While attending a small gathering the other day I had occasion to briefly visit with Escondido Mayor Sam Abed and, engaging in a bit of political small talk, asked him how he thought his reelection campaign was going.
Unsurprisingly, he responded it was going well, elaborating by sharing that, “The number one thing on voter’s minds is pocketbook issues.”
I think there is general agreement there. What I don’t think “hizzoner” has come to grips with is a growing concern many Escondido voters have over who controls that pocketbook and what their priorities are.
While the Escondido City Council has been the target of criticism for any number of dubious actions in the past, it’s the actions of City Manager Clay Phillips that have drawn the widespread attention of the public since the resignation, or firing — take your pick — of former Escondido Police Department Chief Jim Maher last year.
Whatever Phillip’s motivations for Maher’s removal, it is the just revealed financial aspect of it that is now drawing heat.
This city manager’s proclivity for playing Three-card Monte with the city budget in order to achieve whatever aim is deemed to be of the moment has become a disturbing pattern in recent years.
Probably the most egregious example was the stillborn minor league ballpark proposal that had Escondido city officials actually plotting to borrow money against anticipated income from bonds that couldn’t even be issued for another 20 years. Even though this project didn’t go through, the city did go forward with acquisition of property in the proposed “ballpark area,” the future of which now sits in limbo.
More recently there was the proposed deal to use $500,000 of city money to become a lender to the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most politically influential business organization in the city.
Both of these ideas petered out because Gov. Jerry Brown had taken away the city’s — and Phillip’s — piggy-bank — redevelopment.
This was also happening during a period when voters and taxpayers were and are being told that Escondido is in an era of limits.
When a presentation was made to the City Council for Escondido Charter High School to lease the former east branch library site, one of the selling points was that the city would net $150,000 from the rent being paid. During questions from the public and testimony, Mayor Abed made the statement that he would use the money to extend the hours of the Escondido Library. That did not happen.
Coincidentally, a short time later, Phillips agreed to pay Maher $150,000 as he was walking out the door. It would seem the mayor’s promises to the community do not mean as much as the deals the city manager makes in private.
And therein lies the rub. Phillips recently received a whopping 12 percent raise ostensibly for seeing the city through the Great Recession. Based on the examples listed above alone, I’d argue his continued employment should be more in question than eligibility for a raise.
Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger