the sale of public land, giving or receiving payment for political favors, disclosure of business interests, amending the Charter, etc.

What's not in our City Charter?  Not a hint to the public or to city officials of the motivation, objectives, or ideals that explain why we exist as a charter city. 

Just bounce over to the following core statements from San Francisco and Seattle and you'll see for yourselves how stunted San Diego’s image and goals seem to be:
* "In order to obtain the full benefit of home rule granted by the Constitution of the State of California; to improve the quality of urban life; to encourage the participation of all persons and all sectors in the affairs of the City and County; to enable municipal government to meet the needs of the people effectively and efficiently; to provide for accountability and ethics in public service; to foster social harmony and cohesion; and to assure equality of opportunity for every resident: We, the people of the City and County of San Francisco, ordain and establish this Charter as the fundamental law of the City and County. " 
*  “Under authority conferred by the Constitution of the State of Washington, the People of the City of Seattle enact this Charter as the Law of the City for the purpose of protecting and enhancing the health, safety, environment, and general welfare of the people; to enable municipal government to provide services and meet the needs of the people efficiently; to allow fair and equitable participation of all persons in the affairs of the City; to provide for transparency, accountability, and ethics in governance and civil service; to foster fiscal responsibility; to promote prosperity and to meet the broad needs for a healthy, growing City."
(But heed this warning!  Tinkering with our City Charter can be very dangerous to the public health and welfare unless the job is turned over to an independent, non-political, certifiably trustworthy Charter Commission.  It’s not a job for political hacks and toadies.  More about that at a later date.)

 Which brings us the final bouncing ball:

The term government automatically signifies power and control.  In cities like San Diego it often determines who gets rich, who gets richer, and who gets to pick up the crumbs.   

Next time we're together we’ll look at certain Charter changes enacted during the past decade – particularly the switch to a strong mayor form of government – and see what these changes look like when it all hangs out.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The bare facts

There are certain bare facts about our city that we ­– as informed San Diegans and curious citizens – would benefit from knowing more about.  

The intent of my upcoming commentaries is to shed light on the anatomy of hometown government while getting the bare facts out in the open

In anticipation of the July 4th weekend, why don't we start with some bare facts about flashy celebrations, San Diego style.  

You’re probably aware that the job of drumming up money and excellent ideas for a centennial celebration of the 1915 Balboa Park Panama-California exposition (Panama refers to the canal, not the hat or cigar) was wantonly messed up by an elite group of downtown insiders who apparently lacked the will, skill, vision, aptitude, frame of mind, and/or civic dedication that reputable public service demands.  

As you may know, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition was an historic extravaganza, ultimately responsible for the unique look of today's landmark Balboa Park.  One hundred years later it's well-worth an up-to-date commemoration.

Happy to report that planning for the centennial celebration has officially resumed, this time in the hands of city staff.  But things still look anemic.  So here’s a thought: how about re-creating a certain eye-catching theme from another great Balboa Park festivity, namely the 1935 Pacific International Exposition/World’s Fair?  Yes, I’m referring to the exhibit known as the Zoro Gardens nudist colony.
A recapitulation of this old-fashioned pastime would – guaranteed – pull in the crowds and perk up our city’s image.  And who knows? resurrecting the exuberant simplicity of this quaint moment in city history could wipe away repugnant recent memories of half-clad hedonists desecrating the Balboa Park lily pond.  Or of flirtatious techniques practiced by our defenestrated mayor.  Or of naughty tales about our wildly ambitious former council member, an also-ran for mayor who is now beating the congressional bushes to unseat first-term congressman Scott Peters.

Just for the record, my urgent recommendation is to emphatically reject the attempted third coming of Carl DeMaio.  Also, if you happen to live in San Diego’s District 6, you’ll be doing yourself and the future of the entire city a big favor by supporting Carol Kim for city council this November.)

Of course, bare facts come in many shapes and sizes.   We’ll be tackling the basics first.  Then we can work our way upward, sideways, and underneath the political mechanisms, bewildering acronyms, and intersecting systems that were (presumably) created to benefit the San Diego public.  Join me in letting it all hang out.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Who gets the last laugh?

There's a short video you should watch.  It showcases our city’s top politicians strutting their stuff as hotshot Top Gun naval aviators.  

It’s a droll skit.  You’ll chuckle watching the honorable men I recently wrote about as they bond in a boys-will-be-boys ritual. 

But most of all, this doozy of a video spotlights why -- in the hands of our current politicians and the people who prop them up -- San Diego is destined to stagnate as an underachieving, plodding, uninspired, also-ran kind of city.

The video was produced by the San Diego Taxpayers Association for its Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards Dinner on June 19th.  You can double your pleasure and double your fun if you read between the lines. 

For example, notice who’s in charge.  It’s none other than the honorable Jerry Sanders, cast as the swearing officer barking marching orders to a pair of compliant underlings.  Yup, our city’s rogue top cop -- the same aw-shucks guy who spent close to 8 years as mayor overseeing the deterioration of San Diego’s public infrastructure, planning, municipal departments, workplace security, city finances, truth in government, and workers’ morale – is still running the show.  

And who are those minions kowtowing “Yessir!” to big boss Sanders as they vie with one another for his favor?  Sure look a lot like our top political leaders, the newly-elected honorable mayor Kevin Faulconer and our honorable city council president Todd Gloria.  How cute and winsome they are as they deliver their lines on cue.

Okay, we know it’s a spoof.  But the trouble is, the joke’s on us.  While we’re giggling, the guys who write the script, the ones who call the shots in our city are laughing … all the way to the bank. 

Picture our developers and their anti-regulation growth machine.  Our hotel moguls and their oversized  “hospitality” industry.  Our sports team con-men luxuriating in taxpayer subsidies.  Our swarm of banker/ lawyer/ investor middlemen drinking lustily from the trough of public bond debt.  Our taxpayers association and chamber of commerce and downtown partnership and special financing district mafiosi slicing, dicing, and dividing the spoils.

In contrast, picture San Diego’s usual supply of political leaders -- sunkissed, puckish, avuncular, irresolute, lightweight, unenlightened, uninformed, uninspired, provincial, shortsighted, chicken-hearted individuals, handpicked by the guys who’ve been writing the script for decades.  Most of them are engaged in the game of political chess -- accumulating local credentials, strategic contacts, and financiers in order to move up the ladder to higher office.  They "yessir!" their sponsors while dragging their listless agendas behind them. 

Sure, we've got a sense of humor.  But check the end of the video where the short guy says to the tall one, “You can be my wingman anytime.”  It’s an ambiguous buddy term suggesting support and protection.  According to Wikipedia a "wingman" is: 
“a role that a person may take when a friend needs support with approaching potential partners.  A wingman is someone who is on the “inside” and is used to help someone with intimate relationships.  In general, a woman's wingman will help her avoid attention from undesirable prospective partners, whereas a man's wingman will help him attract desirable ones.”
So tell me, is it really a laughing matter when conflicted city officials work hand in glove to keep one another in business?  Is it really humorous when San Diego’s elite private establishment assumes ownership of city officials and writes the scripts and agendas and laws that control the city’s future?

On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a blast if San Diego citizens commissioned our own pack of wingmen to help hook us up with dedicated, public-minded, smart, and courageous political figures?  Just the thought of it brings genuine joy to the heart, doesn’t it?  For starters, we could raise our standards several notches and demand a lot more integrity and intelligent action from the people we elect to serve us.  Maybe then, the public would finally get the last laugh.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

So are they all… all honorable men

 San Diegans are no dummies.  We know what happens to politically independent, outspoken, public-minded individuals who are brash enough to shake things up.  They get maligned, noogied, humiliated, sent packing.  Open your mouth too wide in this city and... you’re dead meat.  

So we're polite and genteel.  Why look for trouble?  Yes, the public gets screwed over and over again but we've learned to turn the other cheek.  Forgive and forget -- that’s our MO.

We swoon over the nice guys, especially the ones with agreeable manners.  Like our avuncular ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, our puckish council president Todd Gloria, our sunkissed mayor Kevin Faulconer -- honorable men beyond public reproach.  Even when they're plotting to pull the rug out from under us.  

I’ll say this as politely and genteelly as I can.  These three guys should be lined up along the wall of our downtown superior courthouse -- TV cameras running at point-blank range -- and publicly charged with inflicting past, present, and future financial, political, and civic harm on the ordinary citizens of San Diego. 

Jerry Sanders, Todd Gloria, Kevin Faulconer, those nice guys handed over exclusive control of the historic, multi-million dollar civic project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Balboa Park Panama-California Exposition to a private corporation stacked with political cronies.

They created a homemade Frankenstein named "Balboa Park Celebrations, Inc."   For over three years Gloria and Faulconer (with Sanders lurking in the Chamber of Commerce back boardroom) abused the public trust and looked the other way as their well-connected cronies sucked million-dollar transfers out of public funds and into this exclusive private enterprise.   

I didn't know what to do, saysTodd Gloria 
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith also averted his eyes from the spurious stunts of this corporate entity, downplaying its specious accounting and yet-to-be-determined legal and financial trespasses

But whoops -- the reportedly secretive, arrogant, and incompetent Centennial committee suddenly informs us that they're dropping the ball.  The only grandiose plan they managed to come up with is to leave the city in a royal lurch.  They figure we'll forgive and forget.

Apparently so do Sanders, Gloria, and Faulconer.  Do you remember when these same honorable men tried to push down our throats an unsound and costly private plan to eliminate a few dozen parking spots from in front of Balboa Park art museums by engineering an intrusive bypass-bridge structure and erecting a privately-run parking structure in our world-famous publicly-owned Park?  It took a lawsuit to put a halt to this fiasco.  Didn't we forgive? Haven't we forgotten?

What about when the same official troika spearheaded the creation of a private corporation called the "Balboa Park Conservancy" to privatize Balboa Park management and governance?  Have we forgotten that they transferred control of Park infrastructure, projects, and programs out of public oversight and into the exclusive hands of a stand-alone private corporation?  

"Ironically, no bankruptcy judge would ever force the city of San Diego to transfer control of city assets and public property into private hands.  Yet that is what the Mayor and City Council are doing -- of their own free will.  It's a trickster's story."

But wait!  Jerry Sanders, Todd Gloria, and Kevin Faulconer -- the honorable trio tasked with privatizing basic city functions -- has another notch in its belt.

Maybe you thought that when California governor Jerry Brown ended the decades-old mechanism known as REDEVELOPMENT our city would develop a new approach to planning for urban growth and implementing urban revitalization.  Not so.  Yet again, our nice guys pulled a fast one with another private corporation charged with doing public business

Instead of dismantling the city’s preexisting redevelopment mechanisms, our honorable leaders simply melded the powerful downtown redevelopment arm (CCDC) with the city’s southeast redevelopment arm (SEDC) and gave it a new name.   

They call it "Civic San Diego."  This city-owned private corporation wears more than one hat.  It has the responsibility of masterminding the disposition of a $1.7 billion debt and obligation residue left over from CCDC and SEDC.  And it has control over neighborhood and community development in former redevelopment areas.  Moreover, it also has a strong intention to cement and expand its sphere of influence and dominion.   

The city subsidizes the Civic San Diego corporation with millions of dollars from the general fund, yet there is puny public oversight and limited public accountability.  It's the nice guys' version of how to run the city like a private business -- where the public has no voice but foots the bill.

Late breaking news: the honorable mayor Kevin Faulconer and council president Todd Gloria have announced that they’re replacing Frankenstein senior (the discredited "Balboa Park Celebrations" corporation) with Frankenstein junior (the "Balboa Park Conservancy") to  oversee the city’s centennial festivities.  

You may notice that the "Balboa Park Conservancy" -- aside from having rubber-stamped the Laurel Street bypass bridge fiasco -- has a stunningly vacant track record.  Does it feel like a new slap in the public face, bringing onboard another set of unproductive underperformers?   

Will we turn the other cheek?  Will we give another pass to our nice guys?  After all, they are -- aren’t they? -- all honorable men?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Haven't we met before?

In response to requests I received for the names of people I alluded to in last week’s commentary Too many years of inbreeding I’m providing a list of mayor Kevin Faulconer’s recent appointees, plus a brief description of who they are.

Many names will be familiar to those of you who have been following city affairs over the years.  For others, the people on this list may not ring a bell; like the city’s water and sewer pipes they tend to operate beneath the surface.  Their organizational interconnectedness and crossovers, however, are readily identifiable by one and all.

What might cause you to blink once or twice as you scan the list below is how Kevin Faulconer has surrounded himself with people whose affiliations are at odds with his campaign posture as a "moderate" Republican.

(For those of you interested in crossovers, you'll find a good description of the city hall game of Chinese Checkers in this 2009 Reader story.   Be assured, the game is still being played.)

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s leadership team

Stephen Puetz - Chief of Staff
VP at Revolvis/a full-service Republican consulting firm. Campaign manager for Kevin Faulconer.  Political consultant for Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman, Carl DeMaio.  Staffed Faulconer in Council District 2
Jaymie Bradford -- Chief of Policy
Staffed Carl DeMaio, Jerry Sanders, Todd Gloria.  Legislative advocate on SANDAG.  Internal communications for Building Industry Association.  SD Chamber of Commerce public policy committee
Felipe Monroig -- Chief of Community Engagement
Attorney.  CEO for SD Taxpayers Assn.  Carl DeMaio’s chief of staff.  Worked for DeMaio’s Performance Institute
Matt Awbrey -- Chief of Communications
Formerly staffed Fauconer D2.  SD Chamber of Commerce public policy committee
Craig Gustafson -- Press Secretary
Former reporter at U-T San Diego

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s transition team

Tony Young
Former SD council president.  Former CEO at SD Red Cross.  Presumed new chief at Civic San Diego
Steve Cushman
Businessman.  Chair, SD Chamber of Commerce. Chair, SD Convention Center.  Board of Downtown SD Partnership.  Chair at SD Port Commission.  SD Red Cross. Special assistant to former mayor Jerry Sanders
Sharon Cloward
Pres, SD Port Tenants Association.  Board, SD Convention Center Corp. Board SD Fleet Week Foundation.   One of several women accusing former mayor Bob Filner of harassment
Ronne Froman
Rear Admiral U.S. Navy Ret.  CEO at SD Red Cross.  COO in mayor Jerry Sanders administration.  Senior VP General Atomics.  Married to Linden Blue/ co-owner of General Atomics (San Diego's largest defense contractor and developer of Predator drones).  Chief of business operations, SD Unified School District.   One of several women accusing former mayor Bob Filner of harassment
Aimee Faucett
Chief of staff for councilmembers Kevin Faulconer, Jim Madaffer.  Executive VP & COO of SD Regional Chamber of Commerce  
Bill Geppert
Former general manager Cox Communications.  Past chair SD Regional Chamber Commerce.  SD Regional Economic Development Corp.  Organized efforts for choosing Faulconer as Republican Party candidate
Kris Michell
CEO Downtown SD Partnership.  Former chief of staff to mayors Golding and Sanders.  SD Regional Chamber of Commerce public policy committee.  Balboa Park Centennial board.  VP govt relations for SD Padres
Vince Mudd
businessman.  SD regional Chamber of Commerce.  SD Regional Economic Development Corp.  Chair SD Red Cross.  Advisor to mayor Sanders
Bob Nelson
Advertising, public affairs.  Melded consulting agency with public relations firm Porter Novelli – where Kevin Faulconer was VP.   SD Port Commission.  SD Convention Center Corp
Joseph D. Panetta
CEO of trade association for biotech/life science industry.  SD regional Chamber of Commerce.  SD Regional Economic Development Corp
Faith Bautista
Businesswoman.  CEO, Natl Asian American Coalition. Board of SD Regional Chamber of Commerce
Lani Lutar
Former SD Taxpayers Assn.  Asian Business Association. Executive Director, Equinox Center
William D. Lynch
Investment banking.  Chair of Republican Lincoln Club.  Executive committee SD Regional Airport
Jennifer Jacobs
Public relations. Political consultant. Past director SD Lincoln Club.  Republican Party central committee.  Independent Super PAC for Carl DeMaio
Ure Kretowicz
Developer.  Real estate investment.  CEO Cornerstone Communities.  Building Industry Assn-PAC.  SD Lincoln Club
Michael Zucchet
            Former city councilman.  General manager SD Municipal Employees Assn
Brian Marvel
Pres. SD Police Officers Association
Nicole Murray-Ramirez
            Columnist for the LGBT Weekly.  Member of Human Rights Commission
Father Joe Carroll
            Founder, Father Joe’s Villages
Dan Hom
Businessman.  Asian Business Association.  Political candidate for Chula Vista council seat
Tony Manolatos
            Former Faulconer aide.  Pres, By George Strategies.  Former U-T reporter
Sam Bedwell
            Administrator, SD American African Coalition
Adbur-Rahim Hameed
CEO, National Black Contractors Association
Susan Jester
            Public relations.  Pres. Log Cabin Republicans.  AIDS Walk San Diego
Byeong Dae Kim
Businessman.  Chair Korean-American Assn of SD.  Pres., Korean Chamber of Commerce
Pastor Rickey Laster
New Assurance Baptist Church
Blanca Lopez Brown
            Teacher/businesswoman.  Political candidate for District 4 city council office
Kristen Victor
            Building consultant, founder of Sustainability Matters
Pastor Walter G. Wells
Mt. Erie Baptist Church
Barbara Ybarra
             Public affairs consultant, Ybarra Company
Leslie Kilpatrick
Pres. SD Association of Realtors

Monday, March 10, 2014

Too many years of inbreeding

To misquote Shakespeare: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark ...our city.  Most likely it’s the result of too many years of inbreeding.
Take a look at appointees to San Diego boards, commissions, committees, and organizations like United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, and Red Cross.  You’ll discover that San Diego is an epicenter of incestuous comings and goings.  (Incestuous:  repetitive, indiscriminate, unwholesome, unnatural,  intimately intertwined, endogamous co-mingling of self-serving individuals)

Look at the staffers roaming City Hall.  They occupy a hermetically-sealed world -- punctuated by narrow loyalties, a tendency toward inflated egos, frequent dalliances, and more revolving doors than in an Abbott and Costello meets Frankenstein movie.  Individuals who recently worked for (we assume it was forformer-mayor Bob Filner are now lodged in the office of Filner's nemesis, councilman Todd Gloria.  Some have leapfrogged to other council offices or elsewhere in the bureaucracy… marbles in a game of Chinese Checkers.

Check out the inbred monopoly of San Diego's top political consultants.  First they get their candidates elected.  Then they linger a while as "advisors" to ensure that their grateful clientele don't rattle the status quo or stray far from the fold.  

In the same vein, have you looked closely at the “transition team” of our newly-elected mayor Kevin Faulconer?   It's like a B-movie rerun stacked with stock characters from the city’s big business, municipal union, real estate, Navy, and LGBT establishments.  They're has-been players who've been around the block too many times -- jaded and devoid of inspiration, imagination, vitality, or public-mindedness. 

Now take notice of the mayor's “leadership team.”  At his right hand are political operatives previously aligned with Carl deMaio and Jerry Sanders.  Joining him is a new press secretary, a U-T reporter who traded his professional commitment to objective political reporting for admittance to the inner sanctum where ex-journalists earn their keep by crafting weasel words and snow jobs. (Names can be furnished upon request.)

This tradition of incestuous activity is no joke -- it has consequences in the real world.  Did you notice last week's headlines about how the citizens of San Diego were jilted and left standing at the altar by cronies from ex-mayor Jerry Sanders' “leadership team”?  These high-flying but incompetent operatives were handsomely paid to orchestrate next year’s Balboa Park Centennial and they dropped the ball without so much as a public apology… not even a whispered sorry for royally screwing the city out of critical preparation time, not to mention $2.8M of public funds.  

Likewise, no apology yet from ex-mayor Sanders for his cynical appointment of unqualified insiders and for giving them unprecedented control over Centennial planning.  And no whispered sorry from him for his own arrogance in setting up a sham Centennial committee.  As for San Diego's inbred good-old-boy’s network (which continues to coddle and protect our man Sanders as he sits pretty in his downtown Chamber of Commerce echo room) don't hold your breath... 

Of course there’s been no apology from our recent interim mayor Todd Gloria.  A self-proclaimed "can-do" man, he hid the Balboa Park Centennial fiasco from the public for more than six months.  In the face of mounting city harm, financial mismanagement, and loss of precious time he chose not to level with the public.  Instead, he passed the buck (alongside mayor Faulconer) with ludicrous attempts to lay blame on former-mayor Filner.  

On the other hand, Todd Gloria made good use of his six month stopover in the mayor's office to have a ball.  Like in a Cinderella story, he seized this window of opportunity to wield a borrowed magic wand.  With feet propped up on the desk of the defenestrated former mayor he hired, fired, appointed, reorganized, and issued executive orders with impunity, ignoring City Charter limitations on the powers granted to a short-term stand-in.  The City Attorney played the role of permissive fairy godmother, winking and nodding at blatant political improprieties.

Maybe the magic wand went to his head.  Councilman Gloria's last act as temporary big boss was to order the destruction of city email files older than a year (with the City Attorney still winking, still nodding).  What in the world were they thinking?  What's been going on behind closed doors at City Hall to precipitate this over-the-top attempt at a cover-up?  

While it may be true that our new mayor Kevin Faulconer agreed to a temporary hold on deleting city emails, his remarks are alarming: “I am going to ensure that there is a balance between transparency and cost. We will see what makes sense from a cost standpoint.”  

COST standpoint?  Arbitrary destruction of city records is a profound assault on the democratic process and on citizens of San Diego.  Surely our new mayor was just kidding.    

The city is stuck in mediocrity, captive to the agendas of self-serving interests and incompetent “leadership.” 

It's a mindset that pervades all levels of civic and political life -- north of I-8 and south of I-8, within young leadership groups and in VIP conclaves, in boardrooms and labor halls, among the haves and have-nots, Democrats and Republicans, alike.

This small-minded compulsion toward political incestuousness and routine inbreeding is taking us downhill -- fast.  

Here's our choice: a) we can stay complacent and allow inbred malformations to become the norm; or b) we can demand more public truth-telling and evolve into a healthy, public-minded, ethically-motivated 21st-century city.  I'd say b) is worth a try.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A mindful walk down a dark and slippery slope

Here’s what the Zen manual advises for a stress-free existence: notice… let it go… then smile. 

Truth is, I’m not ready for bliss.  And it’s not for lack of trying.  You know how it is once you’ve noticed certain things… how can you let them go?  Maybe tomorrow. 

Right now I can't help noticing someone’s big bad joke.  Here’s how it goes:

A guy walks into a bar, orders a beer on tap, and announces that the annual advent of Sunshine Week is just around the corner.  That’s the time when good-thinking people (journalists included) spend a few days promoting the public’s right to know what goes on behind the thick curtains of government.  Some call it transparency.  

The point of Sunshine Week is to remind citizens that we need and have the “right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business,” and moreover that the “meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”  You could call it an indispensable tenet of democracy.

So the bartender says to the guy, “Bad timing, fella.  Last guy who walked in here with that kind of talk got the kishkes knocked out of him.  The bigshots concocted a chorus line of big and little ladies to nail him for ogling and they walloped him black and blue.  Poor schnook -- he may have been a great political liberal but everyone knows you're your own worst enemy if you're a lousy flirter.  He’s a pariah, now.” 

So the guy gulps down another home brew and says to the bartender, “Fooled ya baby!  I’m really here to report that Sunshine Week’s been rained out -- by executive order.  Your pretender-to-the-throne Todd Gloria just set the date for a City Hall book burning.  Who would've thought such an up-and-coming Democrat could be so… undemocratic." 

It's a true story.  The joke's on us.  Council president Todd Gloria waited till his next-to-last day as placeholder for Bob Filner’s vacated mayor’s seat to decree that city emails older than one year shall be automatically deleted. Discarded. Purged. Deep-sixed. 

Is this his idea of what a "strong mayor" is all about, making up regulations to deliberately shut out the public?  
DATE: February 27, 2014
TO: All City Employees
FROM: Todd Gloria, Interim Mayor
SUBJECT: Administrative Regulation 90.67, Electronic Mail (E-mail) Retention and Deletion On February 27, 2014, Administrative Regulation (A.R.) 90.67 regarding e-mail retention and deletion was implemented. As noted in A.R. 90.67, e-mails that are older than one year will be automatically deleted from the City’s E-mail Systems. To date, the City has not deleted e-mails and this has resulted in our City E-mail Systems being overburdened. This A.R. was implemented to address the storage capacity issues which, if unaddressed, would require the City to purchase hardware for additional storage capacity in the future.
On March 28, 2014, the Department of Information Technology will begin automatically deleting e-mails that are older than one year from the City’s E-mail Systems. Furthermore, e- mails will also be deleted on a daily basis if the e-mails are older than one year. E-mails deleted from the City’s E-mail Systems will be permanently unavailable unless City staff takes affirmative steps to retain them outside of the City’s E-mail Systems 
The California Constitution states that “the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny” but apparently certain people in San Diego don't think public scrutiny is such a great idea, after all.  

Surely I’m not alone in wondering whether Mr. Gloria et. al. (the City Attorney and a top city official signed off on this scorched-earth plan) have some serious personal concerns about the contents of City email communications, calendars, and memos from the time period before, leading up to, and during Bob Filner’s abbreviated mayoral stint in office.  

Does it make you wonder what might be lurking in these communications: fundraising shenanigans? issues involving the (former and/or newly appointed) police chief? impetuous amorous exchanges? permit improprieties? collusion to oust a sitting mayor?  Do you wonder why "the writings of public officials" are to be deleted before the public can lay eyes on them?

It's a dark and slippery slope, a new low for San Diego, when destroying public records becomes standard operating procedure. 

Fortunately, our new mayor Kevin Faulconer has the power to restore the City’s integrity by immediately rescinding Administrative Regulation 90.67.  We’re impatiently waiting and watching.