Sunday, May 31, 2009

Judie Italiano out as manager of MEA, the largest white collar union of San Diego city employees

Judie Italiano has resigned as manager of the San Diego Metropolitan Employees Association (MEA), and her erstwhile supporters are scrambling to distance themselves from her.

Events have developed quickly since MEA members Linda French and Ed Harris sued Ms. Italiano a few weeks ago.

Italiano Resigns After Investigation Finds Card Misuse

Voice of San Diego
May 29, 2009

Judie Italiano, the longtime general manager of the Municipal Employees' Association, has resigned after an internal investigation determined that she continued to use the union's credit cards for her personal use despite promising not to do so in 2006.

MEA board members said in a letter sent to members today that the union had referred the matter to the District Attorney's Office for "its determination as to whether any crime was committed in the course of Ms. Italiano's breach of trust."

Michael Zucchet, a former city councilman who had been working as a consultant to the group, has been acting as general manager since Italiano was put on leave May 12 as the union conducted an investigation.

Italiano's personal use of credit cards was first discovered in 2006 and was the subject of an internal investigation, a campaign to unseat her, and an investigation by then-City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

In an interview today, MEA President Tony Ruiz said the union subsequently changed its policies to prohibit the personal use of credit cards. Italiano also agreed to pay the association back for personal charges, Ruiz said.

Ruiz said Italiano stopped using the card for personal charges shortly after those charges came to light. But starting in November 2006, she resumed using the union cards for personal charges such as groceries and a casino gift shop, Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he discovered Italiano's personal credit charges when he was preparing his first budget as association president and examined the books kept by office staff. The letter sent to members says Italiano wrote the organization a check totaling $13,903 covering the full amount, including interest, of $6,916 owed in credit card charges, along with $6,987 in annual leave. Those cover charges made through February 2009, Ruiz said.

"We were all taken in by Judie," Ruiz said. "She [said] she would not be doing this type of behavior anymore. We put these policies in place and she agreed to these policies, and she breached our trust."

[Maura Larkins' note: I'm not sure I believe Mr.Ruiz. I think Bud Simpson might be describing the situation more accurately:

"Judie pretty much had the board of directors eating
out of her hand," Simpson said. "She's done a pretty
good job for them and, as a result, she makes sure she
has the executive committee handpicked."

Simpson added that the general membership didn't
appear to care. "Just as long as you take care of us,
we'll forgive minor indiscretions," he said.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How can this be? Jan Goldsmith is the new Mike Aguirre? Or is Mayor Sanders the problem?

Fight Like It's 2007
Voice of San Diego

During Mike Aguirre's term as city attorney, nobody dogged him as diligently as John Kaheny.

Kaheny's relentless e-mails sometimes broke news about the city attorney and sometimes spread conspiracy theories more ridiculous than the ones Aguirre was sometimes wont to spin. But always, Kaheny, a former assistant city attorney, was on Aguirre's case and his e-mail list served as an almost daily talking points memo for the ever-growing ranks of Aguirre's dissenters. I don't know that anyone locally has ever so effectively used e-mail, document sharing and media criticism to gore a rival.

Kaheny declared victory months ago when Aguirre lost his re-election bid and he said the network would largely go quiet.

It's back.

In case you hadn't noticed, there seems to be a rising tide of concern about City Attorney Jan Goldsmith along with a growing lack of respect for the mayor. First, months ago Goldsmith infuriated some local opinion leaders and Mayor Jerry Sanders for ruling that the City Council could basically ignore the mayor's recommendations on labor negotiations. This became moot -- this year at least -- when the City Council decided to agree with the mayor unanimously. Nonetheless, the Mayor's Office thought it was a ridiculous opinion and it began to foment unrest about Goldsmith's competence.

Now, Rani Gupta's story Sunday has documented another major rift between the city attorney and mayor.

Gupta reported that the Mayor's Office was struck dumbfounded that its much-championed reforms to the city's controversial DROP benefit for employees would be subject to a vote of those same employees. Where was the city attorney on this?

Key passage in the story:

The news that the DROP changes apparently require a vote of the employees was news to Sanders' office, Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said in an interview last week.

"It was a bombshell that was dropped after the fact," Goldstone said. "I'm not necessarily suggesting we would have taken a different position, but we would have known going in that the imposition was only step one of a two-step process."

Goldstone said it "would have been nice" if Goldsmith's office had told city officials about the requirement beforehand. He added, "I will tell you candidly, they will claim they told us and told our lawyers at least, our negotiators, but we (in the Mayor's Office) were not aware up here."

Several hours later, after a reporter called for comment from the city attorney, Goldstone called back to offer a different version of events, saying a conversation with the city attorney had refreshed his memory about the situation.

Goldstone said that the city's outside attorneys from the firm Burke Williams & Sorensen had talked to SDCERS officials during negotiations and, based on those conversations, had advised that the city had a "very strong argument" that the provision of the city charter requiring a vote didn't apply to the changes the city was seeking to make to DROP.

The City Attorney's Office, Goldstone said, never told city officials or even strongly suggested that changing DROP required an employee vote.

Kaheny, the prolific e-mailer, grabbed the story and sent it to his network with a note essentially hinting at incompetence in the City Attorney's Office (or, maybe worse for Kaheny's group, that the office has yet to restore competence). Since Jan Goldsmith, the current city attorney, has Kaheny to thank as much as anyone for getting the job, this was a potentially hurtful development. If questions about his own abilities to run the office become more mainstream, watch out.

Here was Kaheny's note:

I have no clue what is going on. It appears that the institutional memory was completely destroyed by Gwinn and Aguirre and that Goldsmith hasn't quite figured that out yet.

Wow. Someone in Goldsmith's office responded to Kaheny assuring the curmudgeon that Goldsmith was not to blame and attacking the mayor. Kaheny passed it along. Here was the note:

No John... Jan told them. Joan Dawson delivered the message... Sanders did not want to hear it & Bill Kay told Sanders what he wanted to hear so they moved forward. Kay & his firm are also handling litigation not the City Attorney...

Bill Kay is the city's labor negotiator. Yes, what we have here is a full-throated battle between the Mayor's Office and City Attorney's Office complete with accusations of reckless political agendas and incompetence! I went to D.C. last week and came back to 2007!

Kaheny responded to the anonymous city attorney staffer.

If the City Attorney so advised why was it not it not in writing and made public? Inquiring minds need to know.

Stay tuned. This isn't just insider intrigue. Aguirre was supposedly the main reason the mayor had trouble implementing his reforms and fixes for the city. Now one of the mayor's most prominent initiatives -- to roll back the most controversial of all city employee compensation issues -- might not work and he's blaming the new city attorney.

May 27, 2009

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lifeguard files suit against Judie Italiano of MEA

UPDATE: May 31, 2009
The lawsuit detailed below seems to have triggered some defensive maneuvers within the MEA (San Diego Metropolitan Employees Association). All of a sudden the union became interested in allegations that were brought up in 2006 and all but ignored by the board of directors. The union started an investigation, and Italiano resigned.

My question: where is Judie Italiano's faithful friend and attorney, the ubiquitous Ann M. Smith? She seems to be taking a back seat to Michael Zucchet. I guess the directors realize that the Judie and Ann show is over.


Suit Filed Against Italiano
Voice of San Diego
May 6, 2009

Two members of the city's white-collar employee union filed suit today against its general manager, Judie Italiano, claiming she misused union funds by charging thousands in personal expenses to union credit cards and made loans to herself, her family and her allies in the union.

The suit was filed by Ed Harris, a lifeguard who is leading a push for the lifeguards to separate from MEA, and by Linda French, who sought to unseat Italiano in 2007. The lawsuit says Italiano breached her fiduciary duties and seeks to have her suspended or removed as general manager.

Among the charges: that Italiano used MEA's line of credit to secure her son's business lease and make a business loan to him. The suit says Italiano made more than $130,000 in personal purchases on the MEA credit card -- including to casinos -- and used $10,000 in union money to buy property "believed to be a timeshare in Hawaii." The lawsuit alleges that Italiano has stopped making payments on a promissory note drafted after the charges were first discovered.

MEA consultant Michael Zucchet said the allegations were already reported in 2006 when former City Attorney Mike Aguirre investigated Italiano.

Zucchet said MEA started an internal investigation into the allegations, hired auditors "and deemed it to be without merit, and took care of what needed to be taken care of."

[Maura Larkins' note: Would this be an investigation by Ann Smith, Judie's inextricably close associate?]

Harris said...the problems cited in the complaint are part of the reason he's seeking to leave MEA.