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"Michael Aguirre, the pugnacious city attorney, has brought suit in federal court to have some of the benefits granted since 1996 rolled back on grounds that they violated federal conflict-of-interest laws. A self-described liberal Democrat, Mr. Aguirre deserves kudos for risking the wrath of the public-sector unions, but his prospects for success are uncertain.

"If he loses, reining in the liabilities will become a matter of negotiation with the unions. Good luck with that. A victory, on the other hand, would send a signal that unfunded promises for public-sector employees are not etched in stone, which would be a valuable signal for other state and local governments grappling with extravagant retirement packages for public employees. As Mr. Aguirre points out, current retirees 'are drawing 100 cents on the dollar from a pension fund that is only 60% funded.' "

San Diego Unified School District

Things have calmed down a lot at the San Diego Unified School District since the departure of Alan Bersin following the election two years ago that resulted in a board majority opposed to him and his controversial policies. After leaving the district, Democrat Bersin became something of a rolling stone, moving first to Sacramento to become education secretary for GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in July 2005, then resigning that $123,000-a-year gig abruptly last November when Mayor Jerry Sanders chose him to become an executive board member of the regional airport authority for $150,000 a year. (Bersin's mother-in-law was a heavy contributor to the mayor's privatization initiative.) The ex-school chief and wife Lisa Foster, a superior court judge, bought a $2.1 million house in Point Loma's tony "wooded area," well south of Lindbergh's noisy flight path.

In contrast to Bersin's rambles, two school board faces remained solidly in place. Katherine Nakamura, a onetime Bersin favorite, endorsed in her 2002 race by the Union-Tribune, was rescued in 2006 by the AFL-CIO's San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, which dispatched a round of so-called robo-calls to Democratic voters attacking her GOP foe in the supposedly nonpartisan contest: "Something scary is coming to San Diego, and it's not Halloween," said the caller in a child's voice. "The vice chair of San Diego's Republican Party is running for San Diego Unified school board. Republican Mike McSweeney has disguised himself as a moderate, but he is really a right-wing extremist who will destroy the balance of the school board." Lorena Gonzalez, the labor council's political director, later said in an e-mail that the actor who voiced the calls was a real ten-year-old -- "an actual child in our San Diego's Public School" -- and a member of AFTRA, a broadcast performers' union.

Nakamura's board colleague John de Beck, an ex-teacher who's been on the board since 1990, won his fourth reelection the easy way: no one opposed him. Four years before, pro-Bersin forces, including L.A. billionaire Eli Broad, financed ex-FBI agent Clyde Fuller against de Beck with dismal results.

Under the Radar

When Brett Maxfield, a young property agent in the city of San Diego's Real Estate Assets Department, blew the whistle in March on what he said was a sweetheart lease deal for the Carlton Oaks Golf Course, he didn't expect to be fired. But after Maxfield's charges were reported here a week later, Maxfield was called into the office of acting department director Mike Boyle and told he would have to leave.

"I believe that the reason for this action is the article that came out in the Reader concerning Carlton Oaks and other issues I have raised concerning the Water Dept.'s handling of property issues," Maxwell wrote in an e-mail to Jim Waring, top development aide to Mayor Jerry Sanders, the day he was let go. "Can we meet and talk about it?"

Responded Waring: "Just so you know, Mike briefed me on your employment status before any article was known or published. Regardless, I will meet with you as a courtesy, but only with Mike present. I do not want you, however, to expect that meeting to change the decision that was made or become a debate of some type. For what it's worth my free advice to you as a young, very educated man, is that your turning the page on this is the best life decision you can make for your future. Let me know if you want to meet."

Maxfield spurned the invitation; on November 17, councilwoman Donna Frye, the mayor's erstwhile electoral opponent, sent Sanders a memo "requesting an investigation of Brett Maxfield's termination from City employment."

Over the Top

City-sponsored municipal WiFi projects have sprung up across the nation, designed to allow the citizenry in such places as Portland, (Oregon), San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle a way to get mobile online service without having to pay a fortune for cell-phone mobile data contracts. But in San Diego, home to Qualcomm -- one of the cell-phone industry's most powerful players and an in-kind donor to the campaign of Mayor Jerry Sanders -- a secretive committee reporting to the mayor was still studying how to proceed.

The saga began in early May, when a reporter asked Drew MacCullough, a member of the WiFi body, called the "Public Broadband Access Working Group," what progress was being made. He sent an e-mail to the group's chairman, Kristopher Lichter, a local executive for IBM. "The person from the Reader is Matt Potter," MacCullough wrote. "Though we did discuss the group, I explained to him that it is, as you said, 'very early stages' and off the map at this point. I also made it clear to him that I did not speak for the group or the City. He was interested in who is involved, but I did not give him names or contact info. I told him I would have to get back to him with contact info of others who might be interested in talking to him." Lichter responded that all questions should be forwarded to Sanders's people. "But again, they are probably not going to comment. At this point, my suggestion is that you just let Matt know (if he contacts you) that he's welcome to reach out to the Mayor's Office directly."

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