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As we’ve gone about our reporting into the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., the one thing that’s struck me as interesting is how the organization itself is structured.

SEDC and its downtown counterpart, Centre City Development Corp., are government agencies of the city of San Diego. But they’re set up as nonprofit organizations and, as you can tell by the names, they call themselves corporations. Still, they’re under all the same government restrictions for open meetings, public records and the like.

Well, it turns out, that nonprofit/government structure is completely unique to San Diego statewide.

“San Diego is the only place that I know where that’s occurred. These agencies operate almost autonomously with their own board with that board perhaps choosing the president,” said John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association. “That is not typical and we know of no other example of that other than San Diego.”

Redevelopment is normally directly overseen by a city council or county board of supervisors across California. While the City Council here in San Diego ultimately makes the final decision on many of the major decisions, many of the key details are worked out at the board level and the politically appointed boards of SEDC and CCDC hire and fire the president. That means, for example, when the mayor and a number of City Council members wanted to fire SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith last month, they didn’t feel they could do it themselves. They had to call on her to resign, call on the SEDC board to terminate her and threaten to replace all the board members.

And, the mayor and council members didn’t appear to have any say in the termination package ultimately given to Smith by the SEDC board. The agreement allowed her to collect $100,000 and stay on the job for 90 days.

The structure came about during the days of former Mayor Pete Wilson, who reportedly cribbed it from Baltimore, upon the creation of CCDC. The same structure was then used to form SEDC years later.

I talked to Shirey about the problems currently facing SEDC and CCDC and asked whether those could be attributed to the unique structure. It did, after all, often appear that no one at City Hall thought they were obligated to oversee SEDC.

“That’s a management and oversight issue, not necessarily a fault of the structure,” he said.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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