SignOnSanDiego.com > News > North County -- Carlsbad won't bill legislator over forum

CARLSBAD – The City Council decided not to send a bill to state Sen. Bill Morrow for police protection the city provided for an immigration forum he staged in the city last month.

The Carlsbad Police Department has estimated it cost the city $62,072 to patrol the event, titled "Illegal Immigration Crisis," held Aug. 11 at the Carlsbad Community Cultural Arts Center at Carlsbad High School.

Mayor Bud Lewis has criticized Morrow, a fellow Republican, for the event, calling the gathering "a political gimmick to get his (congressional) campaign going."

Morrow is running for the Republican nomination for the 50th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Rancho Santa Fe Republican under investigation for possibly soliciting a bribe from a defense contractor.

Councilman Mark Packard said he agreed that the event may have served as a political rally for the senator, but he was uncomfortable billing a candidate or elected official for expressing a point of view. He said he feared that groups who disagreed with the candidate or official could then assemble, creating a possible security problem.

"Does that mean a candidate for political office would have to pay $60,000 to speak?" Packard asked.

Packard was joined by council members Matt Hall and Norine Sigafoose, who said they did not feel the city could collect on such a bill if it sent one, felt there was little to gain.

Besides, Hall observed, "Mr. Morrow may be our next congressman and we may have to work together for many years."

Seeing that a council majority did not support his position, Lewis did not move to send Morrow a bill, and the issue was dropped.

Councilwoman Ann Kulchin said she supported the mayor, but was uncertain of the amount the city should bill Morrow. She said groups throughout the city routinely paid for extra security when they staged special events.

Lewis said he proposed sending a bill of about $300,000 to the senator, saying that was the amount it cost all participating public agencies to provide security. He called Morrow a "clever politician."

Lewis said he believed the issue was not about free speech, but fairness, and the city and other agencies should not be stuck with the tab.

More than 400 opponents of illegal immigration were inside the auditorium Aug. 11, and an overflow of 250 others who wanted to attend faced off about 125 protesters outside.

There was an emotional verbal exchange between the two groups but no fighting.

A police report said the city directed 68 officers and other city employees to the event and called in a dozen officers on their day off.

About 314 personnel from other agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, also were involved in the security effort, the report said.

Morrow, of Oceanside, has said the mayor was wrong in his contention that the meeting was a political rally masquerading as an immigration forum. He said the event was planned long before he considered running for Congress.

Morrow also has said that if the city plans to charge for such events, "(it) should be perfunctory in nature and should never be prohibitive."