Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
Let's get a few things straight right here and now. I am a dyed in the wool conservative. I believe that City Government needs to cut expenses wherever it can. I also believe in sound management practices to avoid the surprises that happen unplanned. That means planning for the water system to fail in thirty years (arbitrary number of years because I don't know how long they really last) and a replacement plan to get them before they fail. It means replacing City vehicles after a reasonable number of miles, and working to ge the best deals when we buy anything. It means using the least expensive way to get the jobs done properly, and planning for the future to avoid over extending the budget. So that's it - my completely unrealistic view of how to run a city.
Here's how it really works. The people of the city have to elect a City council and a Mayor. All the people running for these positions start out with great intentions and a desire to make it wonderful. The problem begins when a constituant of a City Council member asks for a favor in the neighborhood. The Council Member thinks he or she is helping, and asks for just a few dollars to help out the neighborhood, and the downward spiral begins. Pretty soon the Mayor has someone ask for a favor that's more than just a few bucks, but may be a "good deal" for the city if you explain it just right (Spin). Pretty soon there are so many little and large expenses for those special interest people, that some of the regular expenses get put aside, because they can't possibly have all these expenses next year. Meanwhile, the folks looking for the special favors become more bold and more greedy, and they tell their friends how easy it is to get something from the city. Now the big special interest groups start showing up, and they spice things up by donating, no strings attached, to the campaign funds of the Mayor and Council Members. All of a sudden there's no money left for general maintenance at all, and the city starts to have problems. The City Council trys to figure out how to pay for everything, and they see a savings account - maybe the employee pension fund? - they can borrow from to make their expenses. They'll make up for it next year, because there can't possibly be that many requests next year. Then the special interests get really aggressive, because they, of course, are making millions on the little favors they ask, so they up the ante, and start taking the City Council members or the Mayor on trips to show them how great their ideas are, and the city begins to run out of money. The Council struggles to make their commitments. As the city goes broke, the special interests don't want to lose their gravy train, so they step up their contributions, junkets, and, to call it like it is, their payoffs, and they realize that the Mayor and Council won't get re-elected unless they find a way to get the people of the city to focus their anger on another villain, so they blame the city workers and the pension deficit caused by the council stealing their money.
If this all sounds familiar, it's all happened here in San Diego, and in many other cities. Oh sure - we've had the added problem of having some really terrible Mayors - seriously - a Mayor forced to resign happens in most cities once in a millenium, and it happened here twice in 25 years. San Diego also had a few amazingly terrible decisions, like the Ticket Guarantee from Susan Golding.
Just remember one thing about all of this - Bad Mayors on the take, City Council Members paid off by business people, and billions stolen from their own city workers to pay for the projects for special interests - It's All About The Money!