Thursday, July 07, 2005 | In the first of an anticipated series of legal actions designed to repair the city of San Diego’s deficit-laden pension system, City Attorney Mike Aguirre announced the filing of a lawsuit Thursday against eight current and former city officials.

The suit seeks to repeal pension benefits granted to city employees in 1996 and 2002 on grounds that officials central to their creation misused their official positions for personal gain as part of a scheme that has led to a multibillion pension deficit that jeopardizes city finances, Aguirre said.

“The quality of life in San Diego will suffer for an entire generation” if strong measures aren’t taken to combat the pension burden, Aguirre said.

The pension deficit is at least $1.37 billion, although Aguirre and others believe $1.7 billion is a more realistic figure because of accounting methods currently used by the pension system. The deficit, as well as the city’s annual payments into the pension system, is estimated to grow in the coming year.

The suit alleges the following officials violated the state Political Reform Act of 1974 through their actions in the creation of Manager’s Proposal 1 and Manager’s Proposal 2: Lawrence Grissom, retirement administrator; Ron Saathoff, president of the firefighters’ union; John Torres, a fingerprint analyst; Sharon Wilkinson, a management analyst; Terri Webster, former assistant auditor; Cathy Lexin, former human resources director; Bruce Herring, deputy city manager; and Loraine Chapin, lead counsel to the retirement system.

Saathoff, Torres, Wilkinson, Webster and Lexin were charged with felony conflict-of-interest charges in May by the District Attorney’s Office. All are former pension board members save Torres, who currently sits as a pension trustee.

The MP1 and MP2 deals allowed the city to pay less than annually recommended into its pension system while granting employees enhanced benefits. Aguirre said the eight officials were chosen because they were central to both the 1996 and the 2002 deals.

The Political Reform Act calls for public officials influencing decisions in which they have a personal stake to disclose their financial interests or be disqualified from acting.

– ANDREW DONOHUE, Voice Political Writer

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