Wednesday, July 20, 2005 | The City Council Tuesday took aim at San Diego’s myriad political struggles, which have spanned years but hit a fevered pitch this week.

The six-member council resumed its business a day after the convictions of Councilmen Ralph Inzunza and Michael Zucchet – the supposed heir to the head chair after resigned Mayor Dick Murphy officially left office Friday. After several of his colleagues called on him to resign so his council seat could be more quickly filled, Zucchet stepped down Tuesday evening.

Both councilmen were automatically suspended from office after their convictions on conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion charges. While maintaining that he was wrongly found guilty in the so-called “Strippergate” case, Zucchet said it was in the best interest of his district and the city to leave.

“I believe that a special election to replace me should be consolidated with the already scheduled Nov. 8 statewide election,” he said in a teary-eyed press conference. “Stepping down now would allow that to happen.”

Inzunza did not address how he will handle his office’s vacancy as of press time.

Acting city clerk Joyce Lane said Tuesday that a Nov. 8 date, which will also be when the probable second leg of San Diego’s mayoral election would take place, is feasible for the primary contests as long as the seats were vacated by next Thursday. If Inzunza doesn’t resign on his own accord, his seat will be vacated if the council does not excuse his absences this week, City Attorney Mike Aguirre said.

At that point, the City Council could adopt an election ordinance at its Aug. 1 meeting and candidates would have until Aug. 12 to file papers in order to meet the county registrar’s deadline, she said. Former councilman and attorney Bruce Henderson said in a letter to supporters that he is considering running for the seat Zucchet most recently held.

As deputy mayor, Zucchet was set to chair the council until Murphy’s permanent successor, who will be elected either next Tuesday or on Nov. 8, took office. Councilwoman Toni Atkins was selected by the council to serve as acting mayor pro tem for this week, and a more permanent interim mayor will be chosen by the remaining council members Monday.

But the City Council isn’t the only public board in disarray at the moment. Three pension trustees stepped down last week, only months after being tapped by Murphy to turn around the city’s beleaguered retirement fund, which has a shortfall of at least $1.37 billion and has dominated debate in the current election season.

The three resigned board members said it was very difficult to serve on the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System board after Aguirre filed lawsuits earlier this month, one targeting benefits he believes were created illegally and another to place the embattled SDCERS into a receivership.

Council members unanimously agreed to engage the latter suit Tuesday, opening the door to a receivership by retaining a law firm to aid the council’s decision of whether to ask a court to appoint an individual or a firm to take over the board.

The city attorney’s first lawsuit 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 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.

Aguirre, who has been the longest advocate for a receiver among San Diego’s elected officials, said he saw the hiring of San Francisco-based Heller Ehrman LLP for $250,000 as “a very significant step” toward fighting the pension mess.

“The fact of the matter is that there has been no change in the administration of this pension plan and it’s clear that it has been grossly maladministered,” Aguirre said. “The board that (Murphy) put in there is totally ineffectual and the current staff is completely out of control.”

Some council members have been saying for weeks that they were considering receivership, while others have been much more ardent in their support.

“We need to understand what implications there are to receivership and whether it will address the things we need before we go ahead with it,” said Councilman Tony Young, who has been cautious since talk of receivership began getting serious months ago.

Judie Italiano, president of the 6,000-member Municipal Employees Association, said she was disappointed in the council’s decision and that it’s her understanding that a receiver cannot waive the attorney-client privilege that many believe is holding up KPMG’s audit of the city’s 2003 financial statements.

“I think they’re going to be real surprised,” said Italiano, who was accompanied by more than 50 city workers in the council chambers.

David Osias, a private attorney specializing in bankruptcy and receivership, disagrees. He said that receivership can be especially helpful to parties seeking a waiver of the attorney-client privilege, to get out of contracts that were improperly agreed to, and to pursue suits against professionals that gave bad advice.

Tuesday’s council meeting moved at a swift pace as Atkins enforced the council’s rules fairly strictly, even showing impatience for excessive clapping.

“I ask that you hold your applause so that we can get through the city’s business,” she told the gallery of onlookers.

The mayor pro tem said she thought Murphy’s famous one-clap rule was too much, instead encouraging audience members to inaudibly waive their hands in the air when agreeing with a speaker to save time.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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