San Diego Ethics Commission Executive Director Stacey Fulhorst said today that City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s office is dragging its feet on a package of changes to the city’s ethics law that would give the commission more powers as it investigates wrongdoing in government.
The changes include increasing the contribution limits to candidates for city offices, giving the commission the ability to fine people who provide false testimony or documentation, and giving it subpoena power during investigations.
The changes have passed through the council’s Rules Committee. But before they can go before the full City Council, they need to be approved and officially passed on to council by the City Attorney’s Office.
Aguirre’s office forwarded the campaign contribution proposal to the council, but didn’t sign it. By doing this, Fulhorst said, Aguirre is saying that he has no legal issues with the law change, but does have policy concerns. Aguirre explained his concerns, Fulhorst said.
Aguirre said today that he knows of nothing his office is opposed to regarding the changes, and that the delay is just the result of his office doing its due diligence.
The changes were unanimously approved by the City Council’s Rules Committee on Sept. 3. Fulhorst wants the changes made law before termed-out council members leave office in December. If that doesn’t happen, the process will have to be started over again next year.
“We need these changes so we can more effectively enforce government ethics laws,” Fulhorst said.
For example, Fulhorst said, the commission’s limited subpoena power has slowed down, and in some cases short-circuited, investigations. As the law stands now, the commission can only subpoena witnesses after it has ordered a hearing. There are often instances when the commission needs information from a witness, but a hearing is not yet warranted, Fulhorst said.
“We have to go through all the mechanics of a hearing just to get witnesses to compel,” Fulhorst said. “It’s a waste of time.”
And Fulhorst recalled one recent situation in which a city employee had information on a candidate soliciting campaign contributions from city employees, but was afraid to come forward with any specifics.