Soon after Mayor Jerry Sanders delivered his harsh State of the City speech-during which he declared an "ethical crisis," called city government "embarrassing and corrupt" and talked of "misconduct" and "attempts to cover it up"-City Council President Scott Peters heaved a sigh of relief and told a Union-Tribune reporter that he was "comforted" that Sanders wasn't "blaming anybody," a development Peters considered "great."
Clearly, Peters had found refuge in this line from Sanders' speech: "I'm not here to criticize the City Council, the city attorney or the employee labor unions."
But it sure seemed to us CityBeatniks that there was lots and lots of blame in the address-it's just that Sanders stopped short of naming names.
We asked the mayor if he could be more specific.
"I think the misconduct is pretty well chronicled," he bobbed. "We've got people in the city who've been indicted-both federally and through the district attorney-and those are the ones who I was really talking about."
In his speech, Sanders mentioned that the city employees' pension system was "intentionally under-funded" and that "new pension benefits were knowingly granted far in excess of what revenues paid into the system could support." Five of the people sitting behind the mayor-Peters, Jim Madaffer, Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein and Donna Frye-were on the City Council in 2002 when votes were taken to continue the under-funding and approve those benefits.
Still, we couldn't get Sanders to blame them.
"I'm saying that I don't think great decisions were made on some of these issues," he weaved. "I'm not sure that everybody had all the information they needed; I'm not sure everybody understood it. But to the extent they did understand it, I don't think those were good decisions."
He didn't exactly name them, but former city managers Lamont Ewell, Mike Uberuaga and Jack McGrory got the blame for deceptive budgeting.
"When you know you can't make something work, and yet you still go forward and do it, I think that's sweeping it under the rug," Sanders said. "When you know you can't do it within the budget, I think the city manager is responsible for taking a position on that. I just think some of these things were hatched because people weren't willing to say, "We can't do this.' I mean, there has to be some point where people say, "We simply cannot do anything more with what we have.' I think they tried to move past that point, and that's where they got themselves into trouble."
Alas, he would not blame the City Council. Not on this day.
"You're forgetting the one part where I said, "No matter how all this happened, I am now responsible,'" Sanders reminded.
Does that mean he'll throw his body on the grenade? Will he do jail time for somebody?
"I didn't say that. I'm responsible for solving those problems. I can be held accountable for being honest about them and solving them."I'm pretty prison averse," he said. "I've been on some bad vacations, but that would be a real bad one."