First District Councilman and Council President Scott Peters said he’s running in the city attorney’s race because he’s the most qualified person for the position and because he has a demonstrated record of tackling hard problems and finding solutions for them.
“I’m the only candidate with significant experience as an attorney trying cases and managing lawyers, who also has experience in the city as a councilman and as the first Council president,” said Peters. “I’ve been in a position to see how the city works, and, when it doesn’t work, I know how to fix it.”
The two-term councilman said the incumbent city attorney has a distorted view of the the post and its role in the scheme of things. “There’s Mike’s view,” said Peters, “and then there’s the view of the charter and the rules of professional responsibility. The charter provides that the city attorney is the legal advisor to the departments of the city including the mayor and City Council. If there’s serious wrongdoing, you should turn it over to the proper authorities - the district attorney, the Ethics Commission, the FBI, etc. In all cases, you have to understand the policies of the city are made by the elected mayor and City Council. You shouldn’t put yourself in a conflict position with that.”
Peters claimed Aguirre, during his four-year term, has not only shaken things up, he’s turned things on their ear.
“He’s lost 120 lawyers with centuries’ worth of legal experience specific to this city because they don’t think it’s a good place to work,” said Peters. “I’m going to reestablish professionalism in the office, make it a good place to work. There’s no reason why the city attorney shouldn’t be one of the best places to have a job in the city, and I can make that happen.”
If Peters is elected, he promises personnel changes. “Right now, there are numerous people who are Mike’s political operatives and a number of junior lawyers who aren’t trained to do the work they’re doing. We’re going to bring in some people who know how to work in front of a jury, who can train other lawyers and who know municipal law,” he said.
Peters talked about his priorities for revamping the city attorney’s office. “First we need to restore a sense of professional ethics, respect for the elected mayor and Council, respect for the law,” he said. “Second is we need to restore professionalism in the office. His office is plagued by charges of harassment and discrimination from former employees who don’t believe it’s a professional atmosphere.”
Peters said he believes the City Council, of which he’s been a member the last few years, has a proven track record of making government transparent to the public and of opening up the process so there’s more public involvement than ever before. “I don’t think there are many people who understand the city the way that I do,” he said, “having been in the middle of inventing a whole new form of government (strong mayor), which I think is far superior to the old one. There’s no hide the ball now. We’ve opened the government up with a set of checks and balances through the independent budget analyst in a way that’s never happened at the city before, in a way that’s much more effective and accountable. I’ve been one of the architects of that.”
Peters said the city’s finances had gone awry, but that the course has been righted and the ship is now headed in the right direction. “There is good news about the city,” he said. “The pension is 80 percent funded, up from 65 percent a few years ago, and just a little bit shy of the national average for public pension systems. We’ve stopped the underfunding practice that began in the 1990s, which frankly, we continued for a couple years ourselves.
“But we’re the council who stopped it, once we understood it. We’ve basically outlawed underfunding in the future. So this year the pension will take the biggest bite out of the city’s budget, but from now on we’ll go down, so there will be more (money) available for streets and roads and police and fire, and less will be devoted to the pension. I think we’re better off than a lot of cities and we have a bright future.”
Asked if he thought this might be a tougher race than any he’s faced before, vying with four other challengers, Peters replied: “Everybody told me in 2000 I couldn’t get elected because I was a democrat from La Jolla and a lawyer, and people said that wasn’t a good profile to get elected. I just told my story to people and the voters responded. I got re-elected by almost 10 percentage points with a guy spending almost a million bucks against me. I feel confident that if I explain to people why I’m the best person for the job, I’ll get hired. I’m a level-headed problem solver and I’ve got a good record, and that’s what I’m expecting the voters to respond to again.”