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During Mike Aguirre’s term as city attorney, nobody dogged him as diligently as John Kaheny.

Kaheny’s relentless e-mails sometimes broke news about the city attorney and sometimes spread conspiracy theories more ridiculous than the ones Aguirre was sometimes wont to spin. But always, Kaheny, a former assistant city attorney, was on Aguirre’s case and his e-mail list served as an almost daily talking points memo for the ever-growing ranks of Aguirre’s dissenters. I don’t know that anyone locally has ever so effectively used e-mail, document sharing and media criticism to gore a rival.

Kaheny declared victory months ago when Aguirre lost his re-election bid and he said the network would largely go quiet.

It’s back.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there seems to be a rising tide of concern about City Attorney Jan Goldsmith along with a growing lack of respect for the mayor. First, months ago Goldsmith infuriated some local opinion leaders and Mayor Jerry Sanders for ruling that the City Council could basically ignore the mayor’s recommendations on labor negotiations. This became moot — this year at least — when the City Council decided to agree with the mayor unanimously. Nonetheless, the Mayor’s Office thought it was a ridiculous opinion and it began to foment unrest about Goldsmith’s competence.

Now, Rani Gupta‘s story Sunday has documented another major rift between the city attorney and mayor.

Gupta reported that the Mayor’s Office was struck dumbfounded that its much-championed reforms to the city’s controversial DROP benefit for employees would be subject to a vote of those same employees. Where was the city attorney on this?

Key passage in the story:

The news that the DROP changes apparently require a vote of the employees was news to Sanders’ office, Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said in an interview last week.

“It was a bombshell that was dropped after the fact,” Goldstone said. “I’m not necessarily suggesting we would have taken a different position, but we would have known going in that the imposition was only step one of a two-step process.”

Goldstone said it “would have been nice” if Goldsmith’s office had told city officials about the requirement beforehand. He added, “I will tell you candidly, they will claim they told us and told our lawyers at least, our negotiators, but we (in the Mayor’s Office) were not aware up here.”

Several hours later, after a reporter called for comment from the city attorney, Goldstone called back to offer a different version of events, saying a conversation with the city attorney had refreshed his memory about the situation.

Goldstone said that the city’s outside attorneys from the firm Burke Williams & Sorensen had talked to SDCERS officials during negotiations and, based on those conversations, had advised that the city had a “very strong argument” that the provision of the city charter requiring a vote didn’t apply to the changes the city was seeking to make to DROP.

The City Attorney’s Office, Goldstone said, never told city officials or even strongly suggested that changing DROP required an employee vote.

Kaheny, the prolific e-mailer, grabbed the story and sent it to his network with a note essentially hinting at incompetence in the City Attorney’s Office (or, maybe worse for Kaheny’s group, that the office has yet to restore competence). Since Jan Goldsmith, the current city attorney, has Kaheny to thank as much as anyone for getting the job, this was a potentially hurtful development. If questions about his own abilities to run the office become more mainstream, watch out.

Here was Kaheny’s note:

I have no clue what is going on.  It appears that the institutional memory was completely destroyed by Gwinn and Aguirre and that Goldsmith hasn’t quite figured that out yet.

Wow. Someone in Goldsmith’s office responded to Kaheny assuring the curmudgeon that Goldsmith was not to blame and attacking the mayor. Kaheny passed it along. Here was the note:

No John… Jan told them. Joan Dawson delivered the message… Sanders did not want to hear it & Bill Kay told Sanders what he wanted to hear so they moved forward. Kay & his firm are also handling litigation not the City Attorney…

Bill Kay is the city’s labor negotiator. Yes, what we have here is a full-throated battle between the Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office complete with accusations of reckless political agendas and incompetence! I went to D.C. last week and came back to 2007!

Kaheny responded to the anonymous city attorney staffer.

If the City Attorney so advised why was it not in writing and made public?  Inquiring minds need to know

Stay tuned. This isn’t just insider intrigue. Aguirre was supposedly the main reason the mayor had trouble implementing his reforms and fixes for the city. Now one of the mayor’s most prominent initiatives — to roll back the most controversial of all city employee compensation issues — might not work and he’s blaming the new city attorney.


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