Significant tensions between city officials erupted during Monday’s City Council meeting, after months of behind-the-scenes discussions failed to solve a disagreement over an appointment to the city’s Audit Committee.
City Attorney Mara Elliott alleges that Stewart Halpern, cannot serve on the committee because he sits on similar bodies for the San Diego Association of Governments, creating a conflict of interest. The Audit Committee includes both members of the public and the Council.
But a former interim city auditor, and Councilwoman Vivian Moreno, both alleged that the idea of a conflict of interest was a pretense, and Elliott was really pushing Halpern off the committee for political retribution.
“The question is, ‘Why?’” she said. “When he was appointed, there was no conflict found. So why are we here now? I believe this is retaliation because Mr. Halpern has challenged the city attorney’s opinion on the city auditor’s need for independent legal counsel. And if we go along today not bringing forward a reappointment for Mr. Halpern to the audit committee, we are complicit in that retaliation. It will have a chilling effect across the city. Every current or future board or commission member will have been put on notice that if they dare to criticize the city to much, that this Council is willing to allow them to be punished.”
That was one of many uncommonly direct accusations throughout an hourlong discussion. It also included the city’s independent budget analyst saying Elliott’s version of a meeting between them was “simply not true,” Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe saying Elliott chooses the terms of attorney-client privilege to suit her interests, and Elliott saying that her office is too often turned into a scapegoat and that the Council needed to make a decision based on the city’s best interests, “not friendships, or politics, or animosity to the person delivering the message.”
The divided Council ultimately voted to bring Halpern back for a vote to be reappointed to the Council, and to ask the state attorney general for clarity on whether his appointment really constitutes a conflict of interest.
Suit Accuses Retired City Clerk of Discrimination
San Diego’s longtime city clerk retired last month, weeks after four of her now-former staffers filed a lawsuit accusing her of discriminating against some employees.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Union-Tribune, accused Liz Maland of repeatedly denying promotions to employees who weren’t white or Latino and who were over 50. The suit also alleged that other city officials failed to halt retaliation, harassment and discrimination after issues were flagged.
Maland told the Union-Tribune that she considered the allegations “so repugnant and just antithetical to what I stand for” and said she had already planned to retire early this year for other reasons. The lawsuit, Maland said, “was just the breaking point for me.”
The New Councilman on the Block
The Chula Vista City Council voted Tuesday to appoint Alonso Gonzalez, a broker, to the city’s District 3 seat. Mayor John McCann was the only no vote.
The seat was left vacant after Councilman Steve Padilla was elected to the state Legislature. The city received more than a dozen applications for the position. The Council interviewed 10 finalists last week and heard from dozens of residents in a meeting that went on for hours.
Gonzalez was sworn in immediately after the vote on Tuesday. Speaking from the dais, he said he accepted the challenge and hoped to, “rise to the occasion.”
His appointment followed hours of public comment from residents demanding that the City Council vote to hold a special election instead of appointing a candidate.
In Other News
- The general managers of two rural water districts in San Diego County argue they are being forced to pick up an unfair share of the tab in a new op-ed. The GM’s say their districts, Fallbrook and Rainbow, pay a higher rate for water than the rest of the county. And, they say, the San Diego County Water Authority wants to tax them for leaving. (Voice of San Diego)
- Mount Hope residents have waited more than a year for repairs after a neighborhood play area was burned down. (inewsource)
- San Diego Gas & Electric announced that gas bills that have recently surged are likely to drop significantly in February. (Times of San Diego)
- San Diego’s regional planning agency is looking for new downtown digs. (Union-Tribune)
- El Cajon launched a program this week connecting those who dial 911 with non-life threatening requests to nurses who can assess their medical needs and offer recommendations. (NBC 7)
- U-T reporter Kristen Taketa wrote a Twitter thread summarizing a series on childcare the paper published throughout January. Key takeaways: Much state money goes unspent, providers are scraping by on the thinnest of margins and many families who qualify for subsidies can’t get into a program. Taketa also explored solutions San Francisco is working on to fix the state’s broken system. Link to the full series here.
- National City is one-upping San Diego in the race to hire new police officers. National City will hand out $30,000 in hiring bonuses to any officer who leaves another department to come to National City. That is double the amount San Diego is paying to attract new officers. (NBC 7)
The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Lisa Halverstadt and Will Huntsberry. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.