Wednesday, October 12, 2005 |
Bolted to a sandstone wall along Tony Gwynn Drive at San Diego’s Petco Park stands a bronze plaque ignored by nearly every baseball fan that walks past it. The plaque celebrates a glimmer of jubilation in San Diego’s otherwise tarnished recent history. It reads as follows:
The City of San Diego
The plaque goes on to list many locally, and now – thanks to two prominent articles published this week in The Wall Street Journal – nationally known San Diego city leaders. The top three boxes on the plaque are of particular interest. Fifty percent of those elected officials, members of the city’s “Ballpark Project Team,” and former elected officials applauded by the plaque have been smeared by, at best, mismanagement of public funds and, at worst, full-scale corruption.
A breakdown of some of those listed:
Dick Murphy: Resigned after a little piece in Time magazine called him one of the worst mayors in the United States. Went home to take a shower – hasn’t gotten out yet.
Michael Zucchet: After Murphy started scrubbing, Councilman Zucchet ended up as mayor, but only for the morning of July 18, which happened to be the day a jury ruled him guilty of multiple counts of extortion, wire fraud and conspiracy. Fifth-graders who win essay contests asking why they want to serve as mayor for a day have more mayoral experience. Zucchet is up for sentencing in November.
Ralph Inzunza: Faces sentencing along with Zucchet for similar convictions. He now works as a job skills teacher for the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, though he shouldn’t get used to it. Like Murphy and Zucchet, the former councilman will receive monthly pension checks from the city, in or out of jail.
Charles Lewis: Would be facing a fate similar to those of Zucchet and Inzunza but for his death of liver failure in August 2004. At his swearing-in ceremony in 2002, Councilman Lewis vowed, “I will not make any deals that are not in the best interest of my community. Period.”
Michael T. Uberuaga: The former city manager left the city months after the pension deficit was announced in early 2004, providing ample cover for Murphy and the council to claim things would get better. Since leaving his job, as reported in the media in September, Uberuaga’s legal defense has thus far cost the city $105,000.
Casey Gwinn: The former city attorney, termed out of office in late 2004, was remarkably uninterested in the pension crisis. He delegated work with the council to deputies and personally focused on domestic and family violence. His passion for justice in domestic disputes is admirable, but he lacked leadership on anything “pension.”
Bruce Herring: The veteran city employee resigned from his job as deputy city manager in September after the City Council voted not to pay for his legal defense. The Union-Tribune reported in August that his Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) pension account gave him between $300,000 and $350,000 upon leaving the city. In addition, he will receive $144,000 annually in retirement pay. Herring was the city manager’s representative to the pension board when the underfunding began in 1996. The Chargers ticket guarantee was also a result of his negotiations.
Patricia Frazier: The deputy city manager in charge of financial management left the city in May. The 2004 Vinson & Elkins report on the city’s funding of the pension system and a Sept. 20 report by City Attorney Mike Aguirre conclude that Frazier could have done more to disclose inaccuracies in the city’s bond offerings to potential investors. Her legal defense has cost the city $61,000.
Ed Ryan: In January 2004, Ryan announced his resignation from his post as city auditor, 12 days before the city disclosed there had been errors and omissions in its bond offerings. The city has since paid $120,000 to cover his legal expenses.
Susan Golding: The former mayor floated the idea of reducing the city’s payments to the pension system in a 1994 memo, according to a June 20, 2004 story in the Union-Tribune. Golding was the lead cheerleader for having the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, which resulted in high costs to the city for additional police and other city services. The bill was later covered thanks to the pension underfunding. Golding also led the rallying behind the Chargers ticket guarantee in 1995 … more than $30 million later, that turned out to be a really, really bad idea.
Valerie Stallings: The former city councilwoman resigned in 2001 after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. She took a series of unreported gifts from Padres owner John Moores and was included in the 1999 initial public offering of a Moores-owned software company. Later, she sold her shares in the company – enjoying a profit of more than $9,000 – immediately after speaking with Moores personally.
Byron Wear: The former city councilman has the unglamorous distinction of being the first councilmember punished by the city’s Ethics Commission. He was fined by the commission for his actions during his short-lived campaign for mayor in 2000. In 2004, he admitted to a second ethics violation for accepting – but not reporting – a loan, a violation of the state Political Reform Act.
Although most – if not all – of the elected and appointed officials listed above had no intention of maliciously defrauding the city of honest government, all of them made decisions that have led San Diego to the point of being referred to as a “Lost City” on the cover of Monday’s Wall Street Journal.
With leaders of the city vanishing at a rapid pace, this plaque serves as a piercing reminder that the city of San Diego demands leadership. Regardless of the outcome of the elections for mayor and council in November, whoever ends up serving must be aware that monumental problems can arise at any moment … as the result of even the most innocuous, seemingly innocent non-agenda items docketed before council.
The Padres were swept last week in the National League playoffs. While San Diegans can accept losing baseball games, the city of San Diego cannot afford another sweeping of its leadership.
Ramsey Green, a native San Diegan, is a graduate student at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He is working on a project to increase accountability within the Philadelphia School District. Reach him at