Monday, July 29, 2019

Winners and losers: the San Diego edition--Story #1

We know how it’s played at the Del Mar racetrack.  There are winners.  There are losers.  It’s a brutal ordeal for the horses but there's a hefty payoff in the offing for a certain percentage of track regulars

City politics has a lot in common with horse racing.   But while it takes years of selective breeding and training to produce a winning horse, a winning candidate can be created through selective inbreeding, deft maneuvering, and discrete fingers on the scale.  

To illustrate what this means in real time, consider the jarring juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated stories that appeared this month in the news--practically on the same day.  Read them separately and you get a hint of the embedded gentleman’s agreement that controls San Diego civic life. 

View them side by side and you begin to understand that to reform the flimflam politics and vacuous leadership that permeate daily life in America’s Finest City, we need to be more blunt about naming the embedded fixers and paying closer attention to their methods.

Today's story revisits the 1984 San Ysidro massacre.  Tomorrow's story revisits the Bob Filner trauma.

Yes, many of us remember that horrific day on July 18, 1984 when a single gunman had the luxury of spending one hour and 17 minutes in a shooting spree that killed 21 people (adults, teenagers, children, and an 8-month old baby) and wounded 17 others before he, himself, was killed by a San Diego Police sniper with a single shot to the chest.

There was a police review.  But many questions about the way the San Diego Police responded to this emergency went unanswered.  The overriding question--how come it took 77 minutes before a SWAT team sharpshooter was given permission to do his job?—managed to slip through the cracks.  

Who was the featured player in the San Ysidro story (second only to the psychopathic gunman)?  It was San Diego’s former mayor Jerry Sanders.

The official storyline goes something like this: on a sunny Sunday afternoon, while scores of San Ysidro residents were being terrorized by a lone and vicious gunman, the Commander of the San Diego SWAT team— Police Lieutenant Jerry Sanders----was relaxing over a beer (or two or three) at the beach in Mission Bay.  It was the end of a daylong Command Staff retreat.  The deputy police chief (Norm Stamper) approached Sanders to inform him about what was happening in San Ysidro.

The official story says that while Lieut. Sanders was enroute to San Ysidro and stuck in heavy rush hour traffic, he made the sober decision to deny permission to the police snipers--who were poised for action on the scene--to shoot the killer who was shooting customers trapped in McDonald's. 

The official story says that not until he arrived at the scene more than an agonizing hour after the shooting started did Sanders personally give the green light for his SWAT sniper to shoot and put an end to the horrific mass killing.  

The official story concludes with Sanders taking a road trip around the country to share with others his wisdom about this ordeal.  Summing up the lessons to be learned from this violent tragedy, Sanders offered his four keys to good leadership: 
  1. set the tone with a (cool, collected) demeanor
  2. give calm and direct orders
  3. take care of your team
  4. always rely on your people
➜➜➜➜A semi-official film documentary of the San Ysidro ordeal was created by Charlie Minn.  It's called  “77 Minutes.”   Watch this video.  It's well worth your time and attention.⬅⬅⬅⬅

The unofficial storyline goes something like this: Lieut. Sanders was most likely inebriated at the time of the shootings.  He was not carrying his beeper and was therefore unreachable at the onset of this emergency.  Twenty-five minutes of murderous activity and terror elapsed before the deputy police chief was able to locate him to give him the news.  

The unofficial story reports that SWAT team members were in attendance at the Command Staff retreat on Mission Bay.  They were unable to deploy their armored vehicle because it required two keys to operate it and, somehow, the backup key had been "misplaced."  

The story goes on to say that Lieut. Sanders scurried home to retrieve the key, don his uniform, and finally get on the road.   

The story also relates that—still enroute to San Ysidro--Lieut. Sanders reversed the order of a field commander already at the scene to let sharpshooters take down the murderous shooter.  It says that Lieut. Sanders chose to deny permission  to his field commander and wait until he, himself, could make his entrance at the scene and personally give the order. 

The official story informs us that--despite his impaired and supremely questionable judgment, and despite 13 subsequent refusals by the Police Department to promote him--Jerry Sanders was subsequently hand-picked in 1993 by city manager Jack McGrory (and confirmed by Mayor Susan Golding and the City Council) to be the city’s new Police Chief.

The story tells us that by 1999 Jerry Sanders was appointed President and CEO of the United Way.  In 2002 he was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Red Cross.  By 2005 he moved into the mayor’s seat.  After terming out as mayor he was awarded the position of President and CEO of the SD Regional Chamber of Commerce, a post he still holds.  

It’s a quintessential San Diego story of how a less-than-ordinary, establishment-protected good old boy--a regular guy who knows how to set the tone and take good care of his team--gets passed off as a thoroughbred and wrapped in cotton batting to keep him cozy and secure in his waning years.  

But don’t be lulled into thinking that the protected status of Jerry Sanders is a one-of-a-kind shaggy dog story.  

There’s much to be written about how other anointed, favored, protected, less-than-ordinary good old boys make it big in San Diego.  Just take a clear-eyed look at current mayor Kevin Faulconer--the Sanders heir and protege.  

And try not to be too starry-eyed about another anointed, protected, favored guy currently chomping at the bit--mayoral hopeful Todd Gloria.  He's a different type of pony, maybe, but he's been brought to you the same old San Diego way, via: selective inbreeding, deft maneuvering, and discrete fingers on the scale.

The official San Ysidro story has no bright ending.  All these years later and there've been no satisfactory or substantive changes to citizen oversight of Police practices and performance.  It's still under discussion at City Hall. 

(see Story #2, next...)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Five easy questions

Question #1: Ever wonder what an auditor does?

I was introduced to the term auditor at an early age. “If anyone asks you what your father does for a living,” my mother instructed, “just say he’s an auditor.”  Many years would pass before I figured out that auditor was more than a code word for daddies who ran numbers and booked bets.  

Auditors could also be professionals in public and private institutions who assessed financial documents and business transactions for accuracy and legal compliance.   Numbers runners, yes, but respectable.

A decade ago, Eduardo Luna was hired as San Diego’s City Auditor. He had the training, experience, and commitment to  public service to withstand political pressure while running the office of City Auditor “to advance open and accountable government through accurate, independent, and objective audits and investigations that seek to improve the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of San Diego City government.” 

Eduardo Luna’s prescribed ten-year term in office recently expired.  But before he moved on I got a first hand look at how an independent, ethical public auditor pursues the job of exposing fraud, waste, and malfeasance within city government.  

This summer, a new City Auditor will be appointed.  Under City Charter provisions the mayor selects the City Auditor for a ten-year term, subject to City Council approval.

Question #2: Who remembers the Kroll Report?

Once upon a time our city was in such deep financial and ethical trouble we were branded Enron-by-the-Sea.

Back then, former mayor Susan Golding--deftly assisted by former city manager Jack McGrory and Golding’s chief of staff Kris Michell (currently recycled as San Diego's chief operating officer under mayor Kevin Faulconer)--had managed to suck the city coffers dry while hosting the 1996 Republican National Convention.  

With loyal help from then-city auditor Ed Ryan, officials engaged in cooking the books and padding the budget through disastrous agreements with municipal union leaders to underfund the city’s pension system while simultaneously amping up pension benefits.  With nary a peep from the city auditor, San Diego's future was put up as collateral.  

The enormity of ongoing financial mismanagement and falsified financial statements and disclosures eventually hit the fan.  By 2004 investigations were initiated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, US Attorney’s Office, and San Diego District Attorney.  

Finally, the City Council got on the ball and retained Kroll, Inc., a governmental risk management firm, to conduct an independent investigation. 

The resultant 400-page, $20 million Kroll Report excoriated San Diego politicians and upper management for financial dishonesty, securities fraud, gross lack of accountability, egregious cover-ups, non-transparency, obfuscation, and denial of fiscal reality.

According to the San Diego Business Journal: "dozens of local officials and municipal employees put their own welfare ahead of the taxpayer for close to a decade, then tried to keep the lid on their wrongdoing…the evidence demonstrates not mere negligence, but deliberate disregard for the law, disregard for fiduciary responsibility and disregard for the financial welfare of the city's residents over an extended period of time…"  

The newspaper editorial ruefully added that "we here in America's Finest City just shrug our shoulders and mumble that it's business as usual." Of course, it takes coordinated teamwork to maintain business as usual.

Question #3: Anyone here look familiar?

The Kroll Report called out many city officials for being “negligent in the fulfillment of their duties” and for “recklessly or intentionally allowing the city to issue false reports regarding its true fiscal health,” including:
  • Previous councilmember Ralph Inzunza (now writing his 2nd semi-autobiographical novel)
  • Previous councilmember George Stevens (died in 2006)
  • Previous councilmember Byron Wear (now a land use/transportation consultant)
  • Then-sitting mayor Dick Murphy (now retired. “You can delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility,” he once declared)
  • Previous councilmember Scott Peters (now US Congressman)
  • Previous councilmember Toni Atkins (now California State Senator)
  • Previous councilmember Jim Madaffer (now public policy consultant and SD County Water Authority Board chairman)
  • Previous councilmember Brian Maienschein (now California State Assemblyman and latest SD convert from Republican to Democrat) 
  • Past city manager Mike Uberuaga (now ??) 
  • Past city manager Jack McGrory (now CEO real estate/investment LLC and California State University Board of Trustees)
  • Past city attorney Casey Gwinn (now CEO San Diego County YWCA, President National Family Justice Center Alliance)
  • Previous city auditor/controller Ed Ryan (now??) 
  • And previous councilmember Donna Frye—but note that she was the sole official in the entire bunch to have publicly protested and decried city malfeasance (now president emerita of CalAware)
  •  Also named were a former deputy city manager, city treasurer, assistant auditor, retirement administrator, utilities finance administrator, wastewater deputy director, deputy city attorney, and assistant city attorney 
Question #4: Things have changed since the bad old days, haven’t they?  

In 2007 the city was halfway through a 5-year trial period of our switch to a “strong-mayor” form of government, a magic potion sold to San Diego voters guaranteeing political transparency, crystal-clear government accountability, and knowing precisely where the buck stops in city government. 

With mayor Jerry Sanders occupying the catbird seat a Charter Review Committee was convened to tie up loose ends about substantive issues, like: 
...when was the right time to add a 9th city council district? many council votes should be required to override the mayor’s veto?
...was it a good idea for the city’s chief operating officer to be a mayoral (i.e., political) appointee? 
...should the city auditor be elected by the voters (to maximize workplace independence) rather than appointed by the mayor (the person in charge of the departments the city auditor would investigate)? 

The committee resolved these questions, but not necessarily wisely:
...Our city council now hosts a 9-member array of colorful personalities and political persuasion.  
...Despite a Democratic super-majority, council overrides of mayoral vetoes remain rare.  
...The city's COO, appointed and answerable to the mayor, is currently a well-oiled, longtime political insider.  
 ...As for the city auditor—despite the pretense of an expensive national search for the most talented candidate to fill the vacancy, the mayor selected a team-playing San Diego insider, well-versed in the don’t-upset-the-applecart rules of the old guard game. 
In other words, our first and only independent city auditor steps out the door, only to be replaced by a throwback to the bad old days of yesteryear.

Question #5: Now what?

Kevin Falconer will be out of office soon enough.  But it's a grave mistake to assume that the private interests controlling this mayor will walk away when he's gone.  Mayoral candidate Todd Gloria is already in the bag.  Candidate Barbara Bry has yet to soar on her fledgling independent wings.  

One thing's for sure: installing a proxy city auditor means controlling the city’s system of checks and balances for the next ten years. 

This isn't a political party issue.  This isn't a conservative versus progressive standoff.  It’s a question of protecting the public purse and creating and maintaining honesty and integrity in city government. 

On Wednesday of this week, the city’s audit committee will meet and review Faulconer’s choice for city auditor.  Eventually, the city council will vote to confirm (or not) the mayor's hand-picked choice.  We’ll soon find out where our elected councilmembers stand on issues of good government, public integrity, and city reform.