Friday, April 9, 2010

Clairemont Debate - Part 2: The Good News is the Bad News

In my previous post, I set up the start of the District 6 San Diego City Council debate held at Clairmont High. I wanted to summarize the remainder of the debate without a verbatim transcript. The whole event was filmed, if it gets posted I will provide you a link. Incredibly, no media attended, so that makes me the de facto reporter.

The Pre-staged Questions

I don't know if the candidates had access to these questions ahead of time; but based on their answers, they all must have reasonably anticipated them.

1. Do you support water reclamation?

Everyone favored this project, except Howard Wayne added that he wanted to see cost effectiveness. Wayne said that this was twice as expensive a way to produce water in the last study he saw. Lori Zapf talked about getting gray water in purple pipes to projects that are ready in Mission Valley. Ryan Huckabone was also in favor of cisterns to capture storm water run off.

2. Do you support the Strong Mayor system and Proposition D?

Steve Hadley was the only one not in favor, because he said it made city managers unaccountable to the council members. Zapf wanted cost containment on cost of 9th district. Wayne said that city manager form of government is for small cities and added that he would add a companion measure to ensure city council subpoena power over city managers.

3. What is your top priority?

Here is where the good news = the bad news. All the candidates acknowledged the woeful state of the city's finances. Apparently, it is so bad that no candidate felt they could ignore them and every candidate ruled out tax increases, knowing that "dog wouldn't hunt" in this economy. When Democrats with city union endorsements are ruling out tax increases, you know the Tea Party and the outrage that fuels its success are having an impact. Huckabone and Zapf favored aggressive implementation of the managed competition proposition that was passed in 2008 but never implemented. Later in the debate, Hadley detailed his opposition to the measure (this was the deal killer for me with Hadley, he seems so eager not to offend the unions, regardless of other pronouncements, that he is disqualified.) Wayne talked about bringing in jobs but offered no specifics. Hadley also talked about waste and inefficiency, but this guy has been at city hall for 10 years. Zapf discussed meaningful pension reform and kept hammering managed competition, as did Huckabone. Huckabone emphasized getting new employees on 401k style pension plans.

4. What are your specific ideas to deal with the pensions issue?

This was largely a continuation of the prior question. Zapf had some very specific ideas after pointing out that the 401k idea doesn't do much in the short term. She also proposed reverting to high 3 instead of high 1 and raising the retirement age to 60 from 51 or 55 depending on the job. Huckabone kept emphasizing the need to keep our promises to current employees, which I found troubling since some of those promises were made contrary to law. Wayne later pointed out that employees are required by law to contribute to the pension system in approximately the same amount as the city, and this is not happening. Wayne pointed out that the courts have struck down some attempted changes. He called out higher retirement age and more employee contributions. Throughout the debate Wayne seemed to have the firmest grasp on the pension issues and was the only candidate to specifically address that bankruptcy is not viable and would not discharge pension obligations. Hadley made a statement that only 58% of retiree benefits are vested, but never explained the specifics of why that gives the city leeway on the pension problem.

Candidate to Candidate

This got a little interesting, it was more interesting to see what the candidates asked their opponent than the actual reply. They drew names from a hat to set this up.

Hadley asked Huckabone, "You make mention in your web site that a new stadium is a goal, how do you propose paying for that?" Huckabone talked about the Chargers being an asset to the community and the national air time from Aztec and Charger games helping tourism. He proposed a mix of negotiation with the county and redeveloping the Qualcomm property as well as getting the Chargers to kick in. I really didn't like his answer, and felt Hadley tagged him.

Huckabone to Wayne, "Your thoughts on declaring bankruptcy?" For the life of me I can't understand why Huckabone asked this question. Wayne totally schooled him on the question and demonstrated a deep command of this issue. (Pops once asked me about this issue and after some research, I came to the same conclusions as Howard Wayne.)

Wayne asked Zapf, "What local problem have you solved?"
This put her off balance for a moment, she talked first about her work as a business owner then here charity work with underprivileged and USO. Wayne's years of public (government) service were meant to be highlighted by this question.

Zapf asked Hadley, "How do you square your opposition to managed competition with the fact that the voters approved the measure?" Hadley responded with a very cheap shot at Zapf, which I won't repeat. He received the only boos of the entire evening. He recounted some anecdotal horror story from an outsourcing in Phoenix. At this exact point in the debate, I knew for sure that I could eliminate one candidate.

Then there were questions from the audience that were randomly drawn out of a hat. My question about what will you do to save the taxpayer dollars that will be opposed by the public employee unions didn't cover much new ground. Although I thought Hadley side stepped the issue by talking about not opposing Wal Mart and big box stores, which a. had nothing to do with my question and b. was delivered in a deliberately obfuscating manner. There were some questions about the homeless, thank God no one proposed some big program that would "solve the problem" most acknowledged that it wasn't solvable. There was a question about the landfill, but who cares really?

The summations at the end did not add much to the debate either:

Hadley: Continue Donna Frye's push for open government.

Huckabone: Some rambling story about horse racing and some praise for Donna Frye.

Wayne: Pretty canned speech about the greatness of our neighborhoods and his years of experience.

Zapf: Potholes representing unfulfilled promises of the past. She will do the heavy lifting and we need new people with fresh ideas.

At the end, I noted that Howard Wayne was first out of his seat to shake everyone's hand.

B-Daddy's Assessment:

Only Steve Hadley fully disqualified himself. Howard Wayne had a deep command of the issues, but has those stinking union endorsements. Ryan Huckabone is a very likable guy, but got schooled on the stadium and bankruptcy. If you read all my commentary, you might be asking, then why aren't you endorsing Lori Zapf? It's hard for me to put my finger on it, but she was just a little touchy and angry at times, and it makes you wonder. As a small business owner, which I greatly admire, and probably could not do myself, she is used to a certain style of interaction with employees and vendors. For better or worse, that style doesn't always work in the political arena and she seemed clearly unused to being challenged. As a result, I am not taking a position just yet. For what its worth, Kim Tran should have shown up. The playing field was level, it didn't matter if you were Republican, Democrat or Independent, there was reasonable debate about tough problems facing the city.

The only down side? Sitting in high school cafeteria chairs for two hours left my back in bad shape. But hey, democracy is hard.

Steve Hadley


Ryan Huckabone


Howard Wayne


Lori Zapf

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