Incumbent City Attorney Michael Aguirre’s “mission” is not yet complete, which is why he believes voters should return him to office.
“What I’m doing is trying to restore the city attorney to what the city attorney’s office is supposed to be, which is to protect the public,” said Aguirre, who must fend off challenges from two current city councilmen, a judge and another attorney in the June 3 primary. “We need to do to the other (city) departments what’s been done to the city attorney’s office, which is to bring people in who are truly committed to the public’s interests and their willingness to serve.”
Protecting the public, to Aguirre, means opening the door wide open to full and public disclosure of all city governmental processes. “Public records, open meetings, conflict of interest laws, what you see there is a collection of laws that are in place to protect the public interest,” he said. “We’ve opened up government so that people know what’s going on and the shenanigans can’t go down anymore and the public has access to records. The city’s gone over three years with no one bringing any closed-door session cases.”
Aguirre considers himself the “populist” candidate in the city attorney race. “You need to do the business of the city,” he said, “that’s a given. But it needs to be done to serve the public.”
It is Aguirre’s contention that an “unholy alliance” of developers, lobbyists, special interests and former city employees has formed to corrupt the political process, as clearly evidenced by the city’s overtaxed pension system.
“What’s happened with this arrangement that has evolved is the employees have rigged the pension system to the point now where fire and police officials retire as millionaires,” Aguirre said, “and upper management gets even more than that. Developers have taken us to the point where we can’t prevent fires and we don’t have a secure water supply. Not to say we don’t need developers. We do. But we need a sound economy and we need to reestablish the fact that disobeying the law is not a policy choice here.”
Aguirre noted his office has been active at the grass-roots level. Such is the case, he said, with La Jolla. “We don’t have paid parking there now,” he pointed out, “and we have a community planning group that’s vital and representative of the public with the help of our office.”
Aguirre said he’s brought in senior attorneys to manage litigation in the city attorney’s office at a level of experience and skill that is “much higher than we had before.”
For Aguirre, the overriding issue defining the 2008 city attorney’s race can be phrased in a simple question: “Do you want the city attorney to go back to being a rubber stamp and basically going along with whatever the City Council wants the city attorney to do?”
Aguirre charged his foes in the race of favoring a rubber-stamping city attorney and of maintaining the status quo, the type of approach that has hamstrung the city with poor decision making, bad business deals and undermined finances. “Jan Goldsmith, his principal support comes from former executives of the city,” Aguirre said. “He’s heavily supported by the old-guard Republicans and the developers. He doesn’t stand up to the unions. He doesn’t come out against illegal pension benefits. Scott (Peters) and Brian (Maienschein) are very much the same way.”
Aguirre said he has a different take on the role of the city attorney.
“If you look at our city charter, that describes the city attorney, you’ll see quite a bit of difference than how general law describes it in the government code, which says the city attorney is a subordinate officer to the other officers,” he said, “whereas in our city charter, the city attorney is named as head of the legal department. Litigation is totally from the perspective of the city attorney. The real issue is, do you want the city attorney to use that power to protect the public interest and serve the city, to be truly a check on the mayor and City Council, or do you want to return it to what it was like under Casey Gwinn and John Witt (Aguirre’s predecessors).”
What’s at stake in the 2008 city attorney’s race? “Whether we’re going to turn around the climate of the city,” answered Aguirre.
“Whether we’re going to re-establish credibility, tackle infrastructure problems and transition to an infrastructure-based economy from a developer-based economy.”
Said Aguirre: “We have 40,000 acres of parks, 8,000 miles of streets, alleys and sidewalks, 6,000 miles of pipes: We need to restore all that. If we do that, that’s going to create a tremendous economic opportunity for the city. Then if we transition from fossil-based energy products to renewable, that is also going to create an enormous economic opportunity as we become more efficient in (energy) conservation and we go into (water) reclamation. We can’t keep producing horses and buggies when the needs are quite different than they were 20 years ago.”
Under his stewardship, Aguirre said the city attorney’s office is pointing the way to municipal reform and public protection. “We have established a beachhead,” he said. “But we need to institutionalize the change. There’s still too much debate over the role of the city attorney, as opposed to let’s all agree that all the public offices should serve the public interest. Too many think people exist to serve the system, as opposed to the system existing for the people.”