At what point could the political brinksmanship between Mayor Bob Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith become more than just a noteworthy distraction?
Recent developments at City Hall are raising concerns about the potential for long-term economic fallout.
The disconnect between San Diego's only municipal officers elected citywide is such that it's now being noticed on Wall Street, via coverage from national online media outlets.
The city attorney has written a cautionary notes about a major infrastructure bond offering – a move the mayor claims is "destructive" to the city’s borrowing prospects.
Conventional wisdom suggests that sound legal advice is essential to running the municipal government of the nation's eighth largest city.
But this mayor, by most accounts, isn't looking for that from Goldsmith -- whose budget he may succeed in cutting by half a million dollars.
"Now I’m not going to whine about cuts,” Goldsmith told a June 7th luncheon gathering of the Catfish Club. “But I will recognize what this is -- this is a mayor who doesn't like to be told 'no', doesn't recognize the role of the city attorney ..."
In the case of a $35 million bond issue to upgrade San Diego’s crumbling infrastructure and public facilities, the city attorney saw his role as alerting Wall Street investors that he wasn't in the mayor’s loop, and this is unable to verify the offering’s legality.
Goldsmith also told his Catfish Club audience that his office recently settled a lawsuit filed by a developer whose permits for a big apartment complex near San Diego State were set aside by the mayor.
Filner’s critics say the mayor’s meddling along those lines is cause for alarm.
“One of the biggest things that the business community looks for is consistency and process, predictability -- and with Mayor Filner in place, you don't have that,” says T.J. Zane, president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, to which Goldsmith's re-election campaign gave $15,900, according to data filed with the city clerk.
“And if you understand that the mayor is not seeking the advice of the city attorney’s office, that’s probably not a city in which you’re going to want to invest your dollars and do business.”
Even Filner’s defenders are put off by the melodrama surrounding the mayor and city attorney.
"I'm getting very tired of this catfight that seems to be going on,” says political strategist Jon Elliott. “This is when the egos seem to be driving the agenda."
Asked whether peace talks in the framework of an Obama-like “beer summit" might be possible, Elliott replied, bemused: "A beer summit? Well, wouldn't that be interesting! The nice thing about a beer summit is, it happens to be in a city that is the signature, worldwide, for craft beers. So there'll probably be a debate about whether they'll go to Ballast Point or Karl Strauss -- and that would probably start a problem all over again."
Zane had this take: "What's my level of optimism that the mayor will turn around and do things differently? I have zero optimism. I this that it's at his core, it's in his DNA, it's how he is. It's arbitrary -- he's capricious. And if you're on his team, that's great. But if you're not, expect to get jammed up."
Media handlers for the mayor and city attorney did not respond to requests for comment on all this.
So the concerns linger.
Is their fractious relationship a mere political sideshow?
Or a downside risk in the marketplace?