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City Council Denies Bid For Outside Lawyers In Prop B Cases

San Diego municipal employees called to testify in litigation over Proposition B, the voter-approved pension initiative, will have to hire their own lawyers or risk a potential conflict of interest with the City Attorney's Office, thanks to the City Council's denial today of a request to hire outside counsel.

The city has been sued by its unions and state Public Employment Relations Board, who claim officials violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act by not negotiating terms of the initiative before placing it on the ballot. They contend that since Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilmen Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer were among the primary supporters, it was a city sponsored ballot measure.

Supporters of Proposition B, which passed with 66 percent of the vote in the June 5 election, say they were acting on their own time.

Assistant City Attorney Don Worley said Sanders, Faulconer, Human Resources Director Scott Chadwick and six or seven employees in the mayor's office could be called to testify.

He said a conflict of interest exists because the City Attorney's Office wants all information about the employees' activities in the Proposition B campaign to be aired, but the officials might wish to invoke their constitutional rights on various issues.

He asked the City Council to authorize up to $250,000 to hire outside lawyers to advise whichever workers are subpoenaed. The council denied the request on a 4-4 vote.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who opposed Proposition B, said the city was not obligated to defend employees for activities they contend was on their own time.

"There is no conflict of interest here,'' Emerald said.

Council members David Alvarez, Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner joined her in opposing the request.

DeMaio said the expenditure was only needed because labor unions did not "respect the will of the people'' by suing to stop implementation of the ballot measure.

San Diego officials called to testify can still receive advice from the city's lawyers, Assistant City Attorney Mary Jo Lanzafame said. They can also hire their own attorney.

The case is scheduled to go before a PERB administrative law judge next month.

A couple of San Diego judges previously allowed Proposition B to remain on the ballot, saying issues brought by opponents could be handled after the election.

If Proposition B is implemented, most new employees would receive 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of being enrolled in the debt-ridden pension system. Also, for a five-year period, only a worker's base salary could be used when calculating pension payouts.

Supporters say those provisions could save the city hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few decades.

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