“Nature... is nothing but the inner voice of self-interest.” —Charles Baudelaire
During last week's Rules Committee meeting, San Diego City Council President Tony Young got up in the grill of a deputy city attorney over when new council district boundaries kick in. The “spirited discussion,” as the Union-Tribune described it, raised some eyebrows among City Hall observers, who almost universally reacted with various forms of “What the huh?”
Well, sit tight, because the Spin Cycle rumor vacuum has sucked up a whopper of a tale from Young's 4th District. But a word of caution, as longtime Encanto resident Bob Matthews so eloquently put it: “Rumor mills are unnecessary for those seeking the truth.”
Seems in this tale, a tantalizing private-sector job dangles over the head of our intrepid, well-liked council president, who realizes grass must be greener—monetarily—on the other side of the council dais.
This job, said to be some government-affairs post at a local utility that has among its leadership ranks some close friends, has an expiration date attached, the story goes, hence Young's almost-nerdish interest in the timing of the council district boundary restriping.
Young—who chairs the powerful Rules Committee—produced a 2001 memo authored by then-City Clerk Chuck Abdelnour that Young said indicated that the new boundaries were to take effect 30 days after their approval.
So, why, Young wondered, the difference 10 years later? (City attorney Jan Goldsmith has opined that the new district lines won't take effect until the new 9th District council member officially takes office in December 2012. Until then, Goldsmith advised, council members should stick to representin' within the old lines.)
“This time around, there is a different scenario,” Deputy City attorney Sharon Spivak explained. She noted a 1990 opinion from then-City attorney John Witt that concluded, “Read as a whole, the Charter contemplates that the new district boundaries become applicable to the next regularly scheduled election process.”
“To change the boundaries for representation purposes before the next election cycle,” Goldsmith added in an Aug. 9 memo, “could create havoc.”
Young seemed irked that Spivak failed to mention that the 1990 memo was in reference to a recall election. She acknowledged the omission (“I had a lot to say,” Spivak said with a laugh), but that only seemed to fuel Young's pursuit of a Perry Mason moment, asking at one point for her interpretation of the word “shall.”
Spivak tried to explain that the redistricting plan, the legal document, becomes final after a 30-day period when it can be challenged in court or by referendum. That period ends Friday, Sept. 23. But in terms of actual representing, the new lines won't go into effect, she said, until the 9th District council member is seated.
Undaunted, Young continued to press on with the legal debate. “There was no language that was placed in the charter that would change the situation, other than the fact that there is a ninth council seat,” he argued.
“We think that's a significant change,” Spivak responded. “If nine districts are drawn and there are eight council members, the interpretation of that clause is that you represent your current boundaries.”
Young at first agreed, then didn't. “Well, no. It says that there won't be anybody representing District 9, not that you would represent the current boundaries,” he said. “There are other ways to do it. For example, there could be a way in which the individuals who had represented those areas in District 9 continue to do that until there's a new person elected for that ninth council seat.”
“It's not a political thing here,” Young added later. “We're just trying to make the right decision.”
Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, a Rules Committee member, had no problem with Goldsmith's interpretation: “I think the reading of the law and from a commonsense standpoint, to me, seems to be that they made the mark.”
Young indeed seemed alone in his concerns. A caution from Spivak to council members that they avoid “formal allocation of resources” on areas they would represent in the future, such as “moving staff to a neighborhood,” drew stronger reactions.
Speaking of strong, that, too, was the reaction to suggestions that Young's true motivation is securing this rumored private-sector job while simultaneously brokering the process of his eventual replacement.
Asked if she was burnishing her résumé, Young's spokesperson, Jill Esterbrooks, had to chuckle Tuesday. “I was hoping I had three more years to work on that,” she joked.
Reached at a League of California Cities conference in San Francisco, Young was stunned by the rumor. “I can tell you, there's no job out there waiting for me,” he told Spin Cycle. “I don't know how these rumors get started. I plan on finishing my term. We have a lot to do.”
Young said he simply wants the new boundaries recognized sooner while also providing representation to District 9 residents. “Any way we do this, it's going to be a chaotic year,” he predicted.
Barry Pollard, who ran unsuccessfully against Young last year, said he's heard the same rumor— that “once [Young's] presidency of the City Council is over, he is going to be making a move” into the private sector. Young's yearlong presidential term ends in December.
Pollard, who describes his relationship with Young as “cordial but by no means friends,” acknowledged that rumors flow like oxygen through District 4, but now he's hearing it from folks outside the district. If Young were interested in timing his rumored departure to allow the council to appoint his replacement, “it's really keeping us stagnant for another two years” since the charter bans appointees from running in the next election.
The charter, however, precludes appointments unless less than one year remains in a council term, said Denise Jenkins, elections analyst with the City Clerk's office. Young terms out in 2014.
Matthews, who's lived in the same District 4 home since 1958, called the rumor “idle speculation” not worthy of “sound thinkers” promulgated by “a group that wants to have power.
“I have full confidence that Mr. Young will complete his term,” he added.
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