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Monday, April 10, 2006 | Last Thursday, most every political reporter in town along with a gaggle of folks friendly to Mayor Jerry Sanders packed into Channel 10’s studios for a special meeting of the Catfish Club, wherein Sanders and his chief financial officer promised a show about the new budget they’re unveiling this week.

They handed out a sheet to reporters that had a really interesting sentence in it:

“San Diego’s problems have less to do with a fiscal crisis and more to do with the integrity of the previous administration, the budget and financial games that were played and the serious lack of disclosure to the financial markets.”

In other words, “everything’s fine because we’re honest.” Notice the bold parts of the mayor’s sentence. I didn’t add the emphasis, somebody in the mayor’s staff thought it was important to highlight that section.

There was more. Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone painted a rosy picture of the city’s financial position. Everything was fine. The problems with San Diego were in perception and media coverage, not, you know, a lack of money. All this doom and gloom, he said, was just “background noise” messing with the truth.

Proof? Well, Goldstone says he talked to the credit rating agencies and one of them – one that hasn’t suspended the city’s credit altogether – holds a positive view of San Diego finances.

The crack team at Scott Lewis on Politics, or SLOP , has spent the weekend deconstructing these statements and here’s what we’ve come up with:

What a joke.

Why did Dick Murphy have to resign as mayor? This is the same thing he used to say. Note the bold parts of Sanders’ statement: San Diego’s problems have less to do with a fiscal crisis and more to do with the integrity of the previous administration.

If using this new spin – that there is no fiscal crisis at City Hall – is really the mayor’s solution to solving the fiscal crisis at City Hall, then how, exactly, is he acting different than Murphy, the man he castigated for months as the embodiment of everything that was wrong?

Well, there’s this: Sunday, he spun back – almost all the way around. “By any definition, San Diego City government is in the middle of a fiscal and managerial crisis.”

Howzat?

Which is it? Financial crisis or no? Is everything fine as Goldstone said? Or is it how fire Chief Jeff Bowman described it when he abruptly resigned over budget concerns this week?

In the years when city officials seemed to only reveal bad news when it was impossible to do anything but – a time we maybe had naively assumed had passed – Bowman was remarkably candid about the woefully inadequate preparedness of the fire department.

With the Cedar Fire now apparently ancient history, the city is nowhere near where it needs to be to protect residents from any kind of disaster, Bowman and his aides have said.

Bowman said a friend of his expressed his thoughts accurately:

The friend told Bowman this: “It’s almost like you were an architect helping somebody build a home and the homebuilder unfortunately ran out of money and couldn’t put your plan in place.”

And Bowman summed it up: “It’s no secret to anybody here today or in this city that we have financial problems,” he said.

Sanders hired Goldstone, the CFO, because of his vast expertise in municipal bonding and creative financing. He’s not letting anyone down. Sunday he revealed that the reason things are so peachy is that the mayor plans to make the annual payment to its pension system with a loan from Wall Street.

Every year, of course, the city – and therefore taxpayers – are required to make a payment into the pension system. It’s how big this payment has grown to be that is causing a big chunk of the city’s problems.

Goldstone unveiled a plan Sunday to make the payment with a loan. In other words, it’s as if the city had massive credit card debt and the minimum monthly payment is due. Instead of, you know, paying it. Goldstone wants the city to go to the local strip mall loan shark and ask for enough money to make the minimum payment. That way it can save the money for now and make everything peachy for another year.

Fire Chief Bowman said the other day that he’s been getting headaches every workday for the last few weeks.

No kidding.

Scott Lewis oversees voiceofsandiego.org’s commentary section. Please contact him directly at

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