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Friday, Sep 30, 2022
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San Diego Remains Mired in Pension Fund Squabble

Newly elected City Attorney Michael Aguirre is wasting no time in shaking things up at San Diego City Hall.

Aguirre informed Lawrence Grissom, administrator of the San Diego City Employees Retirement System, that he was taking over as the controversial pension fund’s chief legal adviser. Aguirre discharged all other legal staff members assigned to the retirement board.

The pension fund, which has a $1.1 billion unfunded liability, has made San Diego the focus of national attention and provided much grist for the contentious and still contested mayoral race. The fund has sufficient assets to cover payments today but would not if everyone eligible retired all at once.

Andrew Albert, the president-elect of the San Diego County Bar Association, said that Aguirre’s move is consistent with his campaign pledge.

“Mike’s going to be definitely shaking things up,” he said. “Maybe that’s good. There are a lot of issues over there and he believes in shining a bright light. He promised to be a pro-active, hands-on attorney, and he promised to eliminate closed-door sessions and let the public in on public business. The voters have voted him in and he’s exercising his discretion.”

Mitch Mitchell, the vice president of public policy and communications for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, recalled that the Vinson & Elkins report on city finances issued in September had been critical of the city attorney’s office for lack of oversight.

The City Council commissioned the firm to review the city’s disclosure practices from January 1996 through February 2004 and investigate whether the city had failed to meet disclosure obligations concerning its funding of the city employees’ retirement system.

In a Dec. 16 letter to Grissom, Aguirre told him that all files and office materials, including computers, are to remain in the offices of the former attorneys, and “not removed or altered in any way unless and until you receive specific directions from me in that regard.”

Aguirre said he was asserting his authority under the City Charter, adding that “the decision of the prior city attorney to abdicate his role under the charter and relevant municipal codes was legal error.”

Grissom didn’t see it that way.

“We feel that his interpretation of the law is incorrect, and we will not comply with his request,” Grissom said. “We are researching this issue further and will have a detailed response later as we look through the body of case law that exists.”

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