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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

All the world's a stage

Act I:  the State of the City Address
San Diegans are about to witness a full-dress reenactment of our town’s annual civic ritual known as the State of the City Address.   

Article XV of the City Charter lays it out: On or before the 15th day of January of each year, the Mayor shall communicate by message to the City Council a statement of the conditions and affairs of the City, and make recommendations on such matters as he or she may deem expedient and proper.

You can catch a live performance at 6pm this Wednesday, January 15th at downtown’s historic Balboa Theatre.  Alternatively, you can kick back in the comfort of your own living room and watch it on City-TV. 

Like most political rituals it’s an occasion for platitudes and cheerleading.  San Diego mayors traditionally use the opportunity to bring in the color guard… special lighting… ministers… pomp and circumstance… to showcase their recent accomplishments and bright plans for the city’s future.  

It’s a feel-good event -- rarely the time for blunt assessments of the true state of the city’s fiscal, environmental, social, or economic health and well-being.  It's the time for lofty sentiments, optimistic forecasts, and a touch of political preening.  Afterwards, there’s cookies and punch in the lobby.

What sets this State of the City Address apart from all others is that the official master of ceremonies of this year’s event will be a substitute, a stand-in, a person who doesn’t happen to be the mayor. 

At this Wednesday’s big event the role of mayor will be played by the presiding officer of the City Council, Todd Gloria.  He’s been filling in as the designated seat warmer pending next month’s runoff election to replace former mayor Bob Filner, who resigned from office this past summer. 

You will remember that barely a year ago the freshly-elected mayor Bob Filner stepped onto the stage of the Balboa Theatre to deliver his first (and last) State of the City Address.  In an ironic twist to a yet-untold complex and sordid tale, Filner was ruefully introduced as the "real mayor" by his political rival, the inimitable scene stealer Nathan Fletcher.  To refresh your memory of that ill-omened event click here.  

You’ll notice that smiling stonily (ominously? cynically? conspiratorially?) upstaged in the shadows sat Councilman Todd Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith – practiced political actors already working in tandem alongside other disgruntled bigwig players to ring down the curtain ASAP on this problematic, confrontational, threatening, politically liberal change-agent of a new mayor.  Seven months later, sooner than they could have dreamed, they got their wish.

Act II: Strong Mayor Strikes Home
It’s been almost a decade since the city of San Diego converted from a “city manager” form of government to a “strong mayor” system.   The jury isn’t in yet on whether the switch was overall positive or negative, at least from the public perspective. 

But one thing’s for sure – city government now operates within a denser, darker, sweatier, more testosterone-driven political framework than ever before.  The full story about Bob Filner's demise will one day attest to that.  Meantime, the immediate aftermath of Filner’s rapidly-executed stoning gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what's awaiting us in our adopted "strong mayor" world of cutthroat politics.

For starters, take a look at the City Charter “strong mayor” section regarding how to handle a vacancy in mayor’s seat:
During the period of time when an appointment or election is pending to fill a vacancy in the Office of Mayor, the presiding officer of the Council shall be vested with the authority to supervise the staff remaining employed in the Office of the Mayor, to direct and exercise control over the City Manager in managing the affairs of the City under the purview of the Mayor and to exercise other power and authority vested in the Office of the Mayor when the exercise of such power and authority is required by law. This limited authority would include circumstances where the expeditious approval of a legislative action is necessary to meet a legal requirement imposed by a court or another governmental agency. Such limited authority would not include the exercise of the power of veto or any other discretionary privilege which is enjoyed by a person appointed or elected to the Office of Mayor.
Now consider that over the past five months the presiding officer of the Council – Councilman Todd Gloria – artfully draped himself in the robes of the mayoralty to strut his stuff and mark his territory, ignoring with impunity the intent and  limitations spelled out in the City Charter.  

With a wink and a nod from the City Attorney, the District 3 representative crowned himself mayor and embarked on reorganizing city government in his own image.  He hired, fired, rearranged, proclaimed, undid, reversed, and erased all traces of ex-mayor Filner's popular reforms and political direction in an illegitimate exercise of "discretionary privilege."  

Our soon-to-be-voter-approved-next “strong mayor” will find himself saddled with a slew of officials, appointees, directors, restructured lines of authority, policies, decisions, and hidden alliances that will prove difficult to control, let alone undo. Here's a piece of advice that might prove useful upfront: be sure to check your new office for stray bugs.

Meantime, the Councilman who recently saw fit to tweet to the world “I look amazing in animal prints” will be flashing his dazzling smile onstage this Wednesday and using the State of the City event to cement his credentials as an oh-so-flexible politician destined to go places.  We've had more than our share of quisling political opportunists in San Diego, so here's another piece of advice that might prove useful: Todd Gloria, just fuggedaboudit.

Act III: Our Next Best Chance
In one year from now San Diegans will be watching a duly-elected mayor -- either David Alvarez or Kevin Faulconer -- on the stage of the Balboa Theatre deliver the State of the City Address with a message to the people about what the city's been up to and where we ought to be headed.   Their messages would be vastly different from one another.  

Why? because the masters of political strangleholds who have traditionally straight-jacketed our city are throwing their considerable weight behind Kevin Faulconer.  

And the proponents of good government and progressive change -- having had a taste of what our city could and should be like -- are flexing their newly-developed muscles in support of David Alvarez.  

The political machinations in our city have become murky and devious but the best choice for the majority of San Diego voters is crystal clear: next year it must be David Alvarez on the Balboa Theatre stage in the spotlight delivering his State of the City Address.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sex and the City

Let’s ease into this subject with a mindful autumn walk.  Notice the days getting shorter... morning air chillier... leaves turning gold on liquidamber trees.

Now notice a fact as unwavering as the seasons -- the fact that sex plays a dominant role in San Diego public affairs.  Hook it up with other San Diego mainstays (uninspired leadership, stunted civic aspirations, free-floating corruption, overinflated egos, corporate welfare, legal-establishment collusion, Republican Party strategy, dubious fidelity among leading Democrats, to name a few) and it wallops a punch potent enough to knock a new mayor out of the ring and force the city into a costly, rushed election to bring in a replacement. 

Of course this is not how the Chamber of Commerce markets our city.  It’s motto: Good for Business - Good for San Diego says it all.  Same for our Tourism Authority, which promotes the city as a clean-cut, open-air paradise: 70 miles of beautiful beaches, countless parks and gardens, and endless opportunities for pampering at one of the areas many spas and resorts… an excellent destination for some quality R+R.

I've noticed that San Diego sells itself as a trophy town of moderation, rectitude, and civility.  But scratch the surface and you’ll discover the other San Diego -- a town constantly preoccupied with commercialized sexual indulgences (move over, Las Vegas). 
  • Aren’t we the fun-loving host of the over-the-line tournament, the frisky, sandy weekend of boosted beer, bouncy breasts, and bared behinds? 
  • Isn’t the weekend street scene in our redeveloped Gaslamp Quarter every bit as raunchy as the notorious pre-CCDC days of sailor bars, hookers, and peepshows?
  • And you wouldn't call our very own glistening rompers and exhibitionists at the summertime Pride Parade chopped liver, would you? 
  • How about San Diego’s collection of privately-catered swinging establishments, open to you, me, and the lamppost? 
  • And what would you say to hugh-hefner-wannabe accommodations upstairs at the U-T?
  • Have you taken the oral history tour of City Hall, a behind the scenes tale of who-did-what-with-whom (or who-was-doing-what-with-himself)?  It starts at the 12th-floor Council Chambers and works its way down.
  • And what about our ferociously fought-over 25-foot bayside statue immortalizing a sailor’s frontal assault on an unconsenting female – you know, the one with the woman in a headlock submitting to a forced, full-mouth kiss?  Once named “Unconditional Surrender” nowadays it’s known as felony false imprisonment.
Not bad for an upstanding city like ours that goes ape over tales of a mayor’s clumsy kiss, posterior pat, and too-tight arm around the shoulder.  (For a rare honest response from the U-T take a quick look at what Logan Jenkins has to say.)  Will we entertain similar hysteria over the next round of scandals that are bound to make headlines?

By now most of us who entertained high hopes for what an experienced, old-time liberal mayor like Bob Filner could bring to the city of San Diego have resigned ourselves to the new reality – which looks oddly like the old reality called business as usual.  Surely you've noticed what a busy beaver our interim mayor Todd Gloria has been in setting the clock back to pre-Filner time.  In fact, a time warp engineered by downtown Republicans along with select Democrats has pretty much erased all traces of what almost was but might have been.

Which brings us to the current candidates running to replace Bob Filner. 

Of the four front-running mayoral candidates, only one is being honest with the public about a core issue: the untenable financial state of the city.  The other three have chosen to avoid the subject.  They're choosing to promote the homespun San Diego fable about having our cake and eating it too. 

Mike Aguirre has taken every opportunity over the past couple of months of campaigning to make a simple but crucial point – that a big (and growing) chunk of the city’s general fund budget is set aside annually for payment into the employee pension fund.  This results in a significant reduction in the cash available to pay for routine city services.  This year's required annual pension payment is $275 million -- the bulk of which ($200 million) is eaten up as interest on the $2.3 billion pension deficit that drags the city down.  

Notice this contrast: a mere $55 million is allocated for our roads.  The decision to take from Peter (fire, police, roads, and neighborhoods) to pay off Paul (the City Employees Retirement System) was a choice made by former Mayor Jerry Sanders, abetted by the City Council, so he could fake a balanced budget and claim he had resolved the city’s fiscal crisis before leaving office.

You can hear plenty of campaign chatter about paved roads, upgraded libraries, recreation centers, parks, decent streets (smooth streets, in the words of Nathan Fletcher; sexy streets, per temporary-mayor Todd Gloria), homeless facilities, and other neighborhood needs.  You'll get a deafening silence from the others when Aguirre starts talking about the city's crippling pension problem. 

Aguirre is tackling the difficult financial issues head-on (despite sniping from candidate Fletcher).  The other candidates won’t touch it.  So far, neither has the U-T nor our other news and opinion providers.  Neither have the economic analysts and political gurus who comment regularly on city business.  (I noticed with dismay that then-mayor Filner also steered away from the same time bomb that's already detonating in other U.S. cities.  Detroit, anyone?)

David Alvarez has been denigrated as too young by Democrats who’ve been smitten by Nathan Fletcher.  But notice that there’s a mere three-year age difference between them -- Alvarez is 33, Fletcher is 36.  Notice that interim-mayor Todd Gloria is only 35.   Also notice that Alvarez has an upper hand in understanding how the city works and what makes it tick – an important qualification for anyone wanting to be mayor.  (Yes, I also noticed that the lack of municipal government expertise was a fatal shortcoming in the Filner administration.) 

Others question Alvarez’s independence from the Labor Council, his primary financial backers.  It’s a fair question that should be asked of all candidates running for office: Will you be free and strong enough to balance the demands of your friends and major financial backers with the good of the city at large?  While it seems to me that committed Democrats ought not to distance themselves from the union movement -- the most important ally American working people have ever had -- there's a lot of work to do by Democrats as well as labor unions before they reemerge as comprehensive, progressive, visionary leaders of the future.

Kevin Faulconer blithely sails by without anyone questioning who his keepers are.  He’s best described as San Diego’s retrograde candidate of the 20th century – a cordial, sunburned, amorphous kind of guy sporting the Chamber of Commerce logo on his sleeve.  He may well have an underside (and who among us does not?) but so far his passive, follow-the-leader style has protected him from getting bitten where it hurts. 

Here’s one good thing about Faulconer: you know exactly what you’ll get… exactly who’ll be whispering in his ear… exactly what his agenda will be… and exactly what you’ll be fighting against.  He’s someone you can depend on to deliver what he and his financial backers know how to do best: the downtown fraternity two-step (one for you, one for me, more for you, more for me).

Nathan Fletcher is a cipher.  He’s been described as a changeling, a switch hitter, a chameleon adept at overnight transformation.  Other than a photogenic face and military boasts (what kind of person capitalizes on the business of interrogating prisoners of war?) you have no idea what you’re getting… who’s whispering in his ear… what his agenda will be.   Trendy clich├ęs spill effortlessly from his lips: innovation... creativity... we put a man on the moon.  But he's like quicksand: there’s no there there. 

Keep in mind that Fletcher was adopted (metaphorically speaking) into the Qualcomm family and reaps the benefits of a well-paid corporate job and faux UCSD professorship. His wealthy and influential backers pave the way for him to scoop up high-profile Democratic endorsements like handfuls of Halloween candy.  We've all noticed that money wields inordinate influence over the political fortunes of seated elected officials as well as most of those who'd like to be.  He's belongs to somebody, but it's not the public.

Fletcher's political message boils down to this: I’m your man, San Diego!  Forget my past voting record!  Look into my eyes and trust me!

Sex and the city... the mayor's race... what's the connection?  There's no mystery to this one.  Sex has great commercial and utilitarian value in our town.  We either pretend not to notice it, or we use it as a political battering ram.  Notice that sex was the weapon of choice for deposing former-mayor Bob Filner.  It's precisely what brings us here today as we contemplate the mayor's race.  

San Diego voters will be making a choice about who will be our next mayor (notice that not choosing is a choice that permits someone else to choose for you).  My advice is to wait a while before turning in your vote.  Keep listening -- but not to the pollsters, not to political pundits, not to anyone's subjective calculus predicting the odds and trying to manipulate the outcome.
What are we listening for? less talk about smooth and sexy streets and a whole new conversation about the unsexy time bomb ticking in our back yards -- our multi-billion dollar municipal pension deficit.  

Any mayoral candidate who pretends he can fulfill his campaign promises of neighborhood improvements and safety protection by shutting his eyes to the way the city cooks the books guarantees bad consequences for all of us.  

I’ve never been good at playing the numbers (neither was my father -- though I named this blog in his honor, anyway).  I know what I've already heard and I intend to keep listening before I confirm my choice for our next mayor. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The mystery of why Qualcomm adopted Nathan Fletcher

Did you ever suspect you were being taken for a ride but decide to go along with it anyway?  Did you ever ignore that little voice inside your head warning you to watch out! because the guy conning you was so smooth, so really cute, how could you say no?

You’ve just been introduced to Nathan Fletcher in his rematch race for mayor of San Diego.

Nathan Fletcher is funny, engaging, self-deprecating, and a topnotch storyteller.  He is low-keyed even when boasting, "I interrogated al-Qaeda… I can negotiate a labor deal."  (You might remember that Fletcher was in the Marine Corps Reserves while working in the office of Duke Cunningham, a San Diego congressman who also used his military experience as a political prop to win an election.  Cunningham was recently released from prison after serving a sentence for enriching himself illegally through bribery and fraud while in office.)

Nathan Fletcher is a performer with a special gift for reading the minds of his audience and bouncing back precisely what you want to hear.  He strings his words together in a tightly-drilled speech pattern that convinces you he’s answered your question -- even when he hasn’t. 

Though once excoriated by labor unions for his conservative voting record, now his chief cheerleader is former labor-leader Lorena Gonzalez.  He’s regarded as a good catch on both sides of the fence, or so it would seem from the number of wealthy San Diegans who’ve endorsed him for mayor. 
Nathan Fletcher is the Great Gatsby of our time -- a fabricated man filled with longing and wild ambition but not quite who you think he is… was… wants to be...

Which brings us to the mystery of the week: why was Nathan Fletcher plucked from a pool of contenders by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, judged best in show, and adopted by the Qualcomm family? 

Fletcher is 
not an engineer, not a businessman, not the holder of specialized academic degrees.  Yet he's got a job at Qualcomm that pays him $400,000/year.  What makes him worth it?

Meanwhile, he’s running an all-out political campaign for mayor of San Diego on company time and the big boss is doing his darndest to catapult him into office.  How come?

When the downtown establishment throws its full faith and credit behind Kevin Faulconer, we know that they know what they expect to get from him.   Same goes for the Labor Council endorsement of David Alvarez.  But what in the world does Irwin Jacobs want and expect to get from San Diego’s next mayor, should it be Nathan Fletcher?  It's a mystery.

I have a hunch part of the answer lies in an arcane section of the San Diego City Charter, specifically Article VI - Board of Education.

Look back to 1931 – that’s when a manager-council form of government was codified in the San Diego City Charter.  Concurrently, the city’s school system (which then included kindergarten, elementary, secondary, evening, technical, and parental schools) was codified as Article VI.  It states: “The government of the San Diego School District shall be vested in a Board of Education, composed of five members who shall be elected at large by the electors of the School District at the same time as the members of the City Council.”

Between then and now there’ve been a number of minor amendments to Article VI -- one that narrowed the scope of the school district to kindergarten through secondary schools and others that adjusted salaries, terms of office, and timetables for electing new Board members.

Today, you'll still find election procedures for the 5-member Board of Education in Article VI of the City Charter and, as always, any changes to the Charter must be approved by San Diego voters.

Now think back three years when an (unsuccessful) attempt was made to amend Article VI.  The purpose was not to adjust salaries, terms of office, or election timetables but to make a significant change -- to increase the size of the School Board from 5 to 9 members by appointing 4 additional people to preside as Board members.  

These 4 would not be publicly elected.  Instead they would be chosen by a committee of Chamber of Commerce/ Economic Development business organizations, some university leaders, and a select group of parents.  We were told this change would "depoliticize" the School Board.

The two big funders of this proposed amendment were charter school proponent and 
wealthy businessman Rod Dammeyer and Qualcomm's Irwin Jacobs.  Notable boosters included organized advocates of the charter school movement.

What has this got to do with Nathan Fletcher's relationship to Qualcomm?  Might it be that Irwin Jacobs et al. have not given up on their plans to redesign the city school system in their own image? 
Is this why Fletcher has been parading his credentials as an educator?  Is Fletcher their political proxy?

Notice Fletcher’s frequent campaign remarks about school district education.  He lifts stock phrases from his Qualcomm-sponsored speeches: best practices… innovation... vocational training... the digital divide… technical curriculum for middle school and high school.  He calls for forming an independent educational foundation to guide public education.

Now notice Fletcher’s trumped-up credentials as an educator.  On January 1, 2013 Nathan Fletcher was appointed “Professor of Practice” in the political science department at UCSD.  Don't laugh.  He is the first-ever appointed practitioner of a newly-invented, no-academic-degree-required,
privately-funded position to teach part-time at the university, subject matter to be determined.  

And notice that while others in the academic jungle sweat and toil for years to attain the level of Professor, Fletcher was quietly ushered through a rear door to the top of the ivory tower -- his feet barely alighting on the red carpet linking Qualcomm headquarters to UCSD.  It's handy to have wealthy patrons in high places, even when they use you for their own purposes.

Nobody disputes the desirability of improving public education.
  The question to ask ourselves is: Is this a role for the mayor of a city 
facing unprecedented deficits and debt with no good remedies in sight? In a city that hasn't yet straightened out the kinks from our switch to a 'strong mayor' form of governance why would we want our mayor to take on the complex and challenging world of public education, as well?  Especially one who's so ill-equipped?

Might not San Diego's mayor contribute to the success of our school system through constructive collaboration with school board members, principals, parents, health officials, education experts, business interests, and others in this city who support public education.  Isn't it preferable to discourage private and political incursions into the city schools?  

What do we know about the mysterious Fletcher-Qualcomm connection?  We know that Fletcher’s status as beneficiary of Irwin Jacobs' largesse is a clue to the presumptive power behind the wished-for mayoral throne.  It reminds us that influential private individuals -- no matter how well-intentioned -- tend to feel free (even entitled) to use the democratic process to gain control of the public domain.  That might be okay with Fletcher – it's not with me.

We know that Fletcher’s concocted job in a classroom at UCSD doesn’t give him credibility for spearheading changes in our school system.  He may want you to think it does – it doesn’t. 

We know that Nathan Fletcher’s touted experience as a Marine has nothing to do with his capability or desirability to be San Diego’s new mayor.  He seems to think it does – I don’t.   

We know that we don’t know who Fletcher really is.  Within the span of 500 days he went from calling himself a Republican to an Independent to a Democrat.  He disavows his past voting record.  He says he's seen the light and now he answers to a different drummer.  He wants us to believe that an indeterminate chameleon with identity confusion would be a good choice for our next mayor -- I don't buy it.  

We know that using democratic means to achieve undemocratic ends is never a good idea.  People engaged in political subterfuge are not acting in the best interests of our collective future and should be sent packing -- I think you will agree.