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November will be a month like no other for San Diego’s southernmost neighborhoods, City Council President Ben Hueso told me in an interview today.

Hueso, who represents those neighborhoods, was defending his hiring of three former campaign workers for the final month of his term in office. The three worked or volunteered for Hueso’s successful bid for state assembly or Hueso brother Felipe’s failed City Council campaign.

“We’re going to do more in this month than the next office will do in the next year,” Hueso said. “They’re going to be taking credit for the work that I get accomplished this month. They’re going to be out at the groundbreakings taking credit for the work that we’re going to do. That’s a fact.”

The three workers, who aren’t replacing anyone on Hueso’s staff and hadn’t taken leave of absences from city offices to work on the campaigns, will each make $2,308 every two weeks. Should they finish out Hueso’s term through Dec. 6, they will cost more than $13,000.

Hueso pointed to savings in his office budget since he was elected — his office later produced a document showing more than $150,000 in savings over the last four years — to justify the hires.

The three employees, Christopher Duggan, Jacob O’Neill and Willie Rells, will be working on the cross-border airport terminal, development projects and archiving, Hueso’s spokeswoman said.

Still, Hueso said the extra employees wouldn’t have been necessary had his brother defeated Councilman-elect David Alvarez.

“If my brother had won,” Hueso said, “we wouldn’t have to be pushing these last-minute efforts to make sure these projects get done.”

Both Duggan and O’Neill are owed money from Hueso and his brother’s campaigns. According to the latest campaign disclosures, Duggan is owed $2,000 from Ben Hueso’s state assembly race. O’Neill is owed $1,029.65 from Felipe Hueso’s council campaign.

I asked Ben Hueso if either would be forgiving their debts.

“Of course not,” Hueso said. “That would be illegal.”

None of the three Hueso staffers could be reached for comment.

Hueso directed more criticism toward Alvarez, saying the incoming councilman’s staff was all going to be “campaign staff with zero experience in City Hall.”

Alvarez said he didn’t want to address Hueso’s criticisms directly. He noted, however, that he plans to hire Travis Knowles, his campaign manager and a former staffer with Councilman Todd Gloria as his chief of staff. Alvarez also said he plans to hire outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Frye’s spokesman and at least two others with government experience to work in his office.

Frye, who’s leaving office at the same time as Hueso, said she lost two staff members recently and won’t be replacing them. She didn’t think it was appropriate to hire new people to work for a month.

“The work of a council member is to serve the public,” Frye said. “You don’t serve the public by spending all the budget before the next councilmember gets there.”

When I told Hueso about Frye’s comments, he lashed out at her.

“Donna has never in 10 years here promoted a project, ever,” he said. “Nothing has ever come from her office. She waits for things to be put before her on the council and she comments on them. You can’t compare me with Donna. My district needs things. We need jobs. We need housing.”

(Frye declined to respond through her chief of staff.)

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies political watchdog group, said Hueso’s hiring of the campaign staffers was “a PR black eye for the City Council and the council president.”

“This is why people have no confidence in government,” Stern said via email. “Politicians think they can do anything they want as long as it is legal (and hope that no one catches them doing it.) At a time when every dollar is important, it is amazing that the City Council president would leave office on such a sour note.”

But Hueso contended he’ll be leaving office on a high note. I asked him if he understood why hiring the new workers might look bad, he replied:

“If it looks the way it looks, or it looks the way you’re going to represent it, then that’s just something I have to live with. But the people in my district come first and I have promises to keep. I intend to keep them. We have a lot of work to do this month and nobody’s slacking off. Everybody here is working very hard every day. You’re welcome to come see us in action.”

Correction: The story initially incorrectly reported the cost of Hueso’s staffers through the end of his term. We regret the error.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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