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KPBS Commentaries

State of the City

On Monday, the beleagured mayor of San Diego will deliver yet another annual State of the City address. Dick Murphy's speeches all sound pretty. But the mess at City Hall grows uglier.

Remember when this speech was used by the incoming Dick Murphy to launch his forgettable ten goals to create a more livable and lovable San Diego? He reminded me then of a charming small-town pastor who had worked out a pleasantly distracting sermon, one that offered no conceivable crevice for criticism, one that could never lead to dismissal by his congregation.

But last January, as Murphy prepared yet another variation on that pastoral theme, there was one thing he didn't know. His offices and those of city council members had already been secretly bugged for months by United States Attorney Carol Lam.

The roof was already caving in on City Hall. The mayor and city council were in denial about a billion-dollar deficit in the city pension fund. They could no longer blame the stock market. The market broke even last year. Our deficit got much worse. Yet those who created this mess inside City Hall seemed oblivious to the growing furor outside, and to the intense attention they were drawing from federal agencies.

In newspaper columns last year, I proposed a State of the City address hoping to offer Mayor Murphy some lines for facing the truth. The speech we needed then, and need even more now, to prevent a San Diego scandal, goes like this:

"Tonight I am ordering a 12 percent reduction in spending in the mayor's office, and asking members of Council to do the same. To regain the city's credit rating, we must cut budget. This will reduce city services and maintenance. But we must stand side-by-side through this crisis. Our city government must not only look open, but it now will be truly open. We will make that our priority. Political ambitions will not interfere with public needs.

The pension fund shows huge losses, and the city must again defer its contribution. I ask city employees, union leaders, and the city manager to join in revoking increased benefits. We face layoffs of police and fire officers. We must cease discussions of capital projects, including stadium or library, until this emergency ends."

That's what Mayor Murphy should have said long ago.

In this new year, the need is desperate. In its beginning, the shame of City Hall seemed a passing side show. It has since become a grimy melodrama. With federal posses turning up records at City Hall, blocking the shredding of documents, and pushing past office secretaries to subpoena high officials, more criminal charges are likely ahead.

I voted once for Mayor Murphy because I considered him an incorruptible judge who would not tolerate corruption at City Hall. That's the mayor I want to hear on Monday.

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