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— As the skies darkened in early 2003 over San Diego's scandal-wracked pension fund, those in charge began casting about for ways to attack reporters covering the story. The fund hired the PR firm of Nuffer Smith for what ultimately was at least $43,200. A May 27, 2003, e-mail from associate counsel Sheila Jacobs to assistant general counsel Roxanne Story Parks outlined the first problem they encountered: "The PR guy (can't recall his name) suggested that he be retained by [pension fund attorney Brian] Seltzer so that conversations are 'priviledged'. I can't quite get my mind around that one, but that's what was suggested. Seltzer felt it was a violation of ethical rules and declined. Soooo, the PR guy suggested the same route thru Nell. She agreed to speak with him. That was last week and I have not heard anything else."

On July 9, 2003, Parks e-mailed Jacobs about a Neil Morgan piece in the Union-Tribune. "Well, another column addressing retirement, and then in the next breath, quoting at length and heaping praise upon [pension fund critic] Pat Shea. When are our supposed PR people going to get of their butts and find out what Morgan's relationship is with [pension board member Diann] Shippione and Shea and point out that all the letters they have been publishing have been from plaintiffs seeking Money from the Retirement System? This is ridiculous. Why aren't they contacting alternative news sources -- like KPBS -- to get the story out of the newspapers bias in this? Man, if I had a trust fund to fall back on, I'd be all over this writing letters, contacting news stations, etc." Replied Jacobs: "I didn't see the article. I have no idea what the PR firm is doing although I am sure it is 'muy interesante.' "

Two months later, Mike Leone, the Seltzer Caplan lawyer now famous for his voluble e-mails, vented about opposing counsel Mike Conger in a September 12, 2003, e-mail to Jacobs. "After some deliberation over here, I decided to call Conger and yell at him about the false statements in his e-mail, rather than put them in writing and find them in Neil Morgan's column tomorrow. I think a purpose was served in that I emphatically let him know that we are keeping a close eye on him, but I don't think much can be done beyond that without blowing this thing out of proportion and ending up causing bad -- or at least confusing -- publicity for the Retirement System." In a follow-up the same day Leone added: "Starbucks said that someone with my work experience could make shift manager about six months. Of course, Conger will probably sue Starbucks for making his f'ing latte wrong."

Flying high With only a few weeks to go before next month's San Diego city council elections, serious money has begun to flow. San Diego's GOP Central Committee is using its "state account" to pay for mailers, door hangers, brochures, and endorsement cards on behalf of downtown PR man Kevin Faulconer, whom the party has endorsed to replace convicted second district councilman Michael Zucchet. As of last week, a total of $12,543.44 had been reported. In his own campaign account, Faulconer booked a total of $1600 from various members and employees of the Bracamonte family, owners of the exclusive Jimsair executive jet terminal on the east side of Lindbergh Field. The operation's longtime private-terminal monopoly has of late been questioned by airport authority staffers, who suggest that the lease be put out for competitive bid or even be taken over by the authority itself. Other donors with ties to the airport included Rancho Santa Fe's Bill Lynch and defense consultant Joe Craver, both members of the airport authority board. In all, Faulconer collected $82,800, easily outpacing Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, the second-highest fund-raiser, who reported coming up with $36,739. Her donors included La Jolla financier Murray Galinson ($250); lobbyist Mitch Berner ($250); backcountry activist Duncan McFetridge ($250); environmental lawyer Gary Sirota ($250); and adman Tom DiZinno ($250).

Over in the eighth district, where nine candidates are seeking to replace the convicted Ralph Inzunza, the GOP Central Committee has so far spent $2098.22 for door hangers and brochures on behalf of San Diego school board president Luis Acle. He got $100 from business district contractor Marco LiMandri, but loaned himself much of the $10,770 he reported. Meanwhile, Acle is also busy raising cash to repay the debt he ran up campaigning for school board last year. An event set for last night at downtown's University Club and cohosted by the GOP's Lincoln Club was ticketed at a "suggested" $1000 per person.

Leavings Final cleanups from the Alan Bersin era are still going on at the San Diego school district. Latest departures, sources say, include attorney Tad Parzen, whose close ties to the Chamber of Commerce's Business Roundtable for Education raised eyebrows when Bersin tapped him to become chief counsel back in June 2003. Also on the farewell roll: director of the district's Office of School Choice Brian Bennett, whose job was created under Bersin to promote the growth of charter schools. Before that, Bennett, an ex-Catholic school principal, worked for School Futures, a pro-charter school foundation funded by the late Wal-Mart heir and Bersin champion John Walton. Meanwhile, ex-board member Ed Lopez is departing his "government relations" gig at Cox Communications for a job with San Diego Gas and Electric.

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