“Look, from now on, when you take a chip, just take one dip and end it!”
—Timmy to George Costanza on Seinfeld
The news may have hit San Diego on April 1, but it was clearly no April Fool's joke.
When the Union-Tribune reported last week that Mayor Jerry Sanders had quietly begun taking his full salary and pension in December—despite a promise during his first mayoral campaign not to do so—the mayor said he had his reasons:
• He never repeated the vow in the 2008 campaign, he argued, which seems to suggest that the mayor believes promises, like milk and eggs, have expiration dates.
• Sanders said he has a daughter—adult age, at that—to put through college. Noble, to be sure, but certainly a challenge many parents face today while taking home a lot less dough. Many even plan for it at childbirth in something called—I know, crazy!—a college fund.
• He didn't know how to break the news to the public. This from the Prince of the Press Conference with the legion of well-paid press aides and the clever mind of Special Projects Guru Gerry Braun.
That was bad enough, but what really irked Spin Cycle was the mayor's plea of “Average Joe”-ness.
“I'm not wealthy,” Sanders told the U-T. “I'm just like everybody else. I've got to make ends meet.”
To be sure, our mayor is no Warren Buffett—or even Jimmy Buffett, for that matter. But, please, spare Spin the Tin Cup Blues. I mean, really, mayor. In these horrifically nerve-wracking economic times, you go and pull a Ralph Kramden on us? Oh, please.
Financial wizards note that if you earn $300,000 a year or more, that distinction puts you in the top 1 percent of U.S. wage earners. With his new pay plan, the mayor gets about two-thirds of the way there.
Now, Spin Cycle is betting that the mayor's charming wife, ex-NYPD-cop-turned-crime-consultant Rana Sampson, is no slouch in the money-earning field, either—some cities have paid $1,400 a day for her well-regarded law-enforcement seminars.
On top of that, she's just accepted a full-time position at the San Diego Center for Children as senior director of marketing and development, a job that paid her predecessor more than $104,000 annually in salary and benefits, according to federal tax records.
So, while Rome burns—and city employees are asked to tighten their belts—the mayoral couple are off to Top 1 Percent Land (presumably chauffeured by bodyguards, per usual).
Considering the mayor's legal challenge last week to the rights of police officers to double dip through the controversial DROP loophole—much the same as what Sanders now has chosen to do—that should make for some really interesting labor negotiations, eh?
Spin Cycle sought the mayor's take on all of this, but by press time, his office had not responded to several e-mails on the matter.
Nor were responses forthcoming on why Sampson's business interests are not listed on the mayor's statement of economic interest, unlike those of City Council members such as Kevin Faulconer, Donna Frye and Sherri Lightner who declare their spouses' business holdings.
Stacey Fulhorst, head of the city's Ethics Commission, said that under state law “as a general rule, government officials are required to disclose their own economic interests as well as those of their immediate family members, which include a spouse, a registered domestic partner and / or a dependent child.”
The exception, she added, would occur if the spouse's income or holdings are legally separate, such as through a prenuptial agreement “that provides that the official does not have any legal right to his / her spouse's investments; then the official is not required to disclose his / her spouse's investments.”
Same goes for a spouse receiving income from, say, a company outside city limits, Fulhorst said.
Now, Spin Cycle is no lawyer, but it doesn't seem a pre-nup would apply to income earned after a marriage in a community-property state. And since Sampson's firm, Community Policing Associates, is run out of the couple's Kensington home, we're not talking out-of-town income.
So, for now, Spin will just leave it at “What's up with that?”
You might be asking, what's the big deal here—and why are you picking on the mayor's very nice wife? Well, it's a little thing called transparency. The mayor himself has boasted of its importance after years of subterranean finagling at City Hall.
A skeptic, for instance, might wonder about any connection between Sampson's new role at the Center for Children—she's volunteered there for years—and city documents revealing that the center is earmarked to receive $85,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds in fiscal year 2010 for “main campus facilities improvements.”
Again, a noble pursuit, but one that should be conducted in the full afterglow of transparency. Without transparency, as we've seen, things get muddied and people start to talk.
Take, for example, the mayor's role as a board member of Coronado First Bank. In a recent column, Spin Cycle raised the question of whether Sanders should step down from the board, which recently voted to expand into Downtown San Diego.
At the time, the Mayor's office insisted that Sanders had recused himself from discussions regarding the community bank's plan to open a branch in the town he governs.
But a source close to the bank has told Spin Cycle that three board members actually voted against the San Diego expansion. In addition to the much-publicized opposition from bank founder Tom Stickel, who resigned over the decision, the opponents included local developer Todd Anson (of Downtown's DiamondView Tower fame) and Sanders.Asked to confirm the vote, bank Chairman Bill Huck declined, invoking advice from legal counsel not to link board members' names with how they voted on the expansion. (Huck, by the way, manages the local office of the largest municipal-bond underwriter in the state, Stone & Youngberg. In the past, the firm has underwritten bonds for Centre City Development Corp. and the second phase of the massive park at Liberty Station.)
Anson was out of town and did not respond to requests for comment.
Stickel, whose friendship with Sanders dates back to their college days, wouldn't address the vote directly, either, but he did tell Spin Cycle that he's “confident that my position on not branching over the bridge was supported by my close allies on the board, Todd Anson and Jerry Sanders.”
What seems to be the moral here? Perhaps it's the old political axiom that the tripping stone is not the act but, rather, the cover-up. As they say, one man's transparency is another's opacity. Let's be transparent—Spin Cycle loves your tips. Send 'em to firstname.lastname@example.org.