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    Calling A Tail A Leg

    "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."
    (Quote widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln)

    (August 8, 2006) -- From what we've been able to learn, it appears that on or about August 12, 2004 someone -- presumably associated with the partisan political campaign of Democrat presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry -- conveyed invitations that reached selected [read: Democrat] LB elected officials and Int'l Longshore Union reps [read: traditional Dem stronghold]. These selected invitees were given an opportunity to meet and greet the candidate at LB Airport where Kerry's campaign jet was set to depart after a Kerry campaign speech earlier that day at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

    Kerry's presence at Long Beach Airport, basically a whistle stop for his private jet, and his campaign's invitation to its invitees almost certainly had nothing to do with the business of the City of Long Beach. It almost certainly had everything to do with the Kerry campaign trying to get its candidate elected...with politicians and union reps who could help in that partisan project. What's wrong with this? Nothing.

    Among the invited electeds was 1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who accepted the invitation and slipped and fell while exiting the campaign jet, sustaining serious injuries.

    Councilwoman Lowenthal filed a Workers Compensation claim as a city employee. What's wrong with this? In our opinion, everything.

    In our judgment, Councilwoman (now Vice Mayor) Lowenthal cannot reasonably be held to have been acting within the scope of her duties as a city employee. We believe she should not -- and cannot consistent with prohibitions against government/taxpayer involvement in partisan political races -- be deemed to have been acting as a city employee.

    If Councilmembers can't use City Hall letterhead or City Hall computers for partisan political activity, then it is inconsistent to reward Vice Mayor Lowenthal (or other city employees) with an entitlement for partisan political activities conducted in person.

    The LB City Attorney's office has recommended that the Council vote tonight (Aug. 8) to approve paying Vice Mayor Lowenthal $10,500 (a percentage disability rating) plus lifetime medical care related to the injury. We are not second-guessing this in saying that anyone who's ever used a lawyer knows that an attorney's professional judgment call is usually based on multiple factors, including an assessment of the nuisance value of the claim or worse potential exposure.

    We're not privy to multiple factors that may underlie the City Attorney's reasoning in this case. We have said in the past and reiterate here that if we were in a legal foxhole, we'd want City Attorney Bob Shannon on our side. Our conclusion is different than the City Attorney's office because we view the issue in different terms.

    We acknowledge that resisting the claim would invite Vice Mayor Lowenthal to pursue her remedy in an adversarial proceeding against the City in a Workers Comp forum...where laws are construed broadly in favor of employees and losers pay attorney fees.

    But in our view, paying the claim could have a worse downside. It could open the floodgates to future claims by other city employees in political circumstances. That could ultimately carry higher taxpayer costs in dollars...and erode public confidence in LB City Hall...where employees' duties shouldn't include oiling political machinery.

    On that basis, we believe the City Council should direct the City Attorney to resist the claim tonight.

    Vice Mayor Lowenthal may believe what she did was part of her Council duties...but as Lincoln said about calling a dog's tail a leg, calling it so does not make it so.

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