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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | An Ethical Ron-dezvous

An idea county Supervisor Ron Roberts floated during his bid for San Diego mayor in 2000 has come back to cost him.

The city’s Ethics Commission, which Roberts said could be an internal government watchdog, was adopted by former Mayor Dick Murphy once he took office. On Thursday, the commission fined Roberts $15,000 for failing to make sure financial contributors to his 2004 mayoral campaign disclosed their correct profession in election filings. The Ethics Commission discovered that 30 individuals who donated to Roberts’ campaign listed that they were “retired” or a “homemaker” in fact had other occupations.

Also on Thursday, the commission approved fines for two city employees who were mixed up in the San Diego Data Processing Corp. scandal, as well as the campaign committee that supported this summer’s ballot initiative to transfer the Mount Soledad Cross to the federal government.

Former DPC President Roger Talamantez was fined $500 for compelling a subordinate employee to request a city council member to underground utility lines in his district. Deputy City Manager Ray Arellano was also charged a $500 fine for not reporting gifts he received from the DPC.

San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial, the committee campaigning for Proposition A in July, were fined $1,000 for using a font size that was too small to disclose on campaign materials who was paying for the promotions.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Sanders Gets Peek at New Office

Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders met with Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins Thursday to talk about both his transition into the mayor’s office and the imminent change in the system of government that will make Sanders the city’s first “strong-mayor” in more than 70 years.

Sanders takes over as mayor Dec. 5. The city will officially switch its style of government Jan. 3.

“I think we’re both on the same page — we want to move the city forward,” Atkins said at a media briefing after the two had met.

Sanders will have to preside over two last council meetings as mayor before becoming the “strong-mayor.” He said he’s ready to chair an official government meeting.

“I’m going to have Robert’s Rules of Order tattooed on my forearm just for those two meetings,” Sanders said.

— SCOTT LEWIS

Inzunza Gets 21 Months

Former Councilman Ralph Inzunza was sentenced to 21 months for his role in the “Strippergate” corruption case after his one-time council colleague Michael Zucchet was acquitted of several charges he was found guilty of earlier this year and will stand retrial later this year.

Lobbyist Lance Malone, who was convicted of arranging a bribe between several City Council members in an effort to repeal San Diego’s ban on touching at strip clubs, was sentenced to 36 months in prison, U.S. Judge Jeffrey T. Miller ruled Thursday evening.

— ANDREW DONOHUE and EVAN McLAUGHLIN

And the Winner Is …

The San Diego Zoo’s giant panda cub turns 100 days old today, and in keeping with Chinese custom, was given its official name to mark the occasion.

Su Lin, which translates to “little bit of something cute,” received the most votes from a poll on the Zoo’s Web site. More than 70,000 electronic votes were submitted to select a name from five choices. The other names included Jiao Mei (“sweet and charming”), Jiao Yan (“delicate and charming”), Bao Bei (“precious, priceless, a treasure”) and Zhong Da (“great, important, significant”).

The cub was born on Aug. 2 to Bai Yun, one of the zoo’s four pandas. All of the pandas are on loan from China and are usually returned at age 3.

— VOICE STAFF

Arthur Levitt on Pensions

Arthur Levitt Jr., the former chairman of the SEC and member of the audit committee investigating San Diego’s pension funds and finances, calls for more accuracy, transparency and accountability in pension accounting in a commentary published in today’s Wall Street Journal .

Levitt notes that unrealistic pension assumptions have gotten the city of San Diego and other public entities in trouble and that he has seen firsthand how devastating bad pension accounting and mismanagement can be. Levitt recommends that defined-benefit pension plans across the United States be placed on solid ground so they can avoid the pain San Diego is experiencing.

— VOICE STAFF

Aguirre, Sanders Work on Cross

After speaking with Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders, City Attorney Mike Aguirre said Wednesday evening that he would appeal last month’s Superior Court ruling that Proposition A, which would have transferred the Mt. Soledad Cross to the federal government, is unconstitutional.

The decision to appeal is a God-send to cross supporters, who have tried to no avail to have themselves recognized as injured parties of the controversial court decision. The only party that is allowed to appeal the judge’s decision is the city of San Diego, and prior to Sanders’ election yesterday, the city had steadfastly refused to do so.

“I’m not going to insist that everything I want goes through. I still think it’s unconstitutional. I’m trying to show that even if I disagree on something, I’m going to try to work collaboratively with him,” Aguirre said of Sanders.

Aguirre had essentially endorsed Sanders’ opponent, City Councilwoman Donna Frye and questions have persisted how the mercurial city attorney and Sanders would work together.

“He has been more cooperative with me in the last 24 hours than (former Mayor Dick) Murphy was in six months,” Aguirre said. 

Sanders said on the campaign trail that he would support the will of the people to continue to defend the cross’ existence atop Mt. Soledad. In July, 76 percent of voters chose to transfer to the land beneath the cross to the federal government in an effort to preserve it.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Chamber Recommends… Well, Recommendations

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce has issued another of its bold recommendations for reforming San Diego. This time, it’s the pension system. And, in a five-page recommendation from its Government Interface Committee, the chamber has this to say about underfunding the pension system:

The “City should not under-fund the Plan in exchange for negotiated benefits.”

Good advice, since the city has since learned that doing so leads to a billion dollar pension deficit and multiple local and federal criminal investigations.

The chamber also recommends that the city pay what it owes annually into the pension system — something the city is bound to do under a 2004 lawsuit settlement. The business big wigs also advised that the city fund its retiree health costs from its own budget, rather than the pension system’s funds.

The city already made that switch this year.

In its final recommendation, the chamber ponders whether the City Council should repeal pension funding deals struck in 1996 and 2002 at the heart of today’s deficits and investigations. The answer: “Under consideration; no recommendation at this time.”

— ANDREW DONOHUE

New Federal Subpoena Seeks Pay Info of Pension Official’s Husband

Federal investigators subpoenaed Wednesday information related to the pay and benefits of former Deputy City Attorney James Chapin, husband to the pension system’s general counsel.

The subpoena seeks documents and communications concerning the salaries, benefits and wages paid Chapin, including his W-2 forms, payroll data, direct deposit documents, pay stubs and information related to the Deferred Retirement Option Program, a controversial pension benefit.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre fired Chapin shortly after he took office in December 2004. Chapin alleged that Aguirre threatened to fire him unless his wife, Lori Chapin, stepped down from her post as chief legal advisor to the embattled pension system.

James Chapin recently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Aguirre along with another former veteran city attorney.

Previously, officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI, who have been investigating the city since February 2004, had subpoenaed similar pay information for a number of officials tied to the pension crisis — as well as their spouses. The request sought pay information for former Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring, firefighter union President Ron Saathoff, former human resources Director Cathy Lexin, former Auditor Ed Ryan and former Assistant Auditor Terri Webster.

ANDREW DONOHUE

Sanders: Froman Resigning from Red Cross

Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders told reporters Wednesday morning that Ronne Froman had submitted her resignation as CEO of the local chapter of the American Red Cross but that it had not yet been accepted.

He said the Red Cross would accept Froman’s resignation this afternoon, paving the way for her to focus intensely on her planned participating in Sanders’ mayoral staff. Sanders has said that he expects Froman to take over as a chief operating officer of the city under his direction and that the former “Navy Mayor” of San Diego would handle the City Hall’s day-to-day functions.

SCOTT LEWIS

Frye Concedes to Sanders

Donna Frye conceded shortly after 11 p.m., reading from an essay by Howard Zinn named “The Optimism of Uncertainty.”

It is an essay Frye found in the book, “The Impossible Will Take a While.”

Frye was her whimsical, spiritual self, chuckling and thanking supporters.

“It’s been a long campaign. It’s been an interesting campaign,” she said. “I look forward to working with Mr. Sanders, the City Council and the city attorney to get San Diego back on track.”

She said she planned to call Sanders to congratulate him.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Sanders Declares Victory

With election returns showing him well ahead of his rival, a jubilant Jerry Sanders spoke about the mayoral campaign in past tense and said he’s ready for the challenge of being the top elected official in a beleaguered city.

Sanders, the former police chief, said the race is decided.

“Voters have made their choice. They’ve chosen a new path for the city of San Diego,” Sanders said.

To cheers, Sanders said the campaign for mayor was a good one.

“Donna Frye and I engaged in the most thorough debate on the finances of our city and the issue of reform in the history of our city,” Sanders said.

But his first campaign wasn’t easy.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Sanders said.

— SCOTT LEWIS

Council Candidates Take Early Lead

Early returns show Kevin Faulconer and Lorena Gonzalez heading for a runoff in the race for the District 2 City Council seat, while Ben Hueso and Luis Acle appear headed for a runoff for the District 8 City Council seat.

With 24.8 percent of precincts reporting in District 2 as of 10:13 p.m., Faulconer had 37 percent of the vote and Gonzalez had garnered 22 percent. With 13.6 percent of precincts reporting in District 8 as of 10:08 p.m., Hueso had 34 percent of the vote and Acle 18 percent.

— VOICE STAFF

Army of One

Frye supporter Nancy Cuskaden tried to single-handedly hold back mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders and his ever-growing entourage as they entered Golden Hall’s “Election Central.”

Armed with a Frye sign, Cuskaden elbowed her way into the throng of supporters and journalists surrounding the candidate and ended up yelling obscenities and having them come right back at her.

A television cameraman approached police with proof that Cuskaden had gotten rough.

She had a different take.

“I’ve been punched. They’ve taken my signs. They tried to take my hat,” Cuskaden said.

Police later asked her to step outside and talk.

— SCOTT LEWIS

No color?

George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego, was one of the few in attendance at Jerry Sanders’ campaign headquarters who didn’t cheer when Sanders’ campaign staff gathered on stage and saluted the many volunteers and consultants guided them here.

“Look,” Mitrovich said. “There’s not a single person of color up there. That’s an issue, I tell you. That’s ridiculous.”

— SCOTT LEWIS

Sanders’ Grand Entrance

Jerry Sanders has made an early entrance in to Election Central, making the rounds with radio and television programs. And listening to the interviews and chatter, plenty of people seem to think the first returns were good enough to give the night to Sanders already.

In an interview with Sanders, Roger Hedgecock called the early returns “pretty phenomenal.” The first report from the registrar has Sanders at 59 percent to Donna Frye’s 40 percent.

As Sanders pointed out to Hedgecock, he was expected to jump out early in the absentees. However, such a large jump wasn’t expected.

Sanders said he hopes his numbers will stay well above the 50 percent level because San Diego needs a “clear-cut winner.”

Throughout the campaign, people have wondered time and again whether or not Sanders and City Attorney Mike Aguirre would be able to co-exist should Sanders win. Well, we got the first glimpse of the two together publicly during a live interview at the KUSI booth here tonight.

Aguirre said he would give Sanders 100 percent of his support should he win. Aguirre appeared to have all but given Sanders the election based on a strong early showing. But he also noted that during his run for city attorney last November, he went up big after the first absentee ballots were counted, only to finish in such a tight race that the outcome wasn’t settled for 17 days.

Ron Roberts, a three-time candidate for mayor, issued his own warning for those already conceding the race to Sanders:

“It’s still too early. Anything can happen.”

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Mock Election Results

The final results are in. Donna Frye won by a landslide, Schwarzenegger’s finished, and UCSD students really are a bunch of lefty liberals.

That is, those would be the results if the election had been held solely within the confines of the UCSD Great Hall, where students, local residents and academics held a mock election at 8 p.m. this evening.

The results just came in and they offer an interesting look at how students feel about this election.

The results:

Mayor: Donna Frye: 50 votes; Jerry Sanders: 18 votes

Michael Hirshman, secretary of the UCSD College Republicans smiled and shrugged when he heard the results.

“Does it surprise me? No,” he said. “But it is cool that we are having this forum. The university needs more events like this.”

— WILL CARLESS

Aguirre on McLaughlin, Voter Irregularity

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said from Election Central that there were no reported problems found by his investigators at the city’s polling places.

“Everything was fine,” Aguirre said.

He said that three write-in votes were logged for Donna Frye, while one was cast for Jerry Sanders. The votes were counted for each candidate, he said.

Voice located Aguirre standing behind 10-foot tall drapes and peering out into the press tent. He had this to say as he stared at Voice reporter Evan McLaughlin, who was busy typing away at his computer:

“His greenness is made up for in his intensity, his sincerity and his closely cropped hair, as well as his tightly tied tie and the sports jacket that his mother would have been proud of if he wore it to his First Communion,” said Aguirre.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Barton’s A-Runnin’

Recent UCSD graduate Bryan Barton, known nationally for his exploits during last spring’s “Minutemen” civilian border watch, was making his rounds at Golden Hall on Tuesday night.

Barton is running as a Republican to unseat incumbent Congresswoman Susan Davis, a Democrat, in the 53rd District. He said he showed up to the city’s Election Central to support Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives. He likened his own campaign to Schwarzenegger’s, saying he is “pretty much sick of the unions running our government.”

Barton is the former editor of The Koala, a UCSD publication known locally for printing off-color and lewd material that has stirred controversy on campus and in the national media. In April, he made national headlines when an immigrant complained that he was detained while crossing the border and forced to wear a shirt that stated “Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

When asked about his chances of defeating Davis, Barton said, “I have a one in a hundred shot just like anyone else running against an incumbent.”

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Francis Rides Again

Former mayoral candidate Steve Francis, who finished third in July’s primary, was one of the first arrivals at Election Central in Golden Hall. Although his first California political campaign ended months ago, the businessman was flanked by his superstar political consultant, George Gorton.

Still, Francis said he wasn’t planning another run for office, despite the appearance of Gorton, one of the priciest consultants around. “Everybody’s got to have one,” Gorton quipped of political consultants.

True. And, finances really aren’t a worry for Francis, who spent more than $2 million of his own money in the primary.

“I’m not focused on a political office right now,” said Francis, who founded a temporary staffing company for the health care industry. “I’ve just come off the mayor’s race and I’m back to running my business.”

But Gorton didn’t sound so vague.

“You’ll get a chance to kick him around again,” said Gorton, paraphrasing Richard Nixon’s famous send off to the press.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Sanders’ Camp Cheering

“That’s awesome,” was the reaction of Tom Carter to the first release of absentee ballot counts showing former police Chief Jerry Sanders well ahead of his rival in the mayor’s race, City Councilwoman Donna Frye. Carter is a lead advisor to Sanders.

The earliest election results gave Sanders a smile, too.

Sanders announced the numbers to a large crowd gathered at his campaign headquarters before heading to Election Central downtown.

“These are your numbers,” Sanders told cheering volunteers.

— SCOTT LEWIS

Passing Thoughts at UCSD

At UCSD this evening, a panel of students and professors are discussing the implications of today’s election before a large crowd of students and local residents.

As the crowd snacks on popcorn and sips cans of soda, the panel is answering questions and offering insights into the evening’s proceedings.

Here are some of the evening’s thoughts so far:

“If he only wins one, he’s finished. If he wins two, he’s still Conan the Barbarian — he’s still got everybody scared,” said UCSD political science Professor Sam Popkin about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives.

“When I went back to my dorm, not one of my friends had voted,” said UCSD Guardian joint managing editor Vlad Kogan on the difference between this election and last November’s.

— WILL CARLESS

Supervisors Say Pot Law Blows

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 in closed session today to file legal action against the state over legislation that would require them to implement an ID card system for medical marijuana patients.

The board has instructed its attorneys to file the action against the state on the basis that the law is pre-empted by federal legislation that outlaws the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

John Sansone, county counsel, said the action should be filed within a month.

— WILL CARLESS

All-Night Election Coverage!

Voice of San Diego reporters will be on-scene tonight with mayoral candidates Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders, and council candidates from Districts 2 and 8. Check out the “This Just In” section for up-to-the-minute election coverage throughout the night.

— VOICE STAFF

Don’t Write in Write-In Space

This year’s election ballots include a space for a “write-in” below the names of Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders. Residents will remember that there was a bit of a controversy last year about Frye’s spontaneous and nearly successful write-in campaign for mayor. This year the City Council passed a law that reconciled an apparent conflict between the City Charter and the city’s municipal code, which prohibited write-in candidates in runoff elections.

Mikel Haas, the Country Registrar of Voters, said the setup of the ballot is not something he can control.

“It’s a default of the programming — whenever there is a candidate race there is always a write-in space,” Hass said.

Haas said preparations for the vote were going well, though all elections pose logistical problems.

“I’ve never been involved with a perfect election yet they’ve all been fair,” he said.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Instant results of some of the thousands of absentee ballots already cast and counted will be released immediately after the polls close but the bulk of the precincts will report after 10 p.m., Haas said.

SCOTT LEWIS

Doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo

The critically-acclaimed play “Jersey Boys,” which began life at the La Jolla Playhouse last year and quickly became the theater’s biggest hit of 2004, opened at its new location on Broadway last night.

The play, which chronicles the life and times of Frankie Valli and the doo-wop band the Four Seasons, opened to mixed reviews.

Today’s review in The New York Times raves about the performance of John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.

“Mr. Young has crossed the line from exact impersonation into something more compelling,” reads the review. “It’s that sort of melting from perfect wax effigy into imperfect flesh that Philip Seymour Hoffman achieves in the title role of the current movie ‘Capote.’”

Directed by Tony-award winner Des McAnuff, the play is showing at the August Wilson Theater, 245 W. 52nd St. Call (212) 239-6200 for more information.

WILL CARLESS

Early Voters

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters office reports that more than 211,000 county residents have already cast absentee ballots for tomorrow’s special election and 3,562 people actually went to the office to vote early over the weekend.

A total of 384,257 county voters requested absentee ballots but not all of them were returned.

SCOTT LEWIS

Pension Board Loses Another

Bill Lopez will no longer be part of the city’s pension board.

Although Lopez remains the city’s director of risk management, he has stepped down from his position as a trustee on the board that controls the assets of the city’s retirement fund.

Lopez said the city manager recently put human resources and labor relations under his purview and that in order to avoid a “perceived or actual conflict of interest” Lopez stepped down from his post on the pension board.

“[City Manager P. Lamont Ewell] is winding down his administration and part of that is having me represent his office on the pension board,” Lopez said.

The new mayor, under the strong-mayor form of governance that will be implemented in January, will have the right to appoint a representative from his or her office who must also be the mayor’s employee. That is in addition to the seven members of the pension board who are appointed and confirmed by the mayor and city council.

Asked about potential appointments, mayoral candidates Jerry Sanders and Donna Frye each recently said they weren’t sure whom they’d put on the board.

SCOTT LEWIS

Link to previous “This Just In” posts.

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