Saturday, July 16, 2005 | Exit stage right. About two dozen of Mayor Dick Murphy’s staff members huddled around their outgoing leader Friday as he wished them farewell on his last day on the job.

Murphy, who announced his resignation in April, addressed his employees one-by-one around the conference table, applauding each individual’s accomplishments and for being part of “the best mayoral staff in the history.”

“You were really more than that, you were family and friends,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey that we have been on for the last four and a half years.”

Murphy, who declined to take questions from the press during the final staff meeting of the Murphy administration, expressed his gratitude for his staff’s policy achievements, wardrobe advice, camaraderie and confidentiality.

“Please do not write a book,” Murphy told the members of his security detail.

Murphy concluded the meeting by relaying to the staff his favorite “Lord of the Rings” quote.

“The advice Gandolf gave to his friend Frodo is that ‘The only thing you have to decide is what to do with the time you’ve been given,’” Murphy said. “I’m grateful, we should be grateful, that the people of San Diego gave us this time to be mayor and to work in the mayor’s office.”

Read about Murphy’s resignation and his exit interview with Voice.

But what if …? Councilman Michael Zucchet will officially serve as acting mayor until San Diego’s voters elect a permanent replacement for the departing Murphy.

While Zucchet steps into the presiding officer position by virtue of holding the usually ceremonial title of deputy mayor, the jury deliberating the federal corruption charges levied against him and fellow councilman Ralph Inzunza have yet to reach a verdict.

Zucchet will be the acting mayor until one of the 11 candidates running for mayor wins a majority of the vote, either in July or November, but in the meantime a verdict spelling his fate will almost certainly be handed down. The council will have to appoint an acting deputy mayor in case Zucchet ends up on the wrong side of the jury’s decision.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre recommended Thursday they do just that when the City Council returns from its two-week legislative recess Monday, citing Robert’s Rules of Order, a procedural code the city uses when the city charter and municipal code are both devoid of an explanation.

Zucchet, who as acting mayor is in charge of placing items on council meeting agendas, has decided that the council will appoint an acting deputy mayor, but not next week.

Aguirre’s legal opinion did not arrive in time for the item to be placed on the full council docket, and the acting mayor wanted the council and public to have ample time before selecting a councilmember to the post, Zucchet spokeswoman Katie Keach said.

Still, Keach recently said that Zucchet was expecting the Strippergate verdict to have been reached before her boss presided over his first council meeting. If a ruling unfavorable to Zucchet were handed down and the acting mayor was forced to resign, the city commonly touted by mayoral candidates as being in a “leadership vacuum” would literally be just that.

So who, hypothetically, would take over?

Technically, until otherwise appointed, the acting deputy mayor title goes to Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who held the post before Zucchet’s appointment.

However, Aguirre concluded that, in the event that Zucchet is unable to perform his duty as acting mayor, Robert’s Rules of Order says the “secretary” – which Assistant City Clerk Joyce Lane believes is the Office of the City Clerk – will be the presiding officer long enough to conduct an election for Zucchet’s replacement by the City Council members. After being elected, that council member will resume the meeting as presiding officer.

Zucchet, Inzunza, council aide Dave Cowan and lobbyist Lance Malone were awaiting verdicts in a case alleging that the councilmen took bribes from a strip club owner in exchange for promises to repeal the city’s “no-touch” ordinance, which bans adult venue patrons from coming within six feet of topless dancers.

The jury had deliberated for three full days as of Friday.

The pensive board. The city attorney has asked the pension board to explain why the city’s books for May account for a payment to meet the underfunded system’s obligations.

“If this is true, please provide each and every writing that shows the recipients of these city funds,” states Aguirre’s letter, dated Thursday.

In his letter, Aguirre also informed the retirement board about one of the fund’s holdings, American International Group, Inc., known better as AIG. Aguirre referred the board to a recent lawsuit filed by the city of San Francisco’s employee retirement fund that challenges AIG on charges of “egregious business malfeasance and violations of federal securities laws under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.”

The city attorney asks if the pension system has sought similar legal action and advises the board members that he is the only attorney allowed to represent the retirement system.

Aguirre has been stressing that point of late, although the City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to authorize $500,000 for outside attorneys representing the defendants in civil suits filed by Aguirre who are pension board members or city employees.

Board of Defectors, parts V and VI. Pension trustees Susan Snow and Robert Wallace are the second and third members of the embattled board to step down this week and the fifth and sixth to remove themselves from the pension picture since the resigned Murphy made his original set of nominations in February.

Snow said a cross-complaint filed last week by Aguirre, in which she is listed as a defendant, put her job at risk. She serves as chief financial officer for Maxim Systems, Inc., a defense contractor that requires employees to have security clearances. The litigation jeopardized her clearance, Snow said.

Wallace, according to a wire report published Friday evening, left because of the “the litigious environment created by the current city attorney and district attorney.”

“I believe the only prudent move for me to protect myself and my family is to resign from the [San Diego City Employees’ Retirement Board],” said Wallace, a certified public accountant.

Aguirre filed two lawsuits against the system last week: The first lawsuit, filed last Thursday, accuses eight current and former SDCERS officials of abusing their duties by taking part in contracts that increased their own pension benefits, and the second, filed a day later, attempts to make a case for sending the pension system into a receivership. In a receivership, the court appoints an individual or firm to oversee a mismanaged entity.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed criminal conflict-of-interest charges against five former and one current pension trustees in May. Snow and Wallace weren’t on the board at the time the alleged crimes took place and are not named as defendants in the district attorney’s complaint.

The two latest defectors join Thomas King, the president and CEO of San Diego Community Bank, who resigned from the SDCERS board Tuesday; investment banker Ted Roth; Qualcomm Inc. co-founder Harvey White; and retired economics professor Robert Doede, all of whom were nominated by Murphy in February.

The agendas for next week’s City Council meetings do not include items related to nominees for the retirement board.

Former pension trustee Diann Shipione, the board’s original whistleblower who is married to mayoral candidate Pat Shea, announced this week she did not want to be placed back on the board, despite encouragement from several council members.

Snow said in her letter that she is not surprised.

“It is highly unlikely that the city will find any remaining well-qualified, independent professional to volunteer to sit on the SDCERS board,” she wrote.

– EVAN McLAUGHLIN, Voice Staff Writer

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