The Morning Report
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Two weeks ago the mayor’s office requested the council to “trust” the numbers coming out of his office and agree to “vouch” for and “approve” them to the public markets on their own. The U-T Ed Board weighed in (surprise) supporting this “blind trust” approach as a “demonstrate[ion] to Wall Street.” But, by the middle of this past week, the U-T reported that the last round of numbers from the Mayor’s office were, in fact, short about $700 Million Dollars . If the council had “vouched” when the idea was first raised two weeks ago, they’d have already hit responsibility for these errant figures over which they have absolutely no control. The council will vote on this “vouch-ing” idea on the 16th of this month.
Just a Technicality:The city’s understated numbers, this time, were: retiree health care liabilities were understated by an additional $402 Million; and retiree pension deficit liabilities were understated by an additional $370 Million. Total City deficits for those two items alone now stands (at least for the moment) at $2.42 Billion Dollars.
Missed The Bus: The week began Monday with a U-T editorial instructing Mayor Sanders, Councilman Faulconer, City Attorney Aguirre, and others, regarding what the SEC should get at a big negotiating session with the SEC in Washington, D.C. on that day. The U-T wanted a 3 year “Monitor,” naming names of wrong doers, etc. Well, it turns out nobody was anywhere near Washington, D.C. on that Monday because the negotiations had already been concluded. (The resulting agreement would be heard by the council on Thursday.) The U-T Ed board, which previously had access to secret and confidential SEC agreement drafts from a confidential “City Hall source,” described this set of events as “a perilous conspiracy of secrecy…”
There’s Always Hope: One of the areas of noted accomplishment for this city is its sophistication at moving numbers around when nobody’s looking. Over the past couple of weeks there have been a number of revealing articles about the city’s new Independent Budget Analyst, Andrea Tevlin. Her marks are uniformly positive. The City Attorney, Mayor’s Office and City Council all acknowledge her value in keeping the “numbers” issues from sliding under the mat. Her recently issued report debunks the always promised, never proven, value of the mayor’s government streamlining plan, confirming that it generates little money which won’t even be realized for many years. Recently, Tevlin advised the council that the Mayor’s Office had made “budget changes unilaterally without bringing it to the Council” in two areas where the council had specifically budgeted monies for specific purposes: one to teach less privileged kids how to swim; and the other, to fund a program that helps homeless adults by paying them hourly to do community clean up (so maybe they can pay the tickets they get for sleeping in public. Both programs were quietly slashed by the Mayor’s Office. Tevlin threw a flag to the council. Didn’t change the result – the kids won’t learn to swim and the homeless are (even more) broke. But, just knowing about this stuff is helpful.
A Hole In The Sky: There are way too few folks here that are willing (able) to engage on the tough issues. That goes double (triple) in the media. Way too much emphasis on happy talk and fluff. It’s OK if everything is great, but c’mon, this is Pottersville. It needs the help. Among the real good ones of late was Thom Jensen of Channel 10. Smart, regular guy. Lives on the same planet as the rest of us. Willing to tell the stories that mattered. Apparently, got sideways with the MEA big time as described in CityBeat. Did Channel 10 proud and made them a player in investigative reporting. Tom leaves for Portland Oregon to do investigative reporting for the ABC affiliate up there. Big loss.
So, What Happened?: The city obviously got a deal with the SEC, at least in concept. The heraldic trumpets blew as the council moved ceremoniously into convention (in closed session) Thursday for the discussion and approval of the long awaited deal that would get the city back into the public markets. We all waited for the whiffs of white smoke to pour from the vent atop City Hall. Long time. People came out. Description of “hell on wheels” (?). Wha-happenned? I think the U-T should ask their “confidential source” inside City Hall, and let us all know.
“C” Is For Confusing: A voiceofsandiego.org item described the mayor’s efforts to rebut the growing argument against Prop C (which is intended to provide a way to out-source certain city services to private vendors) to the effect that if passed, the city could out source public safety jobs (police, fire, etc.) Prop C supporters sued the opponents who wrote exactly that in their ballot opposition piece, but the Superior Court let the opposition position stand. The mayor is now publicly pledging that he will not use the passage of Prop C to outsource public safety jobs even if the passage of the item would give him such power. And, he plans to put some clarifying language on the 2008 ballot if his 2006 measure passes. Couple of thoughts. I don’t know if the language of Prop C was just inexact, or whether it is now being re-thought in light of a potentially persuasive rebuttal. But, the fact is, the proposition is a change to the City Charter, and if passed, says what it says and is what it is. So, assurances that it won’t be used as it could be used are not very compelling. First, always remember a lawyers’ “little red truck” rule. That says the person on whom you personally depend to act reasonably when a contract (or Charter provision) says otherwise can always be hit by a little red truck, and you will be left with what the words say. Second, maybe I don’t get the distinction, but the city has for years “out-sourced” certain public safety jobs, and made a profit on them. On September 25th, the council was to have considered the “profit distribution” elements of its contract with and through San Diego Medical Services Enterprise, LLC, to provide EMT-Paramedic services in partnership with the Fire Department and Rural/Metro of San Diego, currently in its 7th year of operation. The item was pulled for later consideration. But at least in theory, the city has already decided to cross over that line and have certain safety services provided by outside sources with “profits” divided with the city. Maybe the Proposition should be read just as it is written.
Lucy Did It Again: On a final note, last Sunday was the always anticipated Peanuts strip where Lucy tries to convince Charlie Brown to “trust her” to hold the football while he runs up for a kick. Historically Lucy’s assurances that this time she will not pull the ball away, leaving Charlie Brown to kick only air and flop on his badunkadunk, have proved disappointing. This year’s strip had Lucy plea to Charlie that it would be a testament to his willingness to “trust” to believe in her this time, specifically because she had been so untrustworthy before, and this time she really won’t do it. He does. She pulls the ball away, again. He winds up on his fanny. She looks down on him and says prophetically, “see you next year.” There’s just something about that vignette that should be kept in mind.
– PAT SHEA