Tuesday, April 12, 2005 | San Diego city government’s switch to a strong-mayor form of governance needs to be speeded up and paid more attention, the citizen panel charged with overseeing the transition told the City Council on Monday.

Norma Damashek, chairwoman of the committee, told the council that deadlines need to be set on decisions regarding the strong-mayor structure if it’s to be implemented in the 2006 calendar year, as mandated by voters in November. Several of those decisions must be made by June in order to be included in the next year’s budget, she said.

“It became instantly clear to all members of the [Citizens Advisory Committee] that the City Council would not be ready to function the way San Diego voters anticipated when they endorsed Prop. F unless we shift gears immediately,” Damashek said.

San Diego voters approved the restructuring of city government under a strong-mayor system with the passage of Proposition F in November. Under the strong-mayor structure, the mayor assumes the chief executive role formerly held by the city manager. Accordingly, the mayor assumes the day-to-day responsibilities of the city – such as hiring and firing of most department heads – and will draw up a budget for the council’s review.

The City Council will serve as an eight-member legislative body; the mayor will hold veto powers.

Most pressing for the council are the financial decisions that must be drawn up and determined by June 30, the deadline by which the City Council must finalize its fiscal year 2006 budget. Because the ballot measure didn’t include a cost estimate, the council will have to determine the transition’s costs and a way to fund City Hall’s restructuring, many council members noted.

“This is going to be a fight between the mayor and the council over resources,” Councilman Tony Young said. “If we don’t fight, we’re going to be in bad shape.”

Mayor Dick Murphy released a tentative schedule for the transition Monday, but neither he, nor the council nor the consultants hired to guide the transition agreed it should be the transition’s permanent timetable. Among the tasks listed for Monday’s meeting on Murphy’s schedule was discussion on a “council legislative analyst.”

The item was quickly withdrawn upon discovery that the consultants’ report on the topic was never passed out by city staff to the council members for their review. A representative from the City Attorney’s Office later ruled that any action on that item probably qualified as a violation of the state’s open meeting law because it was not on the meeting’s agenda.

Ted Brengel, a committee member, showed the council a schedule he and the citizens committee composed to spell out just how long planning for the transition will take. Brengel, a project manager by profession, said that unless milestones were set, progress could not be measured and that the process will be late and over budget.

“There’s no debate over that,” Brengel said.

Councilman Scott Peters and others said they agreed that the council would have to speed up its pace if the deadlines were going to be met.

“We just spent an hour on talking about how little time we have,” Peters said.

The consultants and many council members wanted the project’s costs, if any, to be determined before the 2006 budget is considered in May. Still to be determined are a number of possible changes to the structure of city government, namely the possible creation of an independent legislative analyst and a different council committee structure. The role of the council’s presiding officer and constituent services should be taken into consideration, they said.

The council discussed the possibility of meeting on Wednesdays – forgoing some council committee meetings usually held on that day of the week – or extending Monday meetings to tackle the issue.

The consultants’ recommendation for an independent legislative analyst, who would serve as the council’s analyst on pending legislation, will be discussed at next Monday’s City Council hearing, which begins at 2 p.m. at 202 C St.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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