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It’s almost time to vote for the winner of this year’s Idea Tournament at Saturday’s Politifest event, and now you can see which bright ideas are eligible to win.

While attendees get to choose the winner, our members and staff narrowed the entries down to seven. Here’s a list of them for you to peruse.

The ideas are heavy on issues regarding utilities and water . They also offer new takes on education, the environment and tracking city construction projects.

Poway Bond: ‘The More We Learn… Smellier It Gets’

Felix Salmon, a financial columnist with Reuters, saw our recent story about how the Poway school district actually got more than $105 million when it borrowed money for school construction. (The district will have to pay back nearly $1 billion for the loan). In fact, it also got what Salmon calls a “21 million kickback.”

In a new column, Salmon tries to understand what’s going on and writes: “the more we learn about this Poway bond, the smellier it gets. And of course officials aren’t talking.”

Speaking of the Poway’s risky borrowing scheme, you might have had some trouble tracking all the big totals, and different rounds of borrowing. So we created a graphic to illustrate what happened and how the debt will grow with each round.

Cash-Strapped Court Keeps Handing Out Auto Allowances

If you ever feel like looking up the incomes of top government officials, don’t stop when you see their salaries alone. Oftentimes they get even more money in terms of perks like hefty auto allowances that to go them no matter how many miles they actually drive. It’s an easy way for government agencies to quietly pad the incomes of these folks without prompting any pesky squawking from government watchdogs.

It’s not just politicians who reap this benefit. Judges and top administrators in the local court system do too, to the tune of $1 million a year, CityBeat reports. Individual judges get as much as $8,100 a year.

This is unusual in California’s most populous counties, CityBeat finds. And that’s not all. The local court system has been busy crying poverty in recent months, warning of a doomsday of service cuts.

How the U-T’s Honchos Throw Influence Around

Investigative Newsource and KPBS are taking a deep look into the machinations of the newspaper’s new owners as they brashly try to force — er, convince — the city to remake the waterfront and build a mammoth sports complex including a football stadium.    

Publisher Doug Manchester and CEO John Lynch have had no luck so far, but they keep pushing.

In fact, an email exchange KPBS obtained between Lynch and Port Commissioner Scott Peters revealed how that looks in practice. In the email to Peters, Lynch objected to a recent deal between the port and Dole Bananas calling it an “in your face” to Manchester.

Lynch threatened Peters that various groups like business, labor and the Navy (even one mayoral candidate) would be willing to disband the port if the port doesn’t cooperate.

Investigative Newsource’s Joanne Faryon asked DeMaio what he thought about all that in an interview and rundown of their research. DeMaio said categorically he does not support the U-T plan and wants to maximize cargo operations at the port area in question.

Lynch and Manchester claim to have the ears of local politicians. To borrow a phrase from Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the king (of the media).

“In the radio business, I would ask to meet with the mayor, but they would blow me off, and I’d get with some junior staffer three months later,” Lynch told a business group recently. “I’ve been in about six meetings with the mayor(s), and they’ve all been in my office — it’s an entirely different experience.”

• Later yesterday, KPBS reported that Rep. Bob Filner, wants to see communications between the newspapermen and the man they endorse for mayor, Councilman Carl DeMaio: “Filner says he believes Manchester and Lynch have a well-organized plan to take over the city government.”

• Lynch denied to the Daily Transcript’s Andy Keatts that he had ever said he made progress with a mayoral candidate on his vision for the port.

• CityBeat has the inside story of the U-T’s attempts to promote itself to Democrats and Republicans and tell them how to use the paper to their advantage. The GOP confab drew about 50; the separate one for Democrats, about four.

At the GOP event, Lynch praised local Republican chairman Tony Krvaric as a “‘terrific friend and partner’ and lauded the fluffy profile of him that ran recently in the U-T as the kind of ‘good news’ about ‘people who make a difference in our community’ that Manchester — who did not attend either event — wants to provide.”

A Rewarding — and Awarding — Internship

Our former intern Sandy Coronilla made a splash here when she uncovered shenanigans in San Diego’s business improvement districts, which tax local merchants to raise money for promotions and other things. She found that many of the nonprofit organizations that run the districts were ignoring state laws regarding public records and open meetings.

Now, she’s been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with an award spotlighting her work here.

Quick News Hits

• The legal battle over fireworks shows in San Diego — and whether they should be halted to protect the environment — is continuing in court, the U-T reports. Talk of a settlement appears to have evaporated.  

• A conservative columnist at the Wall Street Journal has UCSD in her sights: she’s furious that the university has hired a “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion” at $250,000 a year. But that’s not all: “she’ll receive both a relocation allowance of $60,000 and 100 percent reimbursement of all moving expenses, a temporary housing allowance of $13,500, two fully paid house-hunting trips for two to the San Diego area, and reimbursement for all business visits to the campus before her start date.”

Nice work if you can get it. But does UCSD need a position like that? The columnist, Heather Mac Donald, doesn’t think so. She’s scandalized by the focus on diversity, which she thinks is unnecessary, and writes that “the biggest enemy of meritocracy is the diversity industry.”

Huh. And here I thought the biggest enemy of meritocracy was the clunky word “meritocracy.”

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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