Someone hand me a barf bag the next time a politician-save for the likes of Donna Frye-utters the word "accountability" in public.
Mayor Dick "What, Me Worry?" Murphy uses the word waaay too much. San Diego needs a strong mayor, he says, to give the position accountability. The city's tequila-tainted Data Processing Corp. debacle, he says, grew from a lack of accountability. The city's unraveling pension fund, he says robotically, screams for greater accountability in fiscal management.
If you think of San Diego as a teenager, then its parents are the ones who'll publicly chastise you for sneaking a smoke at school while stealthily passing you the liquor bottle when the lights go dim.
The leaders of this otherwise fine city would have you believe that, when that alarm clock goes off in the a.m., the first thought that races into their minds is, What can I do today for the greater good of those most in need? You will not fall out of your Barcalounger to learn that is what the political spinmeisters want you to think.
No, these "leaders" are just as petty, just as small-minded, just as egocentric as the rest of us, and no amount of lipstick will make this pig look any more appealing-nor the use of the word "accountability" any more meaningful than an election-year bromide.
So, what have we learned? First, that a strong opinion that doesn't precisely shadow those of our chosen leaders will put you in line for a well-choreographed trip to the political woodshed. Just look at Carl DeMaio, whose Performance Institute spent months analyzing the city's budget for waste-free of charge!-and still found himself vilified by City Manager Lamont Ewell and a majority of the City Council, most of whom wouldn't know a debt ceiling from a hole in the wall.
We've also learned that, for all the feigned politeness conveyed by the political game players in town when the spotlight's on, there's not enough room freshener in the world to mask the musty, powdered-wig kind of stench the public feels bathed in after these leaders pass the buck, obfuscate or simply blame some other political schmo for their own failings and lack of imagination.
City Council members playing with cell phones or rolling their eyes in abject boredom do little to earn the confidence of the public, and no amount of monthly newsletters or dry-as-toast radio shows will change that.
Finally, it is the hypocrisy of the politically savvy that is most grating.
Take, for example, the folks who run the city's downtown redevelopment agency, otherwise known as the Centre City Development Corp. While the rest of the city shrivels financially, CCDC boasts how its budget next year will swell by nearly a quarter, that it will be adding staff when other agencies are slashing, and how its directors last week swooned in honoring downtown kingpin/Padres owner John Moores.
"His substantial community conscience," board member/developer Julie Dillon gushed, "sustained his vigorous and unyielding support for the new ballpark as the anchor of a major redevelopment program. Mr. Moores will have a lasting impact on this community that will endure in San Diego for generations."
No doubt. Like the impact felt from tens of millions of dollars in payments from the city for the foreseeable future that will go to pay off Petco Park instead of better roads, libraries and real parks.
But suggest to CCDC that it might want to invest some of its redevelopment dollars into public safety for downtown, where the crime rate is 10 times the city average, and the powdered wigs go flying.
Hank Cunningham, who serves affably as both the city's Redevelopment Agency assistant executive director and as director of the community and economic development department, did just that, and now he's probably feeling around for his head.
In April, Cunningham wrote a memo to the City Council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, which had directed Ewell to pursue changes in state redevelopment law that would allow "a portion of redevelopment monies to be used for funding public safety needs." Specifically, the idea was to focus a state amendment solely on downtown's redevelopment take-expected to reach $50 million next year-to help pay for police and fire protection in an area flush with residential high-rises and other private endeavors like ballparks.
Peter Hall, president of CCDC, would have none of that. In a scathing April 15 e-mail sent to Ewell and obtained by CityBeat, Hall excoriated Cunningham for even suggesting such a money shift, which Hall claimed would not sit well with the money-grabbing vultures in Sacramento who would like even more of San Diego's redevelopment tax dollars for their own pathetic budget woes.
"I wish to express CCDC's shock and disappointment in the recommendation advanced by Hank Cunningham," Hall wrote. "Surely, it is not necessary to pose irresponsible suggestions that could contain legal and political problems for the city, especially with the current ones."
Hall noted that "our chair and a few of our board members are upset over this "hit' on CCDC, especially given the responsibilities we undertake for the city and the contributions we make."
Then he lowers the boom. "Hank's cavalier attitude about focusing the legislation... on downtown only demonstrates again his rogue behavior," Hall fumes. "This is the second instance recently where his intrusion into CCDC business is not only inappropriate, but absolutely off the mark. I'm not sure what drives his lack of regard for downtown redevelopment, but feel the time has come to request that you direct Hank to refrain from engaging in any policy recommendations that impact downtown redevelopment."
Cunningham declined to comment, but this is what it's come to: One agency president telling the city manager to rein in his hard-working underlings so that a discussion on what to do about a $130 million backlog in public-safety needs can take place. Too many people in this town saying, "Shhhh!" Wonder why.
To his credit, City Councilmember Brian Maienschein, who heads the Public Safety Committee, will continue to push for such a discussion-no matter how many powdered wigs fly nor how many tantrums take place.
"It's very important that we have public safety downtown, and this is something that has to be looked at. Every option has to be explored," said Lance Witmondt, Maienschein's chief of staff.Score one for accountability.