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Tuesday, March 15, 2005 | Much like the million-dollar beachfront homes whose foundations are crumbling due to torrential rains and are falling into the Pacific, the municipality that once called itself “America’s Finest City” is finding its financial footing collapsing, sliding into an ocean of red ink from which it may never fully recover. What should we do about it?

Did the City Manager Form of Government Contribute to the Problem?

There is an inherent conflict of interest in San Diego’s council-manager approach. The mayor and the council members’ constituency are the residents of the city. The city manager’s constituency is the 12,000 employees who keep the city working. The city manager has more people, more information and more resources than the mayor and council with no public accountability. Thus, the city manager has more power than the mayor and the council.

The Twist

Naturally, the city’s incumbent council members were not thrilled by such a shift in power, realizing that under the proposed new system, they would lose the parity that existed between them and the mayor. As a pacifier, the strong-mayor advocates wrote Proposition F so that the strong-mayor system would get a trial run from 2006 through 2008, after which San Diego voters could decide whether to keep it or go back to the council-manager system.

As Mayor Murphy struggles to take the unwieldy reigns of city management and budget, the last thing he wants is for the city to go belly-up. That is not the type of mayoral legacy Murphy had in mind. Nor is it an auspicious beginning for the new strong-mayor form of government that will need re-approval by the voters in just three-and-a-half years.

The Indicted

If the city files for bankruptcy on their watch, regardless of how the indictments turn out, these council members will most likely have to kiss their political futures goodbye.

The Others

Any rising political star on the San Diego City Council has a vested political interest in the city not declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, what is in these politicians’ best interest and what is in the city’s and its citizens best interest are at this point diametrically opposed. Therefore, the real question isn’t whether bankruptcy of the entire city or receivership of the pension fund will be necessary, but when will the weight of the city’s financial crisis force this option.

Christopher J. Crotty was an aide to Mayor Maureen O’Connor, Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Lucy Killea and has been a local, state and national political campaign and public relations consultant for more than 15 years.

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