Who can tell me who Jim Barrett is? His name has been in the news of late and many of his comments have been at odds with the mayor. He has spoken before city council several times. He is a city employee. Have you come up with who he is yet? OK, here is some help; "Sanders: We're Studying Water Budgets."
Mr. Barrett is the Director of the City of San Diego's Water Department and for the past several months has been in the news as he attempts to carry out yet another of the mayor's failed and flawed polities. Back in March of this year as the city struggled to implement a plan for reducing water consumption, Barrett's assistant, Alex Ruiz made some incorrect statements about a plan being used in Irvine to penalize those who used excessive amounts of water. Ruiz said the Irvine program would be impractical to implement in San Diego and said Irvine took 8-12 years to refine their program for 90,000 customers and San Diego was facing 240,000 accounts and only four months to implement a program. In short order, the Voice of San Diego wrote a story disputing these comments, "A Water Plan That Worked—And The City Ignored."
The VOSD showed this assertion by the city's water department to not be accurate and painted a picture of a city department unwilling to take a firm stand for political reasons. The VOSD wrote, "Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a utility watchdog, said San Diego's resistance to the Irvine Ranch approach is likely political. Mayor Sanders and Water Department officials likely fear that inefficient customers who fall into more expensive billing tiers "could be used to fan some political fires against the proposal," Shames said in an e-mail. "I believe it is more of a political calculation than a legal or ratemaking justification."
It appears three weeks ago, Jim Barrett again told the City Council that the city was not evaluating a water rate structure like the one used in the Irvine Ranch Water District. Lani Lutar stepped forward and said the city's Water Department wasn't being straightforward about its intentions to consider a water-rate structure designed to reward conservation and penalize excessive use. In another article in the VOSD on October 5, 2009, Rob Davis wrote, "Lutar said Alex Ruiz, the Water Department's deputy director, and Rod Greek, another water official, led business leaders, large water users and lobbyists to believe that the city was seriously pursuing the Irvine Ranch model. Lutar said at meetings in August and September, the water officials indicated they were open to the idea and having a consultant study it." Lutar was clearly upset and frustrated with the mayor when she said she felt "insulted that Sanders' office had asked for input it didn't seem to want."
If history repeats itself and the mayor acts as he always has in the past, Jim Barrett will be looking for a job before Thanksgiving. Politics being what they are in this city, the mayor will need a fall guy to provide cover for yet another failed policy and glaring indication of the right hand not being attached to the body and thus not knowing what the rest of the body is doing. Alex Roth, another of the many spinmeister's in the mayor's office, wrote a memo in an attempt to explain the mayor's position. I personally think the memo failed in that attempt.
While all of this is going on there was a very important discussion on Municipal Bankruptcy taking place last Thursday morning at a breakfast conference of sorts. The topic being discussed was an attempt to help people understand what a municipal bankruptcy proceeding would entail. The panelists were: Retired Judge John Ryan, who oversaw Orange County's 1994 bankruptcy case; Margaret Mann, an attorney at Sheppard Mullin; and Ali Mohdehi, a lawyer from Baker McKinzie. The program was moderated by April Boling and hosted by the San Diego Taxpayers Association.
Noticeably absent from the breakfast was the mayor and his staff. I get he does not want to be seen in public at a function discussing municipal bankruptcy, but to not at least have someone from his office in attendance to hear the discussion is mystifying. Is the mayor's head buried so deep in the sand he can't break the suction and free himself to at least make a decision to have a staffer attend? Discussions of this magnitude demand city leaders understand all the nuances of such a decision and to gage public opinion and concern. I am not an advocate for bankruptcy and believe the problems staring the city down at the moment are fixable. They are not though going to go away without decisive action on many fronts. The mayors simple action plan of cut, cut, cut, and cut some more, is not the answer and is simply exasperating the problems.
Jim Barrett may be the lucky one in all of this. He will be made the scapegoat and forced to find another job.