City Attorney Mike Aguirre accused Mayor Jerry Sanders of being corrupt after criticizing the mayor’s handling on another episode involving Montgomery Field airport.

Aguirre alleged Sanders and San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Chairman Alan Bersin are working together to change the flight paths into and out of the Kearny Mesa-area airport so that Sunroad Enterprises would not have to tear down a nearby office building that exceeds federal height limits.

“This is a sophisticated way of sliding this through,” said Aguirre, who referred to Sunroad almost exclusively throughout the hour-long press conference as a campaign contributor to Sanders and not by the company’s name.

Aguirre contended that Bersin coordinated the loan of a top airport authority executive to the city to devise a way to change the flight path. He said it was an attempt to pay back Sanders for appointing the former school superintendent to a $171,000-a-year post at the airport authority. Aguirre said Sanders is trying to curry favor with Sunroad, whose executives contributed to his mayoral campaign.

Sanders and Bersin rejected Aguirre’s storyline in subsequent press conferences that were held within 20 minutes of each other and miles apart.

They said airport authority Vice President Ted Sexton was loaned to the city to work on updating San Diego’s land-use plans and to analyze whether the airport authority should operate Montgomery and Brown Field.

“This has been about providing information and expertise,” Bersin said. He continued: “This is a democracy, people can say what they want. But public officials, it seems to me, ought to get the facts before jumping to conclusions.”

Further, Sanders said the city has borrowed other government executives from the county of San Diego and the Port District to help his administration in specific areas. Before he was hired as Sanders’ top public works deputy, Rich Haas was on loan form the county to set up the city’s business process reengineering program, Sanders said.

Aguirre said Sanders violated the city’s bylaws by agreeing to the loan of Sexton without his advice. He noted that Sanders’ chief operating officer, Ronne Froman, signed the contract on behalf of the city, while the airport authority offered the signatures of Bowens and the agency’s top lawyer.

Sanders said he had the authority to ask other agencies to be loaned officials.

When asked if he thought the latest allegation means Sanders is corrupt, Aguirre responded, “yes.”

“I think the process of having favors done in exchange for campaign contributions is corrupt,” Aguirre said. The mayor received $3,600 from Sunwroad officials in his 2005 campaign.

The mayor said he would not respond to Aguirre’s allegations, but offered some comments. “Anybody who doesn’t agree with Mr. Aguirre is sometimes accused of being corrupt,” Sanders said.

Sanders said he opposed the Sunroad building as long as it was higher than the 160-foot limit the Federal Aviation Administration allows near the airport. He also said he supported Aguirre’s lawsuit, which seeks the removal of the excess height on the 180-foot building. “Nobody should be allowed to break the law, and that includes Sunroad,” Sanders said.

But Aguirre said the mayor’s public statements don’t line up with the actions of his administration, continuing the riff that has torn at their marriage of convenience. He alleges that Sanders is still working to further Sunroad’s cause. Last month, Aguirre claimed Sanders threatened to cut the city attorney’s budget because Aguirre has been critical of the mayor on the issue.

“This mayor has committed to doing away with backroom wheeling and dealing, and that’s what this is,” Aguirre said.


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