Thursday, April 20, 2006 | We’ve been dancing around this issue for quite a while.

But dance no more, we’re just going to come out and say it:

The mayor’s new Office of Ethics and Integrity has got to go. He has proposed that taxpayers fund the office at $1.17 million next year.

I know, we’ve been talking a lot lately about various budget items. But as the mayor and City Council begin to really dig into things, let’s get this one out of the way right now.

When the mayor first announced that he was hiring a new ethics czar a few months ago, the staff here at Scott Lewis on Politics, or SLOP™, broke the story about the “ethics orgy” that was in full swing at City Hall.

We complained then that the mayor was directing $150,000 of scarce taxpayer funds to the new ethics czar. We had no idea then that the position would actually spawn a whole new department of city government costing more than a million dollars. Never mind that we still don’t know exactly what that department will do.

And we’re not alone. Wednesday at City Council committee meeting, Councilman Jim Madaffer asked the mayor’s chief financial officer the question on everyone’s mind at City Hall.

“Will you at some point tell us what the new office of ethics does?” Madaffer asked.

Wait, hasn’t he checked out the cool new website?

The last thing a cash-strapped city government needs to do is get bigger. Drop this idea and drop it fast.

There are two things to say before we dig into this one.

– This does not and should not reflect any judgment on Jo Anne SawyerKnoll, the lawyer Sanders hired to run the new office. SawyerKnoll seems like a very qualified attorney, who would be a valuable advisor and asset to any city leader. I don’t know why she shouldn’t stay with the mayor in some capacity.

– This does not and should not reflect on SLOP™’s commitment to ethics at City Hall. We’re all about ethics. Go Ethics!

Are we clear for take off then? Good. There are better ways to spend $1.17 million this year. It’s very simple.

Contrary to Mr. Madaffer, I have spent some time on the office’s Web site. It’s a real treat. Lots of nice words and phrases pop up.

“Virtue accountability” is one of them.

“Virtue accountability” sounds a bit medieval doesn’t it?

It’s clear that the office is meant as kind of an uber-human resources branch. A sort of honor department meant to teach city employees how to act, how to make better decisions and how to rat out their colleagues who may be sleeping on the job.

There’s an “Ethics and Compliance Hotline” run by the office now that employees can ring up to report violations and wasteful practices. The staff here at SLOP™ is right now concocting a public records request to see what kind of reports that hotline has been getting. We’ll see how that goes.

It may very well be a worthwhile endeavor. I’m not in a position right now to judge whether it’s been a success. There’s no way to tell.

But it’s not the time to experiment with innovative personnel programs that cost so much.

Because of the bonanza of savings and new money the mayor has unveiled this year, there were very few departments that he recommended receive budget cuts and a lot more he recommended get more money.

One of those departments that will be fighting for funds, however, is the Ethics Commission. The mayor’s proposed budget delineated in a colossal advertisement in The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper, this weekend showed the Ethics Commission getting slapped down and cut by more than $134,000.

That cut, according to the Ethics Commission, is an error that the Mayor’s Office promises to correct. But the Ethics Commission could arguably use more money than last year. The commission conducted 75 investigations last year netting fines of more than $54,000.

What’s the point of having such strict laws regarding election laws and conflict-of-interest disclosures if there’s no mechanism to effectively enforce them? The commission could use a new investigator and another staff member to provide training of it’s own to candidates for office and public officials who quite easily can get lost in the maze of elections and lobbying laws.

It’s not fair and it’s not worthy to compare the budget of the Office of the Ethics and Integrity to that of the Ethics Commission.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Stacey Fulhorst said such a comparison is “not appropriate.” The two groups will do completely different things for the city.

That may be the case. But a lot of other programs – including the Ethics Commission – whose contribution to the city is proven could benefit from the money being directed to this strange new undefinable entity.

Sanders, a committed Republican, should know that government simply can’t solve all problems. If people haven’t learned to be ethical and they commit violations, let’s fire them, refer them to the proper authorities and save the taxpayers money.

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

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