Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Let’s disagree, agree, disagree and then agree to disagree. The Aguirre-Murphy saga press-conferenced itself back into daily life again Thursday as a humbled City Attorney Mike Aguirre suggested that his tactics perhaps were a bit harsh the past few weeks. He called on Mayor Dick Murphy to hold public hearings next Thursday and Friday to discuss the differing financial reparation proposals commissioned by the two clashing crews of city leadership. “We need to have a solid, robust discussion,” Aguirre said.
In his self-reflection, he cited a Thursday editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune calling for cooperation between the two sides – something that’s been suggested for a while now from the likes of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Fitch Ratings, the credit rating house.
Murphy did a little less soul searching: “I will consider Mr. Aguirre’s request.” That was his only response, given through a spokesman.
Since his first days in office, Aguirre has stirred up trouble with the mayor and many City Council members. Things came to a head two weeks ago when his investigative report accused the Mayor and several council members of breaking federal securities laws by failing to disclose the city’s negative financial information. After Aguirre had muckraked his colleagues to the bone, it appeared the two sides had united last week when agreeing on a labor salary freeze and the hiring of an accounting expert to lubricate a dried-up fiscal year 2003 audit. Then, on Tuesday, Aguirre hit again with his own financial plan and several jabs at Murphy’s leadership, to which Murphy later called Aguirre a “rookie” and told him to play with the team or plant his bootie on the bench.
Conflict can actually be quite healthy. Some amount of conflict probably would’ve been nice in 2002, when the lack of any real critical thinking, fierce debating, tough questioning or even public discussion allowed a wobbling pension plan to become unhinged. But it appears things have become too personal to be productive between the only two public officials elected citywide.
In fact, when the two recently gave speeches to the chamber, Aguirre was ushered out and Murphy ushered in at different times to avoid the boxing match partially advocated for earlier this week in the e-pages of Voice of San Diego.
At this point, even reasonable ideas are being dismissed out of hand because of who they come from, and it was apparent that the package Aguirre put together as his fiscal roadmap would be unacceptable to the mayor from the start. Its first recommendation required that the mayor and council conditionally accept his damning investigation – a report Murphy has called “untrue,” although he has yet to detail the falsities.
Aguirre’s personality befits confrontation. But while he said he’s not backing down from the substance of his reports, he is rethinking his style. “I recognize that my actions and statements have contributed to the relationship, but I have been discharging my duties as I believe the charter requires,” Aguirre wrote in a letter to the mayor and council.
His proposal also comes the day after an injunction filed against him by the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System contained testimony from a former senior deputy city manager, Jim Chapin, accusing Aguirre of firing him after not pressuring his wife, Lori Chapin, to step down as the pension board’s attorney.
Should we go with the ‘Murphy’s law’ or the ‘bubble’ pun? Meanwhile, it’s back to the courtroom for Murphy’s legal team, as supporters of City Councilwoman Donna Frye filed their expected appeal to overturn last November’s mayoral election. More than 5,000 voters failed to shade in the bubble after writing in Frye’s name; this figure proved to be enough to hand Murphy a 2,000-vote margin of victory. Earlier this month, a Superior Court judge upheld voting officials’ actions not to count the votes, saying that state law trumped local law in the election.
Attorneys for the voters argue that election officials filled in the bubbles for partial votes for Murphy and candidate Ron Roberts so that optical scanners would read them. They also say that voter intent needs to truly be measured, especially in a case where machines weren’t scanning the ballots anyway; humans were doing the tally because of the nature of a write-in candidacy.
A ruling on the case isn’t expected for months. And if the appeal prevails, there are reportedly other suits waiting in the wings to challenge the legitimacy of Frye’s write-in candidacy. And then if a recall of Murphy goes through as planned… well… uh…
So, anyways. Let’s talk about less complex things, like the city’s budget. An update of the city’s fiscal year 2005 budget put out by City Manager Lamont Ewell shows that the city’s got about $26.5 million more expenses than it thought it would at this point. It also has about $16.1 more in revenues, meaning that the city’s $10.4 million dollars short.
To cope with the gap, Ewell’s instituted a “budget savings plan.” He’s asking everybody but the police and fire crowd to trim five percent from their budgets. That’s being done, he said, by not filling some vacant positions, trimming back travel and holding off on capital outlay purchases for future projects.
“Every year we encounter extra expenditures,” Ewell said. Some of the extra expenditures include $5.6 million for outside hired help for the city’s delayed audits and ongoing federal investigations. Extra overtime in police and fire also contributed to the extra costs, as was the case with police last year as well.
Oh, blow it out yer whistle! Mayor Murphy said he hasn’t spoken with pension whistleblower Diann Shipione about being one of his seven nominations to the new pension board set to take office April 1, and sources say he likely won’t. In Nov. 2002, she sternly warned the council of the dangers and possible misdeeds involved in the now-famous Manager’s Proposal II that was passed by the now-regretful council. And it’s likely the true depth of the pension hole still wouldn’t be public without her. In an interview, Murphy said: “No final decisions have been made. We are still screening candidates.” He wants to have nominations to the council by mid-March.
Even if the mayor were to come calling, Shipione’s not too hot on the idea. She doesn’t see big change coming with the new nominees anyway. “Right now, the way the system’s working, it’s not a pension system. It’s pension scam,” she said.
— Andrew Donohue, Voice Political Writer
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