Monday, March 07, 2005 | Sir William Gilbert wrote the satiric and preposterous lyrics for last century’s Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. What’s happening at City Hall these days is pure Sir William.

Strains from “The Pirates of Penzance” play in my mind when I read or hear of poor Dick Murphy. That operetta is about a quite silly and incomprehensible Major General and a bunch of pirates.

San Diego government has broken loose from its moorings and gone adrift. It has become dysfunctional. It’s busy hiring defense lawyers with the millions we need instead to spend on people and potholes.

The only constructive solutions left to us are receivership or bankruptcy, either of which would bring in outside controllers.

The nightmare part is that we who voted in this government sit around watching, spellbound by the wreckage.

But stirrings begin. Several informal caucuses bring San Diegans together to seek repairs. Sanford Goodkin’s group, which has conferred over many months on city problems, exhibits signs of urgency and action. Malin Burnham, an aristocrat always in touch with City Hall and with the thinning “old guard,” abandons hope for Murphy’s management and confers with his business allies, who may feel remorse for having persuaded Murphy to seek reelection. They would create a task force that would advise the city if it would listen; and if it will not listen, advise the community what to do to protect the city and ourselves.

In time with this moment are those like Mickey Fredman, an effective former port commissioner and a continuing student of city government. Mickey calls friends urgently to join in clusters to counsel City Hall. He recruits even as he strides into gatherings like the rainy-day inauguration of UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

“We can’t sit around and watch,” he said. “We need a few dozen San Diegans to stick their necks out and make demands on City Hall. ”

I brought up Fredman’s chutzpah at the San Diego Zoo during a dinner meeting of a support group called Aardvarks. The steady-eyed faces here are those of men and women who have run San Diego organizations well for years. George Gildred, second-generation and solid as an oak, approved of Fredman’s plan as a “crying need” and said he would participate. Wherever such a plan is brought up, huddles of San Diego men and women agree they are ready to do what they can. “What they can” can soar with their numbers.

No one at City Hall will invite any citizen group in to view this mess. They already feel undressed by voyeurs from the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice. But it is important to civic self-respect to intervene before indictments come down, instead of waiting for that blow.

There’s no protocol for such a committee. When it has happened in other American cities (as it has in a dozen textbook cases during the past two decades), it has come from citizen reform groups bold enough to take existing evidence and publicly call for change and resignations.

We are all in no-man’s land when that happens. Our laws provide for recall. That can be extremely expensive. Timing is a factor. Who will move first: The law, or us citizens? If it is to be the law, we are tempted to spare our time and energy by waiting. The burden of being a political reformer can be seen in the eyes of Diann Shipione, my heroine of the year. Hatred grows in some minds for those who were right all along.

But those who step forward as citizens’ representatives to get our ship of state back on course can count on earnest and enthusiastic reporting by this new-wing media, the Voice of San Diego,

We are not selling anything, and you get it.

We are on the cusp of the evolution in news delivery, and you get it. We seem to be the first community Web site in America doing these things this way, and you share in our pride as out-of-town media begin to notice.

Our hope is that together we can unravel and heal the most horrific rift of government in this city’s history.

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