"Public servants: Persons chosen by the people to distribute the graft." — Mark Twain
Last week I had the pleasure of being included in a spin session regarding the City of Oceanside's settlement with Doug Manchester over his failed attempt to build a resort hotel on public parkland. With my trusty editor and another reporter, we were scheduled to meet with Oceanside City councilwoman Esther Sanchez first, and then Councilman Rocky Chavez.
Talk about a kid in a candy store.
Up for discussion was the 2.2 million dollar decision to settle a lawsuit brought against the city by infamous developer Doug Manchester and Manchester Resorts. The developer claimed city leaders and staff failed to act in good faith when dealing with Manchester Resorts. Being a sore loser, and a shameless capitalist, Mr. Manchester decided the people of Oceanside should compensate him for his time and bravado. A council majority agreed with Mr. Manchester.
I could rehash the whole trauma drama. But why? Everyone knows the play by play. The municipal embrace, the wheeling and dealing, the public vote, the public outrage, the twelve story towers, the skating rink, the loss of Betty's lot and band shell, the Coastal commission, the denial, and the defeat of two pro-Manchester councilwomen. This epic will always be a part of the Oceanside's history.
Oliver Stone would have a field day with this one.
So there I was at City Hall waiting for the spin cycle to begin. Councilwomen Sanchez would explain why she voted against meeting Manchester‘s extortion demands. And Councilmen Chavez would then explain his reasoning behind settling the matter. What I didn't expect was the smarmy glad handling of Councilman Jim Wood. Talk about creepy. It seems Mr. Wood wanted a piece of the action. Having voted with Ms Sanchez in opposing the settlement, Jim wanted everyone to know why.
Completely apologetic for his interloping, we were ushered into Mr. Wood's office to begin the interview. Yet before the bottled water was opened Esther arrived and we were then ushered into the Sister Cities conference room.
Let the spin begin.
. Sanchez, as always, was clear in her vision for truth and justice. As a lawyer she was certain the city could defeat Manchester at his own game. In her opinion the settlement: "was not a good business decision," and that it sent the "wrong message." I would add, depending on your interests, it could have sent the right message to those whose business model relies on extorting money from municipalities. What ever works right?EPLACE
Less prepared, and lurking on the fringe of knowledge, Councilman Wood found the settlement "improper," adamant the 2.2 million dollars would have been better spent on the Oceanside Police Department. Over and over he reiterated how important the police department was. Instinct tells me, Mr. Wood was merely trying out rhetoric for his upcoming mayoral campaign. I could be wrong, but that's the impression I got.
After the listening to the no votes, we were ushered into Council member Chavez's office to have him explain the reasoning behind his yes vote. As to be expected, this military man was of the opinion 2.2 million dollars was a pragmatic way of ridding the city of Doug Manchester. Once the issue was settled Oceanside could then resume wheeling and dealing in order to bring development downtown, along with much needed Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).
Seeking to bring closure to this sordid story, those voting to settle the matter saved the council from a nasty court battle where a whole lot of dirty laundry would be unflatteringly piled at their feet. It was in the best interest of everyone to settle this spat once and for all. Sure there was enough back-story and double-dealing worthy of a typical soap opera. And yes, I believe the city would have prevailed against the litigious Mr. Manchester. But since time is money, wasting time fighting over spelt milk is hardly cost effective.
In a perfect world where right equals might, the people of Oceanside would have been able to present their case against the nefarious Doug Manchester who refused to play by the rules. But since we don't live in that world, municipalities are forced to swallow bitter pills, such as the 2.2 million dollars settlement, in order to move forward with the peoples business.
After spending a couple of hours with these public servants, I decided Rocky and Esther were both right, Jim Wood is just wrong, and Oceanside is better off with Manchester gone.
Hopefully everyone has learned something from dance with the devil. I doubt it. But one can still hope.