Saturday, November 21, 2009

San Diego’s Secret Committee

I believe the "Task Force" put together by the mayor to be illegal. The more I read and understand of the actions taken by the "Mayor's Fiscal Task Force" I believe their actions and the actions of the mayor to be in violation of Government Code Section 54950, known as the "Brown Act." Reading from the draft report's first paragraph, given to the Voice of San Diego; "the group met weekly for four months to study the overall status of the City's fiscal position. The task force reviewed relevant City of San Diego data and records, (IBA Report #: 09-75, Personnel Expense Analysis, Per Capita Income Comparison, City Revenue Comparisons, Fiscal Year 2001-2015 Five-Year Financial Outlook), as well as similar data from other comparable municipalities. The task force interviewed members of the City's executive staff (including Jay Goldstone and his fiscal team). Also interviewed were the City's Independent Auditor and the Independent Budget Analyst - Andrea Tevlin - with her fiscal team. The task force met with representatives from the County of San Diego, various local constituents, including organized labor, non-profits, private business and citizens groups, and various subject matter experts" it is clear this is NOT an "Ad Hock Committee."

In enacting the "Brown Act," the legislature declared public commissions, boards and councils as well as other public agencies in the State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It was the intent of the legislature, actions be taken openly and the deliberations be conducted openly (in public). The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to those who serve them. The people, in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

The law requires the meetings of this group of civic individuals, brought together by the mayor, to be noticed and open to the public. The secrecy of this group and the actions undertaken on behalf of the mayor, demand the public's knowledge and ability to participate. As stated above, the legislature's intent was to ensure all actions on behalf of the public be done openly. I said in my last post the mayor would attempt to identify this task force as an "Ad Hock Committee" which is not governed by the Brown Act. After reading the draft, linked in a Voice of San Diego article on Friday, November 20, 2009, titled; "Bankruptcy an Option, Says Mayor's Fiscal Task Force" written by Liam Dillon, I believe the mayor and members of this "Task Force" have violated the Brown Act.

The recommendations contained in the "draft" document demand public discussion and input from members of the public. To do so after the fact has proven in the past to be futile and meaningless. The secret activities of the members of this "Task Force" and mayor bring into question the integrity of those involved, as well as the process. Their lack of open discussion and debate leaves one to question the process and outcomes. Reading the draft document leaves a lot of questions unanswered and presents questions of legality. The document is rife with assumptions that in some cases are incorrect and could have been vetted, if discussed in a public forum.

I would urge everyone to read the draft of the mayor's "Fiscal Task Force" report. It is imperative we all understand the issues and recommendations from this group; there is a clear agenda present in their writings. This group and the work they have presented cannot be ignored nor allowed to proceed unchecked. We must become an active participant in our future and demand to be included in the discussions and actions of this group, constituted by the mayor.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Open Government & Transparency

The mayor is at it again! On Tuesday, twelve prominent (if you consider "former" whatever's prominent) well connected, downtown money elite individuals, delivered a "draft" report to the mayor with solutions for fixing the city's budget deficit. The Voice of San Diego attempted to get a copy of the report from the mayor only to be told he did not have a copy to give them. To make this clear, the Voice of San Diego made a public records request for the report and was told the mayor's office did not keep a copy (I find this unbelievable).

In an article titled, "Private Task Force Delivers Report on Finances to Mayor" Liam Dillon of the Voice of San Diego, identified the members of the task force and attempted to shed light on the information being presented. In a prior post here, "The mayor's Legacy" I discussed the mayor's "Civic Leadership 2009-2012" an action team of "civic" leaders picked by the mayor to provide him policy suggestions and help push his agenda. I spoke about the various topics being discussed by these handpicked individuals, all behind closed doors and out of the public's view.

The names of those on the mayor's "Fiscal Task Force" are interesting to say the least. Vince Mudd, owner of Office Interiors; Neil Derrough, former Executive for CBS; Pete Garcia, former Executive with University Mechanical and Engineering Contractors; Mark Koop, Executive for Quan Investment; Marshall Merrifield, Founder of Clark Security Products; Bill Roper, former Executive of Verisign Inc; Dan Shea, Owner of Donovan's Steak & Chop House; Susan Snow, Executive with Odyssey Capital Group; Mark Stephens, Managing Partner with Ernst and Young; Bob Tjosvold, former Executive with Bank of America; Dick Vortman, former Executive with National Steel and Shipbuilding Co; and Barbara Warden, former San Diego City Council member.

Reading between the lines, it appears the mayor and his committee is at odds with who "owns" the report. Vince Mudd is the chairman of this Fiscal Task Force and said the report will be "comprehensive and free from any mayoral vetoes over its content." Sounds as if the mayor was not happy with the report and wanted changes. Mudd continued, "The concept of the report is looking at the fiscal situation as a whole from a real honest perspective, one that's not filtered in any way through a political lens." So help me mayor, the report looks at the fiscal situation of the city from a "real honest perspective" and because it was not in a manner that would be politically correct or in keeping with your agenda, you told this secret committee to take the report back?

Rachel Laing said the mayor created the "Civic Leadership Team" to push his (the mayor) agenda, not to promote the agendas of others. Laing is quoted in the Voice of San Diego article, "When you know it's going to change and you get your marching orders for change, then there is no reason to keep one." Even more light is being shined on this secret committee and their report. Laing is telling us clearly the mayor was not happy with the report and wanted changes. Laing continues, "If there's something in the report that's not accurate or not in keeping with the mayor's agenda then we don't want that out there." Trouble is brewing in Emerald City. Vince Mudd did not share Laing's views. Mudd said, "When the report comes out, I have a tremendously high level of confidence that the mayor is going to want to see what's in it, and there's going to be things in it that the mayor's not going to like it."

The bigger issue with all of this is the secret meetings and the public's business being kept from the public. The "Civic Leadership Team" put together by the mayor will no doubt be called an "ad hock committee" to avoid the need to follow the Brown Act. It is these exact types of actions that caused the California State Legislature to enact Government Code Section 54950-54962, known as the "Brown Act." In enacting this law, the legislature declared public commissions, boards and councils as well as other public agencies in the State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It was the intent of the legislature, actions be taken openly and the deliberations be conducted openly (in public). The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to those who serve them. The people, in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

The secrecy of these meetings, reports, discussions and actions, if not illegal are in the very least, appalling and destructive. "Open government and Transparency" is simply political double speak, lacking any semblance of reality relative to the mayor and his administration. The repeated lies, denials, and secrecy of the mayor have caused the council to keeps its distance and caused employee groups to distrust anything presented by him or his administration. Trust is easy to destroy and virtually impossible to restore. The mayor does not have time to restore the trust he never had. The only thing transparent in the mayor's administration is the mayor himself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fundamental Priority

Keegan Kyle of the Voice of San Diego wrote an article today (11-18-2009) titled, "Next on the Chopping Block: Public Safety." The issue addressed in the article was the discussion by city government of cutbacks to public safety. Keegan correctly identified why this is an important issue that people need pay closer attention to. Keegan goes on to explain why this is now being considered.

"There is no room to cut in either department," said Jeff Bowman, a former San Diego Fire chief. "I realize the city has budget problems, but the city has immense public safety problems." Bowman said public safety should be the fundamental priority of city government over other obligations like infrastructure, recreation or social services.(Taken from VOSD article)

Erik Bruvold, president of the Institute for Policy Research at National University, compared a trimmed-down public safety force to a less costly insurance policy. As the city invests less money in public safety services -- mostly police, rescue and fire -- its residents are going to receive less coverage when an unexpected event happens. (Taken from VOSD article)

We are being told things are not as bad as first thought; things are getting better; the stock market has rebounded; there will be no layoffs; and there will be no cuts to wages or benefits (guaranteed). The city is spending money like a drunken sailor and the police department moves forward with the promotional process for sergeant and lieutenant. Consultants were hired TODAY to begin evaluation of the downtown site for a new stadium for the Chargers; the land necessary to begin the expansion of the Convention Center was purchased this week; and work continues on the planning and development for a new city hall and downtown library.

Yesterday's revelation from the mayor's Financial Director the city's revenue projections are off by $10 million, pushing the projected deficit to $190 million does not sound BETTER to me. Things are getting better folks. Things are not as bad as first thought. I still have that land for sale and I know it's expected to be cloudy the next couple of nights, so if anyone wants to check the land out I am available.

Jeff Bowman, former chief of the San Diego Fire Department seems to be the only person willing to point out the obvious. His honest, reasoned comments are and always have been refreshing. Chief Bowman points out what the mayor and council seem to forget; government's fundamental priority is public safety. Infrastructure, social services, recreation, and other obligations, while important fall in line behind public safety. As Eric Bruvold points out, trimmed down public safety is akin to a less costly insurance policy and the less money invested in public safety will result in less coverage when an unexpected event happens. Keegan understands fully why cutting public safety should be avoided at all cost. Keegan writes, "Reductions in public safety funding could lead to slower response times for some neighborhoods and increase the risk of property damage and loss of life."

Is there anyone in this city willing to stand up and demand the city's politicians focus their priorities on those fundamental priorities that make sense? Public Safety; safe and passable streets; refuse collection; clean water; and adequate education for our children need be the priorities before a stadium; convention center expansion; new city hall or library; parks; pools; seals; fire pits; museums; operas; needle exchange; DARE; STAR; staffing in the mayor and council offices; or any of the other political social service programs provided by the city.

Glen Sparrow, professor emeritus at San Diego State University's School of Public Affairs was quoted in Kyle's Voice of San Diego article as saying, "I don't think that there is any good way that [the City Council] can come out of this. This is going to be a bloodbath." I could not agree more with Mr. Sparrow's assessment of the situation. The sad part is Sparrow is referring to the cuts to employees and services; I believe the bloodbath is going to be the human loss by way of serious injuries and the loss of life. Who is going to accept responsibility for this blood?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Land of Oz and the Emerald City

When I was growing up, one of my favorite movies was the Wizard of Oz. The first time I watched it was on a black and white television and I was scared out of my wits. The scarecrow; tin man; cowardly lion; Dorothy and Toto; Aunt Em and Uncle Henry; Wicked Witch of the West; the Wicked Witch of the North, Glenda; Munchkins; and The Wizard of Oz; are but a few of the characters in this fairy tale. Their journey to the Land of Oz and Emerald City turns into a quest to find a brain for the scarecrow, a heart for the tin man and courage for the lion and for Dorothy to get back to Kansas. Toto inadvertently outs the Wizard as a fraud and simply an ordinary man hiding behind a curtain, operating a giant console that makes him appear bigger than life.

I have watched this movie more times than I care to count or will ever admit to. I still enjoy the music and story and have found as I grow older, I often correlate the story line with life in what was once "America's Finest City." Can you place the scarecrow; maybe the tin man or the cowardly lion? When you think of the Wicked Witch of the West; what comes to mind? The Wizard of Oz; he is bigger than life and revered by the people until exposed as a phony; who could this be?

Many people believed the movie, written during the height of the U.S. Gold Standard monetary system, which in the end failed miserably and harmed everyone, depicted various players of that time in history. I liken the movie to the goings on in San Diego and the players who control the strings. Written in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago. The cast of Oz is interchangeable with the cast of so called leaders in San Diego. Pick the leader/politician and assign him/her a character from the movie and cringe at the reality of today.

Today seemed to bring more light related to the budget deficit we are facing next year. The mayor initially listed the deficit at $179 million and of late was attempting to persuade people that things were not as bad as first thought and with the growth of the Stock Market a smaller payment necessary to the Retirement System. I still have that land for sale. At the City Council today, it became apparent the mayor and staff are stone walling. Council member Frye got into an exchange with Nader Tirandazi, Financial Director for the mayor. During the exchange, Tirandazi let it slip revenue projections were off by $10 million which puts the deficit at closer to $190 million. The IBA put the deficit at $200 million some time ago and if history repeats, she will be closer to reality than the mayor.

So what does this all mean to us? In my estimation, anyone still saying things are not as bad as first thought are living in fantasy land (Emerald City) and doing a disservice to the people they impart this baloney. Things will not turn around until everyone acknowledges the depth of the problem we are staring down and begins to openly and honestly discuss them. Cheerleading from the sidelines and trying to get the crowd into the game will not put points on the board. A game plan, with a leader willing to risk, and players who know the play are what is required to move the ball and put points on the board. Cheering from the sidelines and telling the players on the bench things are getting better and not to worry is in no way productive nor helpful.

Someone needs to pull the curtain back and expose the wizard. Unlike Dorothy clicking her heals three times while saying "There's no place like home" to get back to Kansas, no amount of clicking heals while saying "Things are not as bad as thought" will not get us through this economic crisis. The words to "Over the Rainbow" are perfect for the dreamers in San Diego; "Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high. There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops. That's where you'll find me. Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then - oh, why can't I? If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can't I?

The Wizard of Oz is alive and well in Emerald City, or is it San Diego?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Message from Anonymous

The tenor of the comments to my latest BLOG posts seems to have taken on a much different tone of late. Frustration, anger, disgust and a bit of fear have begun to dominate. The focus of these words seems to be the chief officers occupying the 7th floor. I have deliberately stayed away from bashing or joining in the discussions when it moves in that direction. I walk a fine line as I write at times between the protections afforded under the First Amendment to the Constitution and violating department policy. Taking on the department brass in a public forum has proven to be an unprotected right and has in the past subjected individuals to discipline.

I have had several discussions with various members of the 7th Floor (for non members of the San Diego Police Department the 7th floor is where the offices of the Chief's are situated) and have observed visible anger as they would discuss a particular BLOG post and the "Anonymous" poster. The common theme among them is their view of those persons who post comments as "Anonymous" they are "cowards; trouble makers; idiots; not to be taken serious; and meaningless" and they (chief officers) reject out of hand what is posted by those using this label.

To some degree I agree with this view; and again I said to some degree. I would prefer people select a user name when posting comments and stick with it. This accomplishes several things in my mind; allows for dialogue back and forth with me and others; provides a name, albeit a pseudo name for others to identify with; and brings the writer of the comments more respect. BUT, I completely understand why people chose to remain "Anonymous" and not provide any hint or glimmer of their identity. I will hold myself up as the poster child for why it is better at times to remain anonymous when writing things that are not politically correct or may offend the target of the rant.

This BLOG started out "Anonymous" and my intention was to keep it that way. I had not thought through the name I assigned to the BLOG and a couple of people called me out. They did this innocently and not with any malice to injure or create problems. After about 2 weeks I came out from behind the monitor and identified myself and took ownership of the contents of this BLOG. It was not long after I became known as the author I started hearing certain people (management) were upset with me. I was careful not to rant about the department or its members and stayed clear of the dialogue about the perceptions many people voiced about the members of the 7th floor.

I have on several occasions been challenged for the content of my posts to this BLOG by members of management. These same individuals have expressed the perception my comments about the mayor, council and others in some way creates a climate that somehow makes their job more difficult. I was asked by three of those on the 7th floor how the chief could promote me to lieutenant with my BLOG being so negative toward the mayor and council. I believed then and still believe my BLOG and the content of my posts should have had no part of the discussion relative to my abilities and qualification for promotion. I am also not so naive as to believe my BLOG would not become a topic during these discussions.

Back to my initial topic; "Message from Anonymous" and the implications of being identified or worse, ignored. Sometimes we reject out of hand a message from someone we do not like; have a low opinion of; or have a poor relationship with. We take the position, "consider the source" and close our minds to what it is this person may say or write. We all do this, some of us more often than others and some of us are not even discreet about the manner we take when rejecting the information. The problem is we miss important information by doing this.

I am aware the people on the 7th floor are regular readers of this BLOG. I am also aware these same people take issue with the comments posted by "Anonymous." I believe the messages being put out by "Anonymous" are being missed and not being taken serious. The frustration with a perceived lack of support from the chief officers is a common theme among posters. The frustration is growing by the day and incidents mounting giving cause to the frustration turning to anger and disgust. Officers, detectives, sergeants and others grumble openly about their perception no one is willing to stand up and support them. They watch with anger and frustration press conferences where the public is told crime is down and all is well in San Diego with the police officers and the department. They see interviews where the lack of staffing is downplayed and the mayor discusses further reductions to wages, benefits and personnel. They speak out at the perception no one is standing up for them. They point north to Los Angeles PD and the chief standing on the steps of city hall challenging the council to provide additional personnel. They grumble about the perceived lack of communication from management and have grown weary of hearing bad news in the press when the belief is the information should be provided from within. Many feel they are being lied to and would prefer open, honest discussion from management about the budget and other issues facing them.

The frustration, anger, disgust and fear coming through the comments on my BLOG cannot be ignored or discounted because the person posting them wishes to remain anonymous. The messages need, at the least, to be viewed and discussed by the management of the police department. Individuals who may be the focus of the comments must take the comments in and determine if there is a cornel of truth and act accordingly. "Anonymous" has a message that must be taken seriously. Discount if you must the messenger, but take heed of the message and make this a better place tomorrow than it is today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

OneSD or Not; Just Volunteer?

So I have to wonder what the future holds for OneSD and the City of San Diego. Currently the program is being rolled out city wide; bills take forever to get paid (if at all) and the next roll out is to take on payroll. If you have not heard, Tom Flemming, the head of SDDPC has resigned and the owners of the program being used by OneSD have sued the City and SDDPC for breach of contract. The company Axon, has demanded the software and supporting documentation be returned and has asked for an injunction preventing the City from continuing to use the program. In a suit filed in US District Court, Axon is seeking $5.6 million for breach of contract.

I wrote about this debacle a while back in a post titled, "OneSD Joke is on YOU" where I talked about the cost over runs and the management of this program. The initial project coordinator, Rick Reynolds was fired and filed a law suit claiming wrongful termination. This entire program has been a joke from the beginning and with every turn more problems than a college calculus math book. There is no end in sight for the incompetence in leadership when it comes to the City of San Diego.

Is it any wonder the city is facing a deficit of between $179 and $200 million? There was another article in the Voice of San Diego talking about the proposed cut of 800 "vacant" positions within the city. The article, titled "Emptying the Notebook: City Vacancies" talks about the many "provisional employees" and the fact they are not on the books and do not show up anywhere. Just another example of the City cooking the books and playing games all the while cutting positions. Why do people come back to do this for less money than they were making when working? They do it because in most cases they were not prepared to leave when they did; need additional money because their retirement is NOT what all the pundits and naysayers put out; or they just are not ready to let go. The problem is a full time employee faces layoff because the city can show the layoff, save the benefit costs (including retirement costs), pay less salary and get the job done, thus giving the appearance to the taxpayer all is well and they see and feel no adverse affect.

There is virtually no way of tracking these positions and how many there are city wide. There are even those who are "volunteering" their services out of miss placed loyalty and a feeling of dedication to the public to make sure the job they once did is still being done. Police officers are violating their training every day answering calls alone when they should not; cutting corners when completing investigations; talking victims out of reporting crimes and not taking the time to arrest misdemeanor criminals or issuing traffic citations to remain clear for priority calls. There is virtually no pro-active police work being done today due to a lack of experience and adequate staffing. Responding to radio calls for service is the norm today and not much else. The telephone report unit takes at times two to three days or more to call victims back to take a report. In many instances the victims decline to follow through due to the delay in call back and or do not call back when asked to do so. Is it any wonder crime shows down?

There is word out that the city's financial condition is improving due to an uptick in the Stock Market. Officers are being promised there will be no cuts to wages or personnel. To all those who believe this poppycock I have some land I need to sell. I can show you the land any evening where the moon is hidden and the tide is low. It's a great piece of waterfront property where you could easily build a retirement home for not a lot of money.

Anyone saying there will be no further cuts to wages and benefits is either smoking wacky tabacky or has lost touch with the reality of life in San Diego. The stock market surge will have little if any affect on the budget for next year. The failure of housing prices to rebound; sales tax revenue is still at an all time low; the state is raising income tax by 10% further reducing spendable income; and revenue is still lagging behind projections; all of this means things are about as bad as they can be. The deficit is on the low side $179 million and on the high side over $200 million. The projections are for the deficits to be at or over $100 million for the next 5-7 years. The only way to cut these deficits is to reduce expenses and increase revenue. The mayor has steadfastly refused to discuss increases to revenue by way of increased fees or taxes. That leaves his idiocy of simply cutting. My projection is he will be gone before people realize what a joke he and his policies were and how much damage he truly has done.

The city continues to spend as if there is no problem. The city council told the mayor they were not going to reduce their office staff or spending. In an article in Sunday's Union Tribune, "Council ignoring mayor on cutbacks" Ben Hueso is quoted as saying, "The current structure reflects essential staff. Any reduction of personnel would make it nearly impossible to conduct effective committee ad council meetings." So if I understand Mr. Hueso correctly the city council believes they are operating with minimum staffing right now. Can someone get a call to these people on the city council and share with them the REAL numbers of police officers and clue them in the police department is and have been operating with WELL BELOW MINIMUM STAFFING for some time now? Let them know we need help; no matter what they have been told; we are in dire need of help and someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed if they do not do something NOW!