Mayor pro-tem Jim Madaffer has some explaining to do.
Despite an unprecedented budget crunch at City Hall, Madaffer just hired a new staffer, naming Colleen Windsor-former Mayor Dick Murphy's press secretary-as Grantville redevelopment project director, fueling allegations of patronage and speculation regarding Windsor's qualifications.
"What the hell does she know about redevelopment?" asked John Pilch, the past chair of the city's Navajo Community Planning Group, which advises the city on matters affecting Grantville and nearby neighborhoods, and a member of the city's Grantville Redevelopment Advisory Committee.
Windsor, a former television news reporter for KFMB/Channel 8 known at the time as Colleen Rudy-was hired by Murphy as his deputy press secretary in November 2001. According to a press release issued at the time, she has a bachelor's degree in communications from California State University, Chico.
Windsor, later promoted to press secretary, was a fiercely loyal Murphy staffer during the tumultuous months leading up to his eventual resignation. Many observers, including City Councilmember Scott Peters, have attributed Murphy's downfall to his failure to communicate effectively with the public and press.
Madaffer and Murphy, both conservative Republicans, were political allies.
"It sounds like politics as usual," said Dave Potter, former chair of the Community Planners Committee, an umbrella group for all community planning groups, and the Clairemont Mesa Planning Committee. "Murphy and Madaffer seem to be very close and this is certainly a big project with Madaffer. Whether that played a hand in her being hired, I don't know."
Windsor did not return several messages left on her cellular and work phones.
Madaffer's press secretary, Leslie Webb, said Madaffer was out of town on a family vacation. "You know that Jim speaks for himself," Webb said. "He's out-of-pocket for this week."
But it's Madaffer's plan to use dollars generated by redevelopment to pay Windsor's salary-$103,006, according to the city manager's office-that has some city officials and citizens confused and angry.
"[Windsor's] new position, while under the authority of City Council District 7, will be funded by tax increment generated within the Grantville Redevelopment area," states an Aug. 3 memo Madaffer sent to his City Council colleagues and City Manager Lamont Ewell.
The redevelopment of Grantville, which Madaffer has championed, is itself a source of controversy. In May, the City Council voted to establish a redevelopment zone in the mostly commercial neighborhood, located north of Interstate 8 and bisected by Mission Gorge Road.
Classifying Grantville as a redevelopment area allows the city to trap about two-thirds of the property taxes generated there, which is then supposed to be reinvested in the redevelopment zone. As property values rise, the amount of property tax also increases, exponentially growing the tax increment that's available for redevelopment.
Pilch said he feels misled by Madaffer's plan to use those funds to pay Windsor.
"That's not the way the project was sold to us," he said. "The tax-increment funds were going to stay in the area to be used in the area to redevelop the area."
"That smells," said John McNabb, a community activist and frequent critic of redevelopment. "A staffer being paid by tax-increment funds, that's abnormal.... She could be working for the redevelopment agency and be in charge of the area and that would be appropriate, but for her to be on the staff of Madaffer is unusual."
City Councilmember Donna Frye, who voted against the Grantville project, said she doesn't have any staffers who are being paid from redevelopment funds, but she's more concerned that a judge's ruling in a lawsuit recently filed by the county of San Diego against the city could force the entire Grantville project to be scrapped.
"It seems so odd that we can spend tax-increment money that I'm not sure we even have a legal right to collect," she said. "If in fact a court rules... that it shouldn't be a redevelopment area, then what? Does a redevelopment area even exist?"
City Attorney Mike Aguirre said he didn't think the situation would impact the standing of the county's lawsuit. He added that he was reluctant to prejudge Madaffer's hiring of Windsor, but "if someone from the community complains, we will certainly look into it."
Frye also had some questions about Madaffer possibly overstepping the bounds of his authority. "I don't really see how an individual council member can allocate redevelopment funds," she said. "I don't understand how people can just add staff without some sort of a council action unless it is within his council budget... unless it was approved by the city manager... who can spend up to a certain amount of money.
"We are all trying to tighten our belts, so it would be helpful to know how this project works," Frye said. "Yeah, I'm curious."
A spokesperson for Ewell said the city manager had nothing to do with the selection process.
The Grantville redevelopment project has yet to start collecting tax increment and, according to a report issued by the city manager in June, won't begin to until next summer. It remains unclear how Windsor's position will "be funded by tax increment generated within the Grantville Redevelopment area."
Ellie Oppenheim, deputy city manager in charge of the Community and Economic Development Department, declined to weigh in on whether it is appropriate to pay-or plan to pay-a City Council staff member with tax-increment funds.
"I think it is premature to even have that conversation because, to the best of my knowledge, at this point there are no funds," she said. "I'd like to better understand the whole Grantville project before I get into the staffing and funding distribution question."
As it turns out, the Grantville project is actually thousands of dollars in debt. It owes a sizeable chunk of money to Madaffer's office.
In May, Madaffer loaned $100,000 of federally regulated Community Development Block Grant money to the city's Redevelopment Agency, earmarking it, according to a press release on his website, "for the Grantville Redevelopment Area Administration."
Oppenheim said part of that $100,000 loan will be used to "prime the pump," covering Grantville start-up costs and funding a portion of the salary of a department staffer who works on the project. "To the best of my knowledge," she said, "the council office plans to use other CDBG funding to support Colleen Windsor's position."
Oppenheim has asked to meet with Madaffer to discuss Windsor's new job, specifically "the roles and expectations and to review the process and funding." Although she only recently started overseeing redevelopment efforts, Oppenheim said she is unaware of any other City Council staffers who have been named director of any of the city's 16 other redevelopment areas.
While it seems no one knows exactly how Windsor is getting paid, there's even more confusion regarding who she actually works for.Madaffer's press secretary told CityBeat that Windsor was not a member of Madaffer's staff. Oppenheim said Windsor definitely isn't working for the city's Community and Economic Development Department. A secretary who answered the phone at the mayor's office said Windsor had changed offices, but she didn't have any details. Ewell's spokesperson later said Windsor had officially stopped working for the mayor's office on Aug. 12 and began working for Madaffer three days later.