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Monday, July 18, 2005 | Shawn McMillan isn’t shy about his traits and experiences: After all they’re the same traits and experiences various so-called major candidates are touting day-after-day on the campaign trail.
McMillan is a business attorney who believes he can lead the city through a Chapter 9 financial restructuring, a lifelong San Diegan, a community volunteer, a political outsider, and the creator of an international business he and family members started at their kitchen table.
The 38-year-old’s confidence stems from his belief that he can make anything happen, as demonstrated from his various accomplishments – achieved at a relatively young age when compared to the election’s frontrunners. His proudest feat, however, isn’t related to the reasons he believes give him a reasonable shot at turning around the beleaguered city of San Diego, but rather is of a personal nature.
“Forty-two seconds flat,” said McMillan, the father of two, claiming that figure as his record time for changing a diaper. In addition to his quickness, McMillan also documents quantity. He changed a diaper 5,241 times for his first-born.
McMillan, who primarily resides in University City, said his diaper-changing days are a testament to the accountable and tireless ways that he feels have made him successful. He’s hoping San Diegans voting in next Tuesday’s election feel the same way about how their city should be run.
The city government, he argues, has doled out its decision-making power to public employee unions who have strained San Diego’s finances through irresponsible deals with the City Council to overstaff departments and overpay workers. McMillan said these deals are the genesis of the city’s fiscal woes, starting with the most talked-about issue this campaign, the $1.37 billion-plus deficit in the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System.
“How many guys does it take to paint a fire hydrant? They just did one in front of my house, so I can tell you: It takes four,” he said. “I can go to Home Depot, buy two cans of exterior spray paint and do it in an hour less. So why does it take four guys out there to do it? That’s an efficiency issue.”
McMillan, a Republican, contends that drastic changes to the city’s financial structure are paramount to cleaning up the current financial mess, which includes a suspended credit rating that bars San Diego from the municipal bond market, as well as several federal and local probes into the city’s books and political activities.
“There are two things you can do, and this is what I do in my life and my business, is that I’m efficient and effective,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good to go around jaw-boning about cutting middle management or selling city assets unless we make dramatic structural changes in the way that we actually do business.”
Those changes, he believes, are best attainable by filing under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, a solution most prominently supported by fellow candidate Pat Shea but derided as unnecessary or immoral by other candidates, union leaders and the city’s current elected officials.
“We’re in a great position right now to file: We still have assets, we still have potential revenue sources, we still have a lot of options,” he said. “If we get into Chapter 9 right now, we can decide whether to exercise those options, we have a lot of wiggle room, and we can get things cleared up.”
The longer San Diego waits to file, McMillan said, the fewer options the city has when seeking solutions to its obligations.
And while it appears that he’s on the same page as Shea – who has been featured in local debates and mainstream media as being one of the six frontrunners in an 11-candidate contest – when it comes to a short-term solution, McMillan believes his past profession as an international businessman give him a unique edge in boosting San Diego over the long haul.
McMillan, his brother and his father started several computer wholesale and retail companies in the 1980s, operating an organization that grossed about $70 million over 15 years before selling off the assets. McMillan later attended Western Sierra Law School in La Mesa, which set him up to practice law. But he recalls his experience running companies such as Hot Chip Computers – where much of his business was conducted in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mexico – in his ideas for city.
Building up San Diego as an international trade conduit between the United States and the emerging markets of Central America and Asia would lay the foundation for the city to receive a influx in business activity that would further the region’s economic sustainability. Hong Kong is a commercial powerhouse because it functions as the gateway to Western markets for China.
Enhancing the Unified Port of San Diego in the face of a transpacific shipping business that is estimated to double by 2020 while also upgrading the region’s transportation infrastructure would most likely allow the city to capture more revenue without raising taxes, he said.
In order for an ambitious project like that to take off, the city needs to be lead by a strong decisive leader, he said. McMillan’s associates know him as being motivated and serving.
“Shawn will make tough decisions and execute them,” said Joe Chou, who serves with McMillan on the local boards of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce and the Asian Business Association. “He’s a very good leader and he cares about San Diego.”
In addition to his financial plan, McMillan thinks the Mount Soledad Cross has “historical significance” and should stay on the local mountaintop; that immigrants crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border should be respected because they were motivated and brave enough to take the risk in the first place; and most importantly for him that the next mayor works for the city’s residents and not to please interests like unions and lobbyists that have been in power for too long.
McMillan’s campaign signs are easily spotted all over town, but he still has been excluded from several debates. So does he think he has a shot to succeed the resigned Mayor Dick Murphy, who officially stepped down Friday?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said. “All I know is that a young, pissed-off attorney is the last person you want to mess with.”
Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at