Former San Diego Police Sgt. Manny Lopez, the choice of Mayor Maureen O'Connor and City Manager John Lockwood to serve as a full-time consultant for a newly created task force on drug abuse, has decided not to apply for the position.
On Feb. 17, O'Connor and Lockwood announced that they wanted to appoint Lopez without considering other candidates. Lopez said he was prepared to accept the $33,900, six-month contract.
But when Councilman Mike Gotch balked at bypassing the normal selection process for paid consultants, O'Connor retreated and joined in a unanimous decision to seek other applicants--even though the mayor had enough votes to give Lopez the contract.
At the time, O'Connor said she was certain that Lopez would "stand the test of time." The application deadline passed Monday with seven candidates submitting resumes--and Lopez was not among them.
Lopez, 39, who as a San Diego police sergeant organized the city's first Border Crimes Task Force in 1978, said he now prefers to pursue private business opportunities that have surfaced in recent weeks. He said he received "a better offer" to continue working as a private investigator for the San Diego law firm of Thistle & Krinsky and soon will form a new corporation called Mexlaw that will provide emergency legal and towing services for U.S. tourists who encounter trouble in Mexico.
Both O'Connor and Lockwood were attending a council session Monday afternoon and were unavailable for comment. Paul Downey, the mayor's press secretary, said that Ben Dillingham, the mayor's chief of staff, was aware of Lopez's decision. The list of those who applied for the position will be made available today.
Under new guidelines drafted by the city manager's office, the consultant would receive $65,000 to cover a 15-month salary, office space and a secretary. The consultant would be prohibited from earning any outside income without Lockwood's permission.
"I would have to quit what I'm doing," Lopez said in an interview. "At first, I was never really happy with the deal, but I was willing to do it to assist the mayor because I knew she wanted to come up with a plan to combat drug abuse.
"The delay created the whole situation for me. . . . I had to make a financial decision and I did. As much as I would enjoy doing this for the mayor, I have to do this for myself."
Lopez said he was upset by the council's failure to approve his nomination after the mayor's staff and city manager's office led him to believe the job was his. He also said he was bothered by speculation that O'Connor was rewarding him for providing security for the mayor during her campaign.
Lopez said that he had already hired a secretary and, when the council voted to postpone his appointment, he had to find her another job.
"I think there was a lack of communication with (O'Connor's) staff," Lopez said. "I was kind of left up in the air not knowing what was going on. I had negotiated the contract through the city manager's office. Everything seemed to be procedurally done."
As recently as Friday, George Penn, assistant to the city manager and in charge of coordinating the drug abuse task force, said he expected Lopez to apply for the position. Penn said he would be disappointed if Lopez no longer was interested.
But on Monday, Penn said he had spoken with Lopez and "the indication I got was he wouldn't be applying." Lopez, Penn explained, "says he's gotten some good business opportunities . . . which he had mentioned earlier."
Penn acknowledged that outside business endeavors would have put Lopez in a bind because of restrictions in the city's consulting contract.
On Friday, Penn had said: "We're not getting what we expected. It is something that is very special, like trying to attract someone to be coordinator for a police community relations board. Very few people are that experienced. Yeah, it's kind of difficult getting people. The number is disappointing."
If no qualified applicants can be found, Penn said, he will assume the responsibility of providing support to the task force.
Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephen's Church of God in Christ is chairman of the 35-member task force, which also includes Police Chief Bill Kolender, City Atty. John Witt, Rear Adm. Bruce Boland and Assistant Supt. Edward Fletcher of the San Diego Unified School District.
The committee is expected to suggest various ways to combat the city's drug abuse problem. The group held its first meeting last week.
O'Connor and Lockwood wanted Lopez to immediately begin work as a consultant to get the task force off to a quick start. As a result, the job description matches Lopez's credentials. It asked for applicants who speak fluent English and Spanish, hold prior law enforcement experience, are knowledgeable about drug trafficking, have worked in drug abuse prevention and treatment, and are familiar with city government and community-based agencies.