Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006 | Agnes Benson is the longest-serving member on the board of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. She began her service on June 30, 1997. It was supposed to end six years later, on May 25, 2003.

“It’s just a total abandonment of this neighborhood, in my view.”
– Kathleen MacLeod,
community activist

But Benson has remained on the board in the three and a half years since her term expired as the city of San Diego’s leadership has failed to appoint, or nominate, a successor.

She isn’t alone. The term of every member of the nine-member SEDC board, which oversees the redevelopment in southeast San Diego, is expired. Two have resigned, and the remaining seven have stayed on the board per city protocol, awaiting a replacement or formal reappointment.

The expired terms aren’t uncommon in a city that convenes boards and commissions to oversee or advise everything from senior issues and downtown redevelopment to relocation and zoning appeals.

The City Clerk’s roster of board and commission members shows a sizable group of past-due terms on any number of boards and advisory panels. But unlike many other groups, the SEDC board oversees an entity with a $25.8 million annual budget and has three members whose terms have been expired for at least two and a half years.

The appointment responsibilities fall to Mayor Jerry Sanders for the city’s boards and commissions, and because of the location of the redevelopment area, the council members from Districts 4 and 8 have also played a role in selecting the nominees.

Fred Sainz, Sanders spokesman, said the appointment process inherited by the mayor when he took office one year ago “was in a state of complete and total disrepair.”

He said the mayor focused on filling what he considered the most important posts first, citing appointments made to the Centre City Development Corp., the employees’ retirement system and the Planning Commission. “That’s not to say that SEDC is not important,” he said.

“This is a systemic issue,” Sainz said. “This is not just an SEDC issue.”

For example, four of the nine posts on the Qualcomm Stadium Advisory Board have expired within the last year. Similar expired terms show up on such outfits as the Board of Library Commissioners, the Human Relations Commission and the Community Forest Advisory Board. Commissions and boards generally have terms of two or three years, and those who serve are limited by City Council policy to serving only two terms.

A new batch of potential nominees has been submitted to the City Attorney’s Office, where they are undergoing background checks.

Councilman Tony Young, who represents District 4, where most of SEDC’s influence extends, said he originally expected the new nominees to be confirmed by the full City Council at the beginning of the month, before the council went on a month-long holiday recess. However, that date has now been pushed back until January, as City Attorney Mike Aguirre said his office continues vetting the nominees.

Young said he’s been working since the summer to get new appointments to the board. “I gave the names to the city attorney, literally, months ago,” he said.

The Mayor’s Office expects the nominations to go before council Jan. 9.

“It’s been taking way too long,” said Councilman Ben Hueso, who represents District 8. “What’s the delay?”

Hueso said he was concerned about how SEDC money was being invested in the community. “They definitely require some attention at this time. We need to scrutinize them more,” he said.

In October, a special report revealed that the organization had allowed the limits of its affordable housing program to be crossed, showing that homeowners had sold homes for outsized profits, a developer had sold homes at prices higher than authorized by the City Council, and an SEDC consultant who earned up to $50,000 a year from the agency had been awarded an affordable home. An investigation has been launched by the City Attorney’s Office and an audit undertaken by the Auditor’s Office.

Sanders has recently cited the city’s term-limit policy in his push to replace Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman above the objections of council members, organized labor and environmentalists. With three SEDC board members having already served two terms and two more resigned, the council would be replacing five of the nine board members at the January meeting.

However, it is also city policy not to replace more than one third of a board at a single time, Sainz said, leaving city leaders in a bit of a pickle.

Sainz said he believes the two policies can be reconciled and the Mayor’s Office has asked the city attorney for advice.

Critics say the expired terms demonstrate the overall neglect shown by city leaders toward the redevelopment corporation, which administers city tax funds to spur development in one of San Diego’s poorest neighborhoods.

“It’s just a total abandonment of this neighborhood, in my view,” said Kathleen MacLeod, a community activist.

Benson, the SEDC board member, said she had no idea her term had expired. She said she hadn’t been informed of the expiration by the City Clerk’s Office or about a possible reappointment by the Mayor’s Office. Benson has already served two full terms and the three and a half years that have passed since her last term expired would have constituted a full third term.

Board member Kathleen A. Garcia, whose term expired May 25, 2004, said she is just keeping the seat warm for her replacement.

“I got a letter saying, ‘Your term is up, and when a new appointment is made, it will be time for you to step down,’” she said.

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne finished her second term on the board in May and continues to sit on the board as its chairwoman. She said she knew nothing of the term limits imposed by City Council on its appointees, but that she understood that appointments to the SEDC board had taken a back seat to the city’s larger fiscal problems.

“We’re not as important as the pension and the deficit, and I understand that,” Whitehurst-Payne said.

– Staff writers Evan McLaughlin and Vladimir Kogan contributed to this report.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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