Before Mayor 1Goal and an entourage of city officials put on a very public face in very yellow garb after San Diego County went up in flames, these guys were quite busy making sure that much of the public's business will continue to be done behind closed doors.
Jokingly, some political observers are referring to the mayor and his fiery news-conference backups as Dancing Dick and the Yellow Jackets. This may be a tad cruel, but it goes to show the frustration that has built up over the last few months over a mayor who, until Rome burned, seemed to lead by inner-office memo and tinder-dry press statements devoid of substance.
But judging from the Oct. 22 meeting of the city's Rules, Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, most members of the mayor's touring band may be more concerned about racking up photo opportunities for future re-election campaign brochures than assuring the public of translucent governing.
Last week, the committee-composed of Murphy on lead vocals and council colleagues Jim "MadDog" Madaffer on drums, Brian Maienschein on air guitar, Scott Peters on sitar and Ralphie Inzunza on the kazoo-had an opportunity to place on next March's election ballot a proposal put forth by local activist Mel Shapiro that would have banned the practice of forming so-called ad hoc committees by city agencies.
Shapiro is primarily concerned with the practice when it comes to the city's supposed standard-bearer of public integrity, otherwise known as the Ethics Commission. Since its inception, the commission has created, by Shapiro's count, at least eight such ad-hoc committees that have met outside of the public's view.
These committees have been formed to contemplate amendments to the city's election code, to come up with a replacement for departed commission Executive Director Charles Walker, to discuss lobbying and a host of other topics that clearly should involve the input of San Diego residents.
"I propose that all meetings of legislative bodies be noticed public meetings unless they are closed sessions permitted under the Brown Act," Shapiro wrote to the City Council. "Specifically, I refer to the loophole in state law for ad-hoc committee meetings, where the committee is less than a quorum. The meetings are not noticed so that the public cannot attend. There are never any minutes kept. There is no way for the public to know who attends the meetings since we do not know where or when the meetings are held."
The City Attorney's Office, which of late has strongly defended the council's right to meet privately when it comes to big-ticket items like the city's negotiations with the Chargers, even seemed impressed with Shapiro's idea.
"The City Council has the ability to implement Mr. Shapiro's proposal directly, as an alternative to submitting the matter to the voters as a ballot measure," the office wrote to the Rules Committee. "The council has the authority to impose stricter open meeting requirements on city advisory boards or committees by approving an ordinance or council policy, without the time consumption and expense of a ballot measure."
The city attorney's opinion continued: "Mr. Shapiro's proposal would not prevent members of a legislative body who are less than a quorum, and who are not members of a subcommittee, from meeting in private to discuss business. Therefore, this stricter open meeting requirement might have the practical effect of discouraging the formation of official subcommittees."
In other words, more light shining on city business. Shazam!
The Rules Committee discussion started out swell enough when Madaffer made a motion to pursue the loophole closing. "I don't have a problem with a policy," MadDog said.
But then the asylum had a breakout.
"I totally disagree," said Peters, an alleged Democrat. "What this means is incredible. It's already very, very difficult to, ah, we're trying to balance on one hand... the need for open government with... things we have to do outside of the public, like talk about, for instance, our Chargers strategy.... I think, you know, three of us meeting in the hall, you can't talk about City of Villages or the [utility] undergrounding program, you just can't notice all those things."
"Boy, talk about a trap for the unwary," chimed in Mayor Yellow Jacket. "Boy, I just think this is going to result in, ah, people being accused of doing things that are meant to be completely innocent."
Inzunza removed his nose from the mayor's backside long enough to snipe thusly: "When Mr. Shapiro refers things to the Ethics Commission about me, he never CCs me about it. I mean, you're able to do those things in private. You know, people need to do things in private in order to get their business done."
Sadly, but not surprisingly, Madaffer's motion died without a second.
Shapiro couldn't believe what he'd witnessed. First, the fact that Inzunza had learned that Shapiro had filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission, contrary to city law. Shapiro said he actually filed the complaint against Inzunza contributors whom he suspected of illegally bundling contributions. A commission official told him the leak did not come from her office.
Second, how the committee members had twisted a well-received suggestion about opening up the advisory board process into a personal assault on their ability to meet in a hallway.
The lesson is clear. You want to know how city government works? Don't expect these boys to take the time to step into that firestorm, yellow jackets or not.We accept tips of all shapes and sizes: spin cycle@SDcitybeat.com.