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OK. First: Donna Frye, along with the rest of the City Council that was around at the early part of this decade, needs to be held accountable for allowing fraudulent disclosures to be released about the city’s financial state.

But what the Union-Tribune‘s editorial board did today was maliciously off the mark. They somehow found a way to blast Frye for the very thing the Kroll report reveals as perhaps her most dignified action in the face of the disgusting culture of consensus that had developed at City Hall. And, with all the blame going around, the U-T bizarrely decided that it was her picture that needed to be highlighted in the editorial, which wouldn’t have been worthy of the most disingenuous of campaign mailers.

When the City Council in 2002 learned that it was illegally overcharging residents for their sewer services to the benefit of large industries, it did what was obvious to city leaders at that time: it covered it up.

Frye, however, voted against the cover up and made numerous attempts to get the information out to public – all the while mindful that the former city attorney was ready to prosecute anyone who dared share anything about what happened in the “confidential” closed sessions.

But the U-T today plastered Frye’s picture up in the middle of an editorial titled “Culture of secrecy.” Here’s the U-T:

In short, the council voted 7-2 to keep the illegal rate structure secret from the public and to do nothing to correct it. Murphy, Peters, Atkins, Madaffer and Maienschein voted with the majority. To their partial credit, council members Frye and George Stevens voted against the motion. But neither took action to inform the public about the illegality being perpetuated by the City Council.

The U-T‘s editorial board has spent so much time doting over the audit committee and the leaders of Kroll, you would think that the board would have read Kroll’s final report. If so they would have seen this:

The mayor and City Council deliberately concealed from its citizens both the City’s knowing violation of law and just as troubling, the fact that the violation resulted in San Diego’s residents largely footing the sewage bill of the industrial class. These facts were relegated to closed session discussion only, notwithstanding Councilmember Frye’s repeated efforts to bring the matters to the public’s attention.

And this, pointing out that she danced the line and tried to force the issue in public:

Councilmember Frye made efforts to have this issue brought to the public’s attention. … On May 14, 2002, in an open session meeting regarding the MWWD’s and Water Department’s budgets, Councilmember Frye asked the Mayor about the status of the sewer COSS and when it might be released to the public.

How did former Mayor Dick Murphy, respond to her? This is from his interview with Kroll.

Mayor Murphy speculated that he appeared silent during Councilmember Frye’s inquiry because he believed the City Manager was going to respond. When the City Manager did not answer Councilmember Frye’s question, Mayor Murphy had to “cover it up.”

Now, think as hard as you can and try to remember which one of these people the Union-Tribune endorsed in the 2004 mayoral campaign – long after Frye began boycotting closed sessions in a high-profile move to change the culture at City Hall.

Again, Frye has some questions to answer and the faulty disclosures she approved have helped rank San Diego among an elite group of fraudulent enterprises. But she did as much as anyone in the city to eliminate unnecessary closed sessions. And when the City Council pushed to hide the disastrous decision to gouge residents in favor of industries, she was a model of resistance.

SCOTT LEWIS

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