In case you missed the news this past week, John Hartley, a former San Diego City Councilmember who's running for the office again, in District 3, was the subject of a citizen's arrest. The arrest report says Hartley was charged with indecent exposure. The incident report indicates that he was in his parked Ford Ranger on Vista Street in Kensington and observed peeing into a cup and then masturbating.
That's all we know. We don't even know if it really happened. Hartley isn't talking to the press, but Larry Remer, his campaign consultant, has told reporters that the arrest is a result of a “misunderstanding” and that Hartley's quest for office will continue. Presumably, we'll know more if he appears in court. His attorney, Michael Pancer, told CityBeat that it hasn't been determined whether Hartley would be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor—if the latter, he won't go to court.
Particularly on something like this—a public official accused of committing a sex crime—we're absolutely going to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Without getting into graphic speculative details, we can easily imagine scenarios that would cast doubt on the charge. So we'll reserve judgment for now.
But regardless of what really went down and how it turns out, one thing is certain: Hartley's campaign has likely received a deadly blow to the head.
And that got us thinking about the relative public harm of certain transgressions of city officials.
Hartley might not recover, politically, from his arrest, even if he's exonerated; meanwhile, something City Councilmembers Brian Maienschein and Scott Peters did six years ago might not even come up amid their campaigns for city attorney—even though the public consequences were far greater.
Yes, Mr. Peters and Mr. Maienschein, we've found a way to drag you into masturbate-gate. Sorry.
From 1995 through 2004, the city was in violation of the Clean Water Act and state water regulations in the way it charged its sewer customers. The vast majority of sewer users—regular folks—were partially subsidizing the use of the sewer by some large businesses. According to a city-funded investigation of the matter—the so-called Kroll report—the City Council was informed of the violations in a closed-door meeting on Jan. 29, 2002. It was made clear at the meeting that average citizens were being burdened unfairly and that complying with the law would reduce sewer bills for most customers. The City Council declined to do anything about it. Councilmember Jim Madaffer went so far as to defiantly say, “Let 'em sue us,” according to the Kroll report.
Maienschein was at that meeting, but Peters was not. However, he received a memo from officials in the City Treasurer's and City Attorney's offices that reiterated the situation. The Kroll report said there was evidence that the City Council “intentionally delayed implementing a compliant rate structure out of concern for Kelco,” an industrial sewer user. The Kroll report singled out former Mayor Dick Murphy, current City Councilmembers Peters, Maienschein, Madaffer and Toni Atkins and former Councilmember Ralph Inzunza for “knowingly and improperly” causing the city to break the law.
It wasn't until the state officially demanded a compliant rate structure and reminded city officials that hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of state and federal grants and loans were at risk did the city finally fix the problem.
The result of all this was a class-action lawsuit brought by Michael Shames, executive director of the San Diego-based Utility Consumers Action Network, on behalf of residential ratepayers, which forced the return of $35 million to the ratepayers. Taxpayers also had to cough up $5 million in attorneys fees.
Then, of course, there's the matter of the city-employee pension brouhaha, in which Peters and Maienschein played roles in approving an ill-advised deal that some believe brought the city to the brink of insolvency and deceiving municipal bond investors, which has kept the city out of the public bond market for three years and counting. But y'all remember that one.
If, in fact, John Hartley did what witnesses say he did, it would demonstrate, at best, a remarkable lack of judgment skills, and voters would be wise to vote for someone else. We reiterate that that's a big “if.” But even if he did, would his transgression be better or worse than what Peters and Maienschein have done?
Something to think about.
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