Unlikely Duo Seek City Ethics Changes

Two city councilmembers say pols shouldn’t be able to pick ethics commission members who oversee them

There are three openings on the City of San Diego’s Ethics Commission, and some critics are concerned with the appearance of a conflict of interest in how those positions are being filled.

"City elected officials should not be confirming their own ethics commissioners," San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio said. "That’s like the IRS letting you select your mom to audit your taxes."

DeMaio's comment came at a joint press conference with Councilmember Donna Frye at City Hall on Monday.

San Diego's Ethics Commission is a watchdog organization that can levy fines on the city's politicians. Currently, the mayor and City Council have final say in commission appointments.

Frye at the very least is concerned about the "appearance" of a lack of impartiality in Mayor Jerry Sanders not re-appointing Gil Cabrera, a vocal leader on the commission, which has levied fines over the past few years on sitting councilmembers as well as some of Sanders' campaign supporters.

Sanders picked a candidate nominated by Councilwoman Marti Emerald, but she withdrew the nomination when it was revealed that her nominee, Evonne Shulze, had been a paid campaign organizer for Emerald and that Emerald's campaign was under investigation by the ethics commission.

Democrat Frye and Republican DeMaio have created a bipartisan plan to "restore maximum integrity and independence to the appointment process," according to DeMaio. Their plan involves the creation of a panel of randomly chosen retired judges that would have the final say on commission nominations made by politicians and the public.

"The mayor wants to fully staff the commission without a delay," said Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. "If anyone wants to explore a new structure later, the mayor won't block it in any way."

The council is set to discuss the ethics commission vacancies on Tuesday afternoon in council session. Based on an informal canvas of councilmembers, it appears quite up in the air whether Frye and DeMaio will get the delay they are seeking on having the positions filled under the current system.

Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com and a contributing editor to sandiego.com. His Web site (sandiegoDTOWN.com) is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.

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