I chuckled at a post by Scott Lewis suggesting that the city attorney listen to his advisors before he speaks out. Take it from me, being handled is no easy proposition.

Trial lawyers learn early that any offhand comment can be used against them. In one trial involving an accidental death at a landfill, the attorneys were asking potential jurors standard questions about their interests and background, to see if the people could be fair and impartial.

One guy was talking about his hobbies and said he spent most of his time watching “The Lion King” with his daughter. So when I stood up to address him some time later, I broke the ice by greeting him with: “Mr. Lopez, Hakuna Matata!” Zing! Huge courtroom laugh, the Judge is greatly amused and everyone loves me. But at closing argument weeks later, of course, the plaintiff’s lawyer points out that the deceased’s daughter will never get to watch “The Lion King” with her father, unlike normal people like you and me and Mr. Peters and Mr. Lopez. Double super zing! Huge silence; everyone loves the plaintiff. Is that Mr. Peters slouched down below the counsel table? (No, my client was not found liable, whew.)

Now that I’m in government, it’s the same way. You never know when an offhand comment will come back to haunt you. In a public meeting to gather information about a golf proposal, I asked, hey – would golfing be faster at Torrey Pines if everyone had to ride in a cart? If it were, we could make more rounds available to the players. The next day, I read that I had proposed mandatory golf carts. It was just a question, I protested, but I got slammed – e-mails, letters, phone calls. I tried to calm my friend Louis, but he still made me play golf with him at Torrey Pines to show how great it was to walk. OK, that wasn’t much of a punishment. (By the way, carts aren’t faster and I get it, so enough already.)

The blogging I did here recently was meant to be informal and relaxed, but that didn’t keep Scott Lewis from calling me out because my offhand discussion of fixing the pension was not a fully researched treatment of the issue. (Scott – what about the Corbett settlement – look out for your bunny.) And most people understand that reporters love the juiciest quotes, so any half-hour interview I do might produce a surprising report. Add this to my natural fear that I might utter a grammatical mistake on television, and I can be a pretty careful guy.

When we transitioned to the new form of government, the city budgeted a communications position for the City Council President because of all the calls we get looking for City Council reaction. For me, Pam Hardy handles the dozens of media interactions we have each day. Pam is articulate and works well with my staff and me. She also tries to tell me how to behave. Be relaxed, she says. Be funny, she says. Easy for her to say. I’m just working on not saying the snappy first things that come to my mind.

And isn’t that what Scott Lewis would want?

SCOTT PETERS

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