Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | No Takers on Mayor’s Job Offers — Yet

Two well-known fixtures in San Diego politics confirmed Wednesday that they had been approached to work for Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders, yet neither has accepted the offers.

April Boling, former chairwoman of the Pension Reform Committee, and Johnnie Perkins, governmental affairs director for the city’s firefighters union both acknowledged that Sanders’ staff had asked them to be a part of his management team.

With the city in what Sanders calls a financial crisis, many observers have been very interested in who will be part of the team that shapes his policies.

Boling said Ronne Froman, the former Navy rear admiral who will be Sanders’ chief aide, offered her an undefined role in the Sanders’ administration. But she didn’t accept it.

Boling did not comment on particulars of the discussion but did say that it would have been hard to accept the offer.

“After 20 years of being self-employed, it would have been difficult for me to give up my independence,” Boling said.

Perkins said he would decide by Monday about whether to work for Sanders.

“It’s always an honor to be asked to work for a mayor or elected official,” Perkins said. “But it’s a big decision.”


Feds Seek Union Prez Details

Federal investigators appear to be zooming in on the financial details of a 2002 pension deal between the pension system and the city of San Diego, as a new subpoena delivered to City Hall seeks documents related to a special pension benefit awarded to union presidents.

The request asks for documents and drafts related to a city ordinance that allowed union presidents to use both their union and city salaries in the calculation of their pension benefits.

The benefit was granted to firefighter union president Ron Saathoff as part of a 2002 deal in which the pension board allowed the city to continue its history of underfunding the pension system in exchange for increased benefits for workers. Saathoof negotiated the benefits as a union chief, but also voted on the other end of the deal as a trustee of the pension system.

The deal, known as Manager’s Proposal 2, is central to the city’s fiscal woes and the ongoing investigations being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI. Saathoff and five other former pension trustees were charged with felony violations of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws for their roles in the deal.

Union presidents for the Municipal Employees Association and the Police Officers Association had previously been receiving the benefit, but it was made official by Manager’s Proposal 2.

Union presidents generally take unpaid leave from their city positions to take the full-time duties leading the respective union. Salaries for union presidents are paid from union membership dues.

The federal investigators request that the information be brought before the federal grand jury on Dec. 1. At the grand jury, prosecutors present information to jurors, who then decide if ample evidence has been brought forward to justify criminal charges.


Ewell Outta Here

City Manager P. Lamont Ewell announced his resignation today, effective at the end of Monday’s council session.

It has long been known Ewell would step down at the end of this year as city government is restructured and the city manager’s powers are handed to the Mayor’s Office. He originally had said that he would leave mid-year. However, Ewell announced in May that he would see out the end of the year to provide for a smooth transition and to complete the city’s long-delayed 2003 audited financial statements.

“I have been offered an exciting opportunity with another community,” Ewell said in a memo today. He has accepted a job as city manager in Santa Monica.

He said election of Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders and the establishment of a new timeline for an internal investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the city had provided him a timely window for departure.

Sanders will be sworn in on Dec. 5.

Ewell was elevated to the city manager position last year following former City Manager Michael Uberuaga’s abrupt departure in March amid the city’s ongoing fiscal and political crisis. His tenure has been marked by high-profile clashes with City Attorney Mike Aguirre and continued delays in the release of the city’s crucial audits.

The city of San Diego has not put out an audited financial statement in Ewell’s tenure and remains locked out from public financial markets with a suspended credit rating. Investigations both civil and criminal are ongoing.


Peters is Prez in ’06

Councilman Scott Peters was named next year’s council president Tuesday and will begin chairing and controlling the docketing for meetings in January.

Peters, who represents Council District 1, will play an elevated role in how the city proceeds during a rocky time in San Diego’s history, as the municipal government grapples with federal investigators, budget strains and a depleted work force.

Check back Wednesday to see how the council president will impact the future of City Hall.


E-mail: Mayor’s Office Helped Pension PR Push

Former Mayor Dick Murphy’s office worked with a key pension official in 2003 to downplay early warnings that the pension system’s finances were headed for a freefall, according to an internal e-mail obtained by the Voice of San Diego.

In an e-mail to an official at the pension system’s paid public relations firm, former pension board President Fred Pierce sent along the final copy of an opinion article that would later run as an ad in The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper.

The ad, entitled “The Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts,” started off with the line “Chicken Little would be proud” and sought to dispel the “sensationalism, false accusations and basic inaccuracies regarding the San Diego City Employees’ retirement system,” according to a draft.

In the body of the e-mail, Pierce wrote: “You will notice that the style has changed slightly and the article is shorter — both inputs from David Hicks in the Mayor’s office.”

Hicks was Murphy’s deputy press secretary.

The ad blamed the pension system’s burgeoning financial problems on a drop in the stock market, something he said, in part, was caused by the “9/11 tragedy.”

Later studies debunked the theory that the city’s pension problems were caused mostly by the stock market. Instead, studies showed that the pension deficit, then estimated at $720 million and now thought to be more than $1.37 billion, was caused by benefit increases and the city’s intentional underfunding.

A deal made in 2002 while Pierce oversaw the pension system and Murphy oversaw the city continued the city’s practice of annually paying less into the pension system and granted city employees a series of pension benefit enhancements.


Local Candidate Proposes Cleaning House

Collect ‘Em All

More than 30,000 organizations and businesses that owe the city of San Diego at least $250 have 30 days to pay their outstanding bills before their names and debts appear on the Internet, officials said Monday.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said that a local newspaper’s recent article detailing how the city is owed more than $56 million in back fees and payments has spurred his office to more closely focus on its outstanding bill collection. The names of debtors who have not paid their bills within 30 days will appear on the City Attorney’s Office Web site, he said.

Another $33 million is owed in late payment penalties and interest, the city’s collections division manager Michael Vogl said. In total, there are 560,000 debtors — enough to fill 13,000 pages or 27 reams of papers, Vogl said.

The 30,000 accounts with the debts larger than $250 will be issued a letter notifying them of their overdue balances, Vogl said. The cost of sending those letters is estimated to cost the city about $15,000.

Aguirre said he has added more attorneys in his office to work on collecting overdue payments, which date as far back in time as nine years ago, and pledged to pursue in court parties that don’t square their accounts with the city.

The city will file lawsuits against accounts totaling $5,000 or more that remain delinquent despite a further push by the city to resolve the accounts, and lesser debts will be hashed out in small claims courts, he said.

The city’s past inability to collect debts has put considerable strain on the city budget, Aguirre said.

“We’ve managed to solve the weather problem in San Diego, but when we come into the spring and we go into budget period this next go-around, it is going to be a calamitous situation and we want to get as much flowing in as we possibly can,” Aguirre said.


Public Safety Officials and New Mayor: San Diego Prepared, We Really Like Each Other

Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders, a former police chief, sat down with San Diego’s public safety bosses Monday morning to talk about the city’s police and fire budgets and disaster preparedness. The consensus: San Diego’s pretty prepared for disasters and everyone seems to get along great.

“This is a match made in heaven,” said current Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, noting that he’d never worked under a mayor with a public safety background.

Ronne Froman, Sanders’ second-in-charge; fire Chief Jeff Bowman and local Homeland Security Director Augie Ghio also attended the press conference.

Sanders promised an open, honest budget by April. He said one of the reasons for the meeting was to assess the needs of each agency so that he can address them properly in the budget.

The way in which the city has accounted for police and fire department overtime has been a hot-button issue in recent years and highlighted discussion surrounding the true honesty of the city’s budget. City officials generally budget about half of what is actually needed for overtime in the two departments, knowing that the departments will need to return months later to say they’ve gone over budget.

Sanders said this will stop. He also pledged provide the public safety departments with top-notch equipment and more fire stations. He also made increasing fire response times, a category in which San Diego falls far behind national standards, a priority.

The mayor-elect acknowledged that one of the weaknesses of the public safety departments was in staffing.

During the campaign, Sanders promised deep cuts and layoffs to close the city’s growing budget gap. He also said he would spare public safety from layoffs and said he wouldn’t raise taxes to solve the current budget crisis. However, he said he hopes this year to be able to redirect city funds to beef up public safety budgets.


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