August 30, 2002

Commentary

Beware the “Motherhood & Apple Pie!”

By Mike MacCarthy

Whenever I hear politicians or bureaucrats lecturing voters on how we “just have to go along with what they propose because it’s “an emergency” or a “win-win” situation, or “motherhood, apple-pie, and the American way,” I immediately get nervous. Take the Joint Powers Authority (JPA), newest legal darling of the MSSSD (“The Movers & Shakers Society of San Diego”—an acronym coined by this writer for the unholy alliance between the three-vote majority on the City School Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, certain members of the City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, the Padres, the Chargers, and the trustees and directors of the three local major universities). This new public “toy” is just so wonderful that our city has most recently been treated to the rather scary spectacle of City Schools Superintendent Alan Bersin, City Councilwoman Toni Akins, Mayor Dick Murphy, and Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe all jumping into the same political bed together while touting the virtues of a JPA as one obvious answer to our housing and infrastructure crises.

So what exactly is a Joint Powers Authority and why is it such a big deal?

According to The California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, “in the mid-1970’s, the California Legislature amended the Government Code to add the ability for two or more public agencies to join together, under a joint powers authority, to provide more effective or efficient government services or to solve a service delivery problem.” With the substantial help of their “friends” in Sacramento and City Hall, MSSSD has managed to create a new legal entity which will be called the San Diego Model School Development Agency (SDMSDA) which, according to The Reader (8/1/02), will do the following: address “the land-use planning problems citing schools”; change “the criteria for picking projects to be funded by the State Department of Housing and Community Development’s Multifamily Housing Program”; and seek “to avoid state guidelines on citing schools.” Moreover, according to a “Fact Sheet” published by the San Diego Housing Commission, SDMSDA will also: anchor a new Prop MM school in City Heights; provide community amenities and replacement housing that would otherwise be eliminated by school construction; and augment revitalization of that area.

Now doesn’t that just sound like “motherhood, apple-pie, and the American way?”

But, in fact, the SDMSDA will be another independent government agency—like the Port District—over which voters have no real control or influence. It will function on its own, report to no one, and will not be required to be politically accountable to the voters for what it does. Neither will the City Council nor the City School Board nor any other elected body be required to account for what SDMSA does—and that’s the rub.

But the plot gets thicker. In order to become a member of a SDMSDA, each government entity has to invest certain assets. In the case of city schools, the district would “contribute” land, cash, and business management, which is now subject to school board oversight (read full accountability to the electorate). But, under the rules governing a JPA, that direct accountability to voters would cease once SDCS assets fell under the jurisdiction and control of SDMSDA. Furthermore, SDCS has now “appointed” three Directors (Lou Smith [district employee], Gil Johnson [chair, Prop MM Citizen’s Oversight Committee], Mary Hopper [district employee]) to this new entity to serve “at their pleasure.” These Directors will next vote on a fourth [from City Heights] Director—thus effectively guaranteeing that the present three-vote school board majority can inflict its majority will on SDMSDA, long after leaving office. This means that the present school board can also vote to transfer any SDCS property or assets to this independent government body (by its current 3-2 majority vote), and that would be the end of any accountability required by the city school board for those assets.

Are you also beginning to get a little nervous?

And here’s the kicker. The MSSSD crowd will respond, of course, that SDMSA will make annual reports to the appropriate bodies they represent, but, consider this. When was the last time an average voter received a published certified, audited accounting report from the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) concerning the operations of the Prop MM funds, going back to 1999? During the Prop MM campaign of 1998, that’s what voters were promised.

Now are you nervous?

Mike MacCarthy is Publisher of “San Diego Writer’s Monthly” and President of Voters For Truth in Education (VO/TE). He can be reached at mcarthy@sandiego-online.com.

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