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KPBS Commentaries

A Town in Turmoil

It is an oddity in this city's current legal tangles that two courageous women are involved in the reform efforts. Diann Shipione is the volunteer public member of the City Pension Board, and its whistle blower. Carol Lam is the United States Attorney.

Ms. Shipione is blessed and burdened with an enduring obsession - with fiscal integrity that was drummed into her throughout her youth by her stockbroker father. Ms. Lam so excelled in her study of law that in time she was appointed to the federal bench, which she considers a position free enough from outside political influence to permit efficient control of local crime. With the aid of these two women, San Diegans will eventually assign blame for the practices that now embarrass this city. Bad things had been going on for years, but nobody blew a whistle loudly enough until these two.

We usually complain more about traffic and housing costs than corruption at City Hall. And that's a very big mistake. As citizens and as the media, we fail to ask hard questions at the proper time, or to dig deep enough into the suspicion of trouble.

Mayor Murphy assured us there were no problems. Because we still cannot imagine this former judge as either dishonest or easily deceived, we cheerfully took his word for it. But with that we abandoned City Hall to the new class of career politicians who make their living by running our city and much of our nation. They get the jobs because we don't want them.

Over many months, both Ms. Shipione and Judge Lam have been subjected to hate gossip intended to diminish their role. Some charged them with grandstanding. If they had any evidence, they would not have waited so long.

But today, almost three years after Judge Lam launched her wiretaps on City Hall, her suspicions are borne out with the presence in City Hall of agents of the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice. The clock of justice is ticking. This part of our system of checks and balances is working. The weakest part of the system is too often the public part. We are too slow to involve ourselves and react to danger.

We need to get serious and start raising distress flags above bad conduct in public affairs. We must learn when to say, "stop". We are not good friends to our city or to ourselves if we tolerate corrupt government.