It's been reported that during the first week in August, state Sen. Bill Morrow submitted, and then promptly withdrew, a request to state officials to conduct an audit of the pension system. But Morrow hasn't explained why. Until now.
Morrow told CityBeat on Monday that lawyers representing the San Diego City Employees Retirement System (SDCERS) met with him in his Carlsbad office "on or before" July 22 and asked him to seek the audit. (He didn't recall the exact date of the meeting but one of the lawyers sent an e-mail to Morrow's chief-of-staff on July 22 thanking him for the meeting.) Morrow, whose district includes Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Escondido and the very northern tip of San Diego, sits on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, through which this sort of request is made.
The request sounded reasonable to Morrow, who said he asked the lawyers, Reginald Vitek and Dennis Wickham of the firm Selzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, if they thought City Attorney Mike Aguirre would be OK with the state audit. "They believed he'd be fully supportive of this request," he said.
Vitek and Wickham agreed to draft a set of questions that would form the basis of the audit and provide it to Morrow. That document arrived at Morrow's office on Aug. 3, which was the deadline for the audit committee to receive requests.
That day, Morrow was returning from a four-day vacation, and as he motored down Highway 395, his cell phone rang-it was Aguirre, who Morrow had intended to talk to anyway because his opinion "weighed heavily." Morrow pulled over and talked to Aguirre for about 30 minutes. "It was a very good conversation," the senator said. Aguirre told Morrow that he was not in favor of a state audit, saying he considered it unnecessary and a stonewalling tactic by the SDCERS board, which for months has been under pressure from city and federal officials to hand over internal documents.
Morrow said he'd forward the SDCERS audit request to Aguirre for further opinion, but in the meantime, he'd submit the request to committee because amendments to the request were allowed for two additional days. Aguirre contacted Morrow and repeated his objections, and Morrow withdrew the request. Morrow said his staff was also contacted by an aide to Sen. Christine Kehoe, saying Kehoe also objected to the audit request. Kehoe, who formerly sat on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, told CityBeat this week that she objected because the San Diego pension mess, given the amount of money involved and the federal scrutiny, goes "way beyond what the state auditor does."
SDCERS Board of Administration President Peter Preovolos told CityBeat last week that he had been impressed with the conclusions of state audits of Oakland, Richmond and Sacramento, and he thought it was the right solution to the political stalemate in San Diego. Morrow's decision "was a great tragedy," he said. "I have to blame Aguirre again-big-mouth Aguirre-[for] attacking Morrow, talking about stonewalling, you know, a disgrace."
But Morrow said he never felt attacked by Aguirre.
Told later of Morrow's position, Preovolos said, "That all sounds plausible." He said that perhaps he read too much into Aguirre's "stonewalling" comment and assumed the city attorney had badgered Morrow. Preovolos had no idea Kehoe also objected.
Morrow was not aware that the story of the audit request had been made public until he got a call from a reporter seeking comment. Scott Lewis, a columnist for the Voice of San Diego online newsmagazine, broke the story on July 29, citing unnamed sources. That same day, at an SDCERS board meeting, according to a follow-up column by Lewis, Preovolos referred publicly to Lewis' story, saying that the confidential sources in it had "no validity."
This was at least a week after Vitek and Wickham met with Morrow in his Carlsbad office. And Preovolos acknowledged in an Aug. 26 interview with CityBeat that he had been working on the state-audit plan for two months.
Preovolos said he doesn't remember exactly what he said at that meeting, but he doesn't dispute what Lewis wrote. "If I said something publicly, I was still in a defensive mode," he said. "I was very, very sensitive" to the notion that the board had agreed to keep the state-audit story quiet, and he was upset that it had been made public.
For his part, Morrow said he had no idea anyone wanted the thing under wraps. "I do everything above board," he said.
In a bizarre turn, Preovolos also said that he urged "the reporter that broke the story"-he declined to name the reporter at first but referred to the person as a male-to sit on the story for a couple of weeks, but the reporter refused. Lewis is the reporter who broke the story, and he told CityBeat he didn't talk to Preovolos before his story was published. He said he called Preovolos and SDCERS Administrator Larry Grissom, but they didn't call him back.
When told that Lewis said the two never talked before the story came out, Preovolos said, "That's not true.... I'm not about to call anybody a liar, [but] in my heart of hearts, I know I talked to him."