Friday, October 5, 2012

Civility? we don’t need no stinkin’ civility

Remember when One Book, One San Diego was touted as a way to create community and pull all San Diegans together?  Now there’s a new communal project being broadcast over the airwaves, via editorial essays, and at public forums. The latest rage is called CIVILITY.

In San Diego we all know what civility means: play nice, be polite, don’t get hot under the collar about political issues, no matter how important.  Have strong feelings about the world around you?  Keep them to a whisper.  Better still, just keep your mouth shut.

At the risk of sounding uncivil, I’m going to come right out and tell you this: Mayor Jerry Sanders has betrayed the public.  How? by refusing to separate the communal public agenda from the private financial agendas of the people who brought him to power – the heavy-hitting fraternity of property developers, hoteliers, bankers, sports team owners, and financiers who took up residence in the mayor’s office 7 years ago and should have been evicted.  He never showed them the door. 

At the risk of sounding doubly uncivil I’ll tell you this: by climbing into bed with Carl DeMaio's campaign and supporters, our avuncular Mayor Sanders revealed one of  his least endearing charms – the broken ethical/moral compass he uses to justify a long history of political ineptitude, questionable judgment, and cover-ups.

Before we pursue this subject further, let’s take two steps backwards for some pertinent information about our city and mayor.

Before Jerry Sanders took office as the 30th (give or take) mayor of San Diego, our city was governed by a 9-member city council -- 8 council members plus the mayor.  Under that system the mayor was the leading member of the council but had only a single vote.  (Remember these former mayors? Dick Murphy, Susan Golding, Maureen O’Connor, Roger Hedgecock, Pete Wilson, Frank Curran – they all served as mayor under the previous ‘city manager’ system.)

 Under the old ‘city manager’ system a professional City Manager was appointed by the mayor and council to run day-to-day operations, oversee city departments, develop an annual budget, and be the city's all-around factotum.  During those days the city often scored high points in the category of efficiency and good management.

 In 2005 the city of San Diego switched to a ‘strong mayor’ system.   Under our new system the mayor is the city’s chief executive.  He no longer interfaces with the public at weekly meetings of the city council.  He no longer votes openly on city matters, but he does have a powerful veto (which can be overridden only with a ⅔ vote of the city council).  Under the new system the 'strong mayor' is the titular head of city departments, controls the flow of city information, and puts together the city budget.

Jerry Sanders is the first mayor to operate under the new 'strong mayor' form of government.  The way the fable is told, the buck stops at the ‘strong mayor' door.  But it hasn’t worked that way.  During his past 7 years in office, Mayor Sanders conducted the public's business through private deals behind the closed door of his city hall office – well out of reach of constituents who come down to city hall to air their concerns... well out of reach of ordinary residents whose points of view have been -- uncivilly -- ignored.

In an equally destructive abuse of mayoral power, Sanders also ignored his responsibility to ensure honest and effective management of city business.  Instead, he surrounded himself with political operatives and flushed good city management down our faulty city drains by:

  • not knowing or caring enough to get a competent, professional city manager to oversee the city’s complex inner workings
  • looking the other way as the city’s day-to-day operations and city services fell into disarray from inadequate oversight of city departments, contracts, personnel, projects, and performance standards
  • deceiving the public with spurious budgets and fiscal forecasts to whitewash San Diego’s invasive financial and structural problems and keep downtown developers in business

So why did Jerry Sanders endorse Carl DeMaio? Is it because:
a) the mayor likes the councilman’s personality?
b) he believes DeMaio would do a better job as mayor than Bob Filner?
c) he approves of the dubious personal baggage DeMaio will lug into city hall?
d) he depends on DeMaio’s mastery of the art of falsification, prevarication, deception, and amoral glibness to protect his own failures during two terms as mayor?

Yes, you’re right.  It's d.

In exchange for the mayor’s endorsement of DeMaio, DeMaio will protect the mayor’s reputation by hiding the fact that Sanders is leaving the city in abysmal shape, worse than when he first took the oath of office.  DeMaio will guarantee safe passage for self-serving downtown power players and provide them with exclusive rights to occupy city hall.  Was this pact made in heaven or made with the devil? -- you decide. 

Back to civility.  If civility means a sweet smile while you repeatedly lie to the public… if civility means an amiable grin while you’re bullying your compatriots… if civility means fabricating facts to win at any cost... if civility looks like the calculating stage mask pasted on Carl DeMaio’s public face – you can count me out.

But when civility means saying what you mean and meaning what you say… respect for the public process and for tried and true good government principles… promoting public agendas over private agendas… electing a BETTER mayor to replace Jerry Sanders, not the incalculably worse one he cynically endorsed -- you know can count me in.