“No sane local official who has hung up an empty stocking over the municipal fireplace is going to shoot Santa Claus just before a hard Christmas.”—Alfred E. SmithNew City Attorney Jan Goldsmith certainly doesn't appear to live by the credo “If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all.”
Goldsmith, who rode into office on a Scorched Mike Aguirre campaign philosophy, might have served his cause better if he had reviewed—while floating in the Caribbean—the transition that took place when Aguirre supplanted Casey Gwinn as the city's top legal beagle.
Four years ago, Aguirre pounded hard on the absence of solid legal advice from Gwinn on a slew of critical issues to eke out a slim election victory, but despite those differences, even Aguirre acknowledged Gwinn's “courtesy and professionalism” during the transition.
Even the Aguirre-hating Union-Tribune acknowledged in 2004 that the man they had endorsed—and would later vilify on a near-daily basis—had stirred the inauguration-day crowd into a gleeful frenzy. One headline even proclaimed, “Aguirre a swearing-in hit: Remarks on city crisis bring crowd in Golden Hall to its feet.”
But last week, the headlines for Goldsmith were quite different. “New city attorney heaps criticism on predecessor,” said one. “Goldsmith stirs up criticism with claim,” said another.
Perhaps the lesson here is that Goldsmith gets cranky after a weeklong vacation cruise. Or perhaps he was simply sending an all-too-obvious signal that the days of battles between the City Attorney's office and the City Council are over.
“The last four years have been difficult,” Goldsmith told the inauguration crowd. “The City Attorney's office must be rebuilt into a well-run municipal law firm. Our relationship with our client needs to be established. We need to earn credibility and respect.”
When meeting with staff, Goldsmith said he learned “what happened during the past four years behind the scenes. We discovered an office in turmoil at the top….” What Goldsmith may have forgotten—or, being a relatively new San Diego resident, didn't know—is the slipshod advice the city received from Aguirre's predecessor. Gwinn was said to be so obsessed with domestic-violence issues and development of the Family Justice Center that most other issues—the pension crisis, to name just one—were given short shrift or flat-out ignored.
What Goldsmith seems to be saying to his elected counterparts in the Mayor's office and on the City Council is, “Watch us. We'll behave ourselves and do what you ask of us.” As he said in his inauguration speech, “We can't be pushed, but we can be convinced.”
Yes, the people's attorney has left the building.
“I thought it was pretty inappropriate,” civic activist Ian Trowbridge told Spin Cycle of Goldsmith's inaugural speech. “I thought the tenor of his comments were all wrong for what ought to have been a celebratory occasion. I think he got carried away, and it's been pretty well blasted by a lot of people.”
What Goldsmith should realize is that it's going to take some tough guidance to get our Titanic of a city redirected away from the icebergs, and simply playing footsy with other elected leaders won't get the job done.
With Goldsmith dedicating a good chunk of his inaugural speech to the alleged plight of Deputy City Attorney Andrea Dixon—who earlier this year was removed by Aguirre as counsel for the city's Planning Commission over perceptions that she failed to take into account the public interest in her advice—what we might be entering is a hands-off-the-developers era.
In a move not typical of traditionally pomp-laden swearing-in ceremonies, Goldsmith announced that Dixon had been reassigned back to the Planning Commission.
“I'll certainly be interested to see how Goldsmith comes down on the Navy Broadway Complex,” said Trowbridge, who's involved in a lawsuit over the bayfront proposal's environmental review. “We'll just have to see if it's back to doing these deals with developers when they're not acting in the public interest. I mean, he shouldn't be dealing with developers, period.”
Kathryn Burton, who served as Aguirre's managing assistant city attorney before departing her post, said she was floored when Dixon wrote to her in a July e-mail (in an exchange reported this week by the U-T's Matt Hall) that she was uncertain how to rewrite a rejected memo on the proposed expansion of the Westfield / UTC shopping center that would “protect the public interest.”
“Your first memo contained no substance or analysis, just boilerplate language,” Burton wrote back. “When I spoke to you about [the] project, you shrugged your shoulders and said: ‘Ehhhh, the Council is going to do what the Council is going to do. Nothing we write will change that.' Your work on this project has not yet been of a quality that could be approved for distribution to the Council. The direction is to produce a memo that says something useful for the decision makers….”
Goldsmith, in his speech, portrayed Dixon as a victim of Aguirre's wrath because she “refused to do something she was ordered to do because it violated her ethical obligations.” Burton—who said she was not contacted by Goldsmith to get her side of the argument—called his interpretation of the incident a “total lie.”
“What I'm afraid it says is, ‘Come on in, developers, the door's wide open!” Burton said.
In the race to see who gets his or her council website up and running first, council newbie Sherri Lightner receives Spin Cycle's Golden Cattle Prod award. While the websites for newcomers Todd Gloria and Marti Emerald remained woefully generic (simple listings of communities and zip codes) as of press time Tuesday, Lightner managed to post the beginnings of her staff and emergency information regarding last week's awful fighter-jet crash in a district neighborhood west of Miramar.
Even Councilmember Carl DeMaio's website is devoid of anything but pablum and a few photos of himself—and he's had months to get it going, since his election was wrapped up during the summer.
Lightner chuckled at the Spin Cycle acknowledgement, noting that her staff had website information “ready to go before we took office.” She noted that she has yet to settle on a chief of staff but hopes to have that vacancy filled by year's end.
“Now I suppose I'll get a lot more résumés,” Lightner joked.
Gloria, meanwhile, has tapped a veteran of City Hall's 10th floor, Jamie Fox Rice, to serve as his chief of staff. Rice served as press secretary for former Councilmember Ralph Inzunza, who resigned along with colleague Michael Zucchet in 2005 following convictions in the infamous Strippergate scandal. (Zucchet's conviction was overturned later that year.) Joining Rice as deputy chief of staff will be Katie Keach, who previously served as Zucchet's press secretary.
Emerald has chosen Xena Jacobson, her campaign manager and former member of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, as her chief of staff.
Anyway, well done, Councilmember Lightner!
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