Sooo, City Hall can only fret and opine and nail-bite when it comes to the federal grand jury's ongoing Greenbacks-a-Go-Go investigation. Sure, it makes the job a bit harder when you're not even sure the bugs have been exterminated from your office, but hey it's the era of the Ashcroft Airship, so buck up and be a patriot!
Come to think of it, there is another grand jury-that of the county kind-that would love to have your attention while the feds play peek-a-boo in the dark. In the past year, the current county Grand Jury has worked diligently to delve into a variety of topics affecting how San Diego ticks: educational innovations found in the county, bed-check problems at Juvenile Hall, jet skis polluting Mission Bay, Superior Court and its backlog of unserved felony warrants-just to name a few.
Last March, the county Grand Jury issued a report titled, “San Diego Ethics Commission: Can It Attain its Purpose?” The report, in a nutshell, found the commission ripe for abuse and recommended that the mayor and City Council rewrite city law to remove that potential. Hire independent legal counsel and limit the preponderance of attorneys who sit as commissioners, the Grand Jury said. The report scolded the City Attorney's Office, the commission's legally allowed counsel, as seemingly “incapable over the years of investigating complaints of political corruption and prosecuting offenders.”
Mayor 1Goal had 90 days to comment on the scorching report and, finally, last week he did so. Too bad there isn't a keystroke for a raspberry, because it would've sufficed for the six pages of pooh-poohs that our mayor dished out in response.
In traditional skirt-the-real-issue-and-hide-under-the-knickers-of-technicality fashion, Mayor Timex waddled up to the plate and whimpered, “On advice of the City Attorney, I believe that the recommendations do not address the ‘operations‚' ‘functions' or ‘methods or system of performing duties,' as those duties are currently prescribed by law. Instead, the recommendation calls for a change in law, a subject of inquiry beyond the scope of the Grand Jury's authority.”
The man who barely went knee-deep recently for a photo op in Mission Bay goes on to say “in the spirit of cooperation,” he'll go to the trouble of responding. Other than agreeing that the mayor “should continue to be the appointing authority,” he invokes the lawyerly comebacker, “The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted” a total of eight times. On the eighth go of it, he adds “or reasonable” to the end of the phrase-apparently just to mix it up.
“‘In the spirit of cooperation‚' he rejects every single one of their recommendations,” sighs activist Mel Shapiro. “It must be frustrating being a grand juror-you do all this work and write up a big report, and then the city, or whatever jurisdiction, says, ‘Screw you! We're not going to do anything! What are you going to do about it, Grand Jury?!'”
So with the mayor's stamp of approval for ethics-as-usual, what's the commission to do about, oh, say, folks like strip-club mouthpiece Lance Malone, City Hall's alleged link to Vegas skin merchants, who appears to have walked, talked and quacked like a lobbyist but didn't seem to bother to register as one, as is the rule of the game down here in parochial San Diego?
Well, Shapiro asked just that of Charles Walker, the commission's Capt. Steubing-esque executive director, protector of all things status quo. Walker's response? Yet another typed-up raspberry.
“In accordance with the provisions of our Investigation and Enforcement Procedures,” Walker writes in part, “this matter has been referred to another law enforcement agency because this matter is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Accordingly, the Preliminary Review has resulted in a conclusion that your complaint will not be the subject of a formal investigation by the Commission.”
“We know there's a federal investigation of Lance Malone, but I don't think the feds are saying, ‘Gee, Mr. Malone, you're not registered as a lobbyist!' I mean, they don't care. There must be bigger fish than that!” Shapiro bristles. “It just seems sort of a flimsy excuse to me [to say,] ‘Well, it's a federal investigation-therefore, I'm not going to make him register.' I just don't understand it.”
It makes one wonder what other out-on-a-limb stances this Ethics Commission might be taking in the future. What, for example, is the commission to do about former Councilman George “Cheetah Cat” Stevens, who-as Channel 10 adeptly pointed out this week-says he was given the A-OK from an unnamed staffer in the city clerk's office to destroy his 2002 council calendar, an egregious violation of city law, and a tough one for the smell test, given the timing of the fed's strip-club investigation, which was in full swing that year.
Of course, any of this could fall under the “subject of an ongoing criminal investigation” category, should Walker want to feed every similar complaint over to his former (current?) colleagues at the FBI. But at some point, the question has to be asked: What's the point?
Maybe the city is due for a spin-off of the Ethics Commission-the Incompetence Commission perhaps. “That would be sort of a like an inspector general!” Shapiro says, clearly liking the idea. “Walker can only investigate lobbyists, campaign violations and conflict-of-interest violations. This would just be for incompetence. Hmmm.”
Shapiro thought for a moment, then said, “Isn't the [county] Grand Jury supposed to investigate those kinds of complaints? Of course, we know how the city responds to the grand jury, right?”