Fifth District city Councilman Brian Maienschein believes he’s the best choice to be the next city attorney because of his proven record of leadership and management as demonstrated in critical moments.
“I am a problem solver,” said the decidedly low-key councilman, who pointed to two major fires in his district, the Cedar Fire in 2003 and the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, as cases in point of how he rose to the occasion for the public good. “All of the homes within the city of San Diego that were lost were in my district. Rebuilding two communities, under those circumstances, is quite an experience.
“I set up a one-stop shop over at a gym and put together over 50 agencies, every agency that you would need if you lost your home, because I knew that they had lost everything and were under extreme stress, and I didn’t want them driving all across San Diego County to 50 different agencies. That model that I created has since been replicated and is now being held up as a national model for disaster relief.”
Why is Maienschein running in a crowded field to replace incumbent city attorney Mike Aguirre? “Because there needs to be a change in the city attorney’s office,” he said. “It needs to be an office that solves problems, that is organized better. That is something I’m known for, as someone who gets things done. This shouldn’t be a political office. It needs to be a problem-solving office.”
The termed-out Councilman doesn’t believe it would be a difficult transition to go from city Council to city attorney. He said: “What this office needs are what my strong points are: leadership and management. That’s what’s necessary in the city attorney’s office right now.”
Concerning what the role of the city attorney should be, Maienschein replied, “to be independent and provide sound legal advice to the mayor, the city Council, all the city departments and the citizenry in general.”
Regarding whether the city attorney should be required to get the city Council’s approval to file or dispose of lawsuits, Maienschein said there are parameters that need to be followed.
The city attorney challenger noted that the decision the city attorney makes on litigation directly impacts the city’s finances, and consequently should not be left to the purview of any one person to decide.
“Whether it’s better to pursue certain types of litigation, with the attendant risk that goes with that, the city Council and the mayor should have a role in deciding,” said Maienschein. “Whether that money should rather be put into parks, libraries, streets, etc., is a budget issue.”
Maienschein agrees with Mike Aguirre that the office needs to remain independent. Where he disagrees with the incumbent is that he believes there needs to be some boundaries set on that independence. “There has to be an identifiable client in terms of litigation management,” he said. “The city attorney shouldn’t be able to file those (lawsuits) on his own. Otherwise you just have chaos, which is what is there now.”
Maienschein said he would reorganize the city attorney’s office in a way that mirrors the services the rest of the city provides. “For example,” he said, " the parks and recs department, if they have a legal question, should be able to pick up the phone and call somebody in the city attorney’s office, who has that area of speciality.”
The city attorney challenger said the office, administratively, is top-heavy. “Right now no lower-level people can make any decisions,” he said, “so the length of time it takes for something to get done in that office is enormous.”
Mainschein concured with other challengers in the race that too much of the city’s legal work is being outsourced. “Outsourcing should be very limited,” he said, “used only in specialized areas of the law, or where there’s an unavoidable conflict. What is happening now is the city attorney is creating conflicts himself, holding these gratuitous press conferences, and is costing the city money, because then those matters have to be handled by outside firms. In addition, there is no expertise within the office to handle those matters.”
Mainschein noted he has a good track record in maintaining staff. “Of the seven years I’ve been in office,” he said, “most of the people have been with me five of those seven years. I’m a good boss to work for. I make it challenging and interesting for them. We’re not constantly changing faces every single month, like in the city attorney’s office.”
Mainschein said his number one priority would be to rebuild the city attorney’s office. “It’s in chaos,” he said. “It’s overly political. It can’t manage simple litigation. Office morale is horrible. People are afraid to voice their opinion. They’re intimidated.”
Mainschein said his campaign is not focused on critiquing the incumbent’s performance, but rather, focusing on his strengths, one of the most important of which is a sharp focus. “I’m somebody who identifies a problem,” he said, “and goes about solving it.”