Wednesday, March 16, 2005 | Even before our city charter was changed to provide for an eventual strong mayor, it provided for two separate branches of government – the mayor and the city council. The mayor sets the agenda and often recommends a course of action, but the council is the approving body for everything from nominations to land use decisions, and majority approval is required.

Unfortunately, our council has too often seemed in awe of or intimidated by the mayor, thus clouding the distinction and separation of powers and responsibilities. Clearly, each is aware of the mayor’s powers to reward his supporters and to punish his opponents. However, the best leaders are those who listen to the people and know where they should be going, regardless of the risk or personal reward.

Recently there have been encouraging signs:

Councilman Michael Zucchet, District 2, showed backbone and statesmanship when he opposed the mayor and staff’s proposal to spend money on high priced consultants to negotiate with the Chargers. His leadership abilities showed as he convinced the majority of the council to see things his way.

Councilman Brian Maienschein, District 5, showed initiative as he led the discussion of changing the pension plan. Granted his idea was not original, but his breaking from the herd demonstrated leadership.

Councilwoman Donna Frye, District 6, has long been concerned with the secret meetings. During the recent mayor’s race, it was suggested that Mayor Murphy’s favorite part of football was the huddle where the players meet in secret to discuss plans. The recent overwhelming support for the Open Government Proposition is another example of the voters embracing her leadership.

However, too often the council walks in lockstep with the mayor as they march into closed (secretive) sessions and then march out speaking with one voice. The council needs to make sure that each and every trustee appointed to the City Employees’ Retirement System represents the people, is independent, objective and knowledgeable, and will be willing to let the facts determine the results.

The time for a strong council is now.

Peter Q. Davis is the former chairman, president and CEO of Bank of Commerce, which was acquired by U.S. Ban;, the former chairman of the Centre City Development Corp.; and the former chairman of the San Diego Unified Port District. He lost in the primary for mayor of San Diego last year.

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