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But with little or no progress to report, the main-library matter was back before the council again on July 30, 2002, almost a year to the day after the original vote setting up the foundation. This time the council approved yet another version of the Murphy city-library plan, including the downtown main library. According to the mayor, the vote was "an opportunity for this council and the people of San Diego to provide a lasting legacy for future generations of San Diego."

But financing details, which were supposed to include sales of municipal bonds as well as private contributions, were being left for later that year, Murphy said. Observed ex-councilwoman Judy McCarty after the meeting, "Tonight is the feel-good vote." No mention was made of the library foundation or what it had done with the $1 million the council had given it the year before.

Then, last October Murphy scored a major coup when a state committee voted to give the city a $20 million grant, earmarked for the new main library. Before the vote, the Union-Tribune editorialized in favor of the grant and outlined how Murphy was then proposing to pay for the library proposal.

"Mayor Murphy's financing plan relies heavily on three separate bond sales, totaling $177.7 million, to pay for new construction," the editorial said. "City redevelopment funds would be tapped for another $42.9 million. An additional $21.7 million would come from developer fees, and federal community development block grant funds would make up another $8.8 million. Private donations and grants would account for $53.3 million.

"That is where the state Library Construction and Renovation Board comes in. On Tuesday the six-member panel will award $110 million in Proposition 14 grants for libraries statewide. San Diego has applied for a maximum award of $20 million for its new central library.

"By approving the city's application, the library board would make an invaluable contribution to this region's quality of life because the funds quite simply would become the catalyst for San Diego libraries' entry into the information age."

In the months since it received the $20 million grant, however, the city has been hit with a blizzard of bad financial news. A federal criminal investigation of city financial practices has reportedly stalled issuance of any new municipal-bond debt. The state financial crisis has only added to the uncertainty.

Under the most recent plan, tentative details of which surfaced in May, a mix of redevelopment-agency money from the city-owned Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), hotel taxes, and funds from a liability settlement with tobacco companies would be used, along with the $20 million state grant and $53 million in private donations to be raised by the library foundation. The $177 million of municipal-bond sales are reportedly now off the table. "CCDC is funding everything we need [for the library] for the next 12 months," Murphy was quoted by the Union-Tribune as saying.

But library backers fear that the latest plan is only an election-year ploy to get Murphy past the November election, in which he faces a challenge by county supervisor Ron Roberts, who wants to stall the downtown-library proposal. The skeptics argue that Murphy's previous failures to produce on his downtown-library pledge are strong evidence that he is not dedicated to its construction and would, if reelected, ultimately back away from the latest financing scheme. Murphy chief of staff John Kern did not return phone calls.

All of which makes the fate of that $1 million city contribution to the library foundation of special interest.

City officials and foundation boardmembers have failed to respond to repeated telephone requests for information about how the $1 million has been spent. The San Diego Foundation, to which the funds were turned over for management and "safekeeping" in the fall of 2001, has refused to provide any information on the status of the money, referring all questions to Library Foundation attorney and executive director Bowers and Dawe.

Contacted by phone at the multimillion-dollar home on El Paseo Grande in La Jolla where he lives, Bowers, who apparently has collected sizable fees from the foundation, also declined comment, saying that only Dawe would speak for the organization. Katie Sullivan, a library activist from Rancho Bernardo who said she joined the foundation board "earlier this year," also refused to talk about its financial position or anything else about the foundation's activities, referring a caller to Dawe and Bowers. Madigan, too, has remained mum.

Reached at his downtown law office over a month ago, Dawe initially said he would produce a full accounting of the fund's operation. "I need to speak to Bowers first," said Dawe. "I'm trying to find him now." But Dawe did not phone back as promised and subsequently failed to return numerous phone calls seeking the information he had pledged to provide.

Compounding the difficulty in attempting to piece together the activities of the foundation and the fate of the million-dollar city contribution, city officials have been slow to release documents and accounting records requested under provisions of the California Public Records Act.

In the eight weeks since the documents were first requested, the city has produced only a small number of the records sought. In one case, e-mails written by city librarian Anna Tartar that were clearly relevant were withheld. Later, a reference to them was found in another document, and they were expressly requested.

The few records that have been turned over suggest that city officials were extremely lax, if not criminally negligent, in failing to hold the library foundation to its obligations under the contract.

The records show that on May 9, 2002, Dawe sent a hand-delivered letter to deputy city manager Bruce Herring requesting the city's million-dollar contribution. A city check in that amount, dated June 10, 2002, was made out to the library foundation and deposited in a fund run by the San Diego Foundation.

In a letter dated November 7, 2002, to Herring, Dawe discussed a September 27 meeting the pair had with "Jim Bowers, consultant for the San Diego Library Foundation." The purpose of the meeting, according to the letter, was "to review the Foundation's proposed maximum use of funds for the Library Foundation expenses -- including the City Contribution -- for the next 12 months. Please note that the Foundation Board members are committed to controlling costs during the campaign as to come in below the proposed maximum use funds described in the attachment."

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