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Mayor Jerry Sanders accused City Attorney Mike Aguirre at a press conference this morning of trying to drive City Hall into a climate of chaos that eventually leads to bankruptcy.
Sanders said Aguirre is making unrealistic demands that are holding up the city’s return to the bond market, where the city of San Diego can borrow more cheaply for construction projects on roads and sewer lines.
The mayor cited a Sept. 7 letter, in which the city attorney lists 14 steps that Aguirre said “must be dealt with by swift and decisive council action or our great City will find itself in even more peril than it presently is.”
Among Aguirre’s demands are to roll back employee pension benefits to pre-1996 levels and install the city attorney as legal counsel for the pension system, which he has unsuccessfully convinced a judge to do through his pension lawsuit. Aguirre also wants the city to pay down the remaining pension and retiree health care debts more rapidly than the mayor and pension board plan. Sanders said there are costly legal and financial repercussions for heeding that advice.
“It is my strongly held belief that pursuit of this reckless course would expose San Diego taxpayers to millions of dollars in liability and would set our city on a course that could very well lead to contempt of court,” Sanders said.
Sanders, in a letter he sent to Aguirre today, said the city attorney’s recommendations are irresponsible and contradict his past actions. For example, the city attorney says that the city is “still in critical financial condition” because it has “failed to take needed corrective action” in solving the city’s pension deficit his Sept. 7 letter. But Sanders claims the City Attorney’s Office has told judges in various pension lawsuits that funding is not a problem.
The mayor implies that Aguirre would stand to gain more authority if the city were to file for bankruptcy.
“Perhaps you believe that a bankruptcy proceeding would provide you with enhanced influence to policy decisions currently outside your authority. This will not happen while I am mayor,” Sanders said. “If bankruptcy is your goal, as many believe it is, then be honest about it and stop the game-playing that is wasting time and taxpayer money.”
Sanders said that Aguirre has advocated bankruptcy to the Mayor’s Office before, which Aguirre denies. The city attorney said his recommendation would help the municipality stave off bankruptcy.
“That’s the only way to get out of going to Chapter 9,” Aguirre said, referring to the section of the bankruptcy code dealing with municipal governments. “It’s the opposite.”