Thursday, September 29, 2005 | A local business organization that was seminal in shaping the voter-approved change to the city government’s structure presented on Wednesday several recommendations on how the transition to a strong-mayor form of governance would work better.
The suggestions came almost 11 months after the change was approved by San Diegans and three weeks before the council votes to finalize the changes in time for the Jan. 1 switch.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce told a City Council panel overseeing the transition Wednesday that they were concerned that the ballot measure ordering the structural changes overlooked key issues, such as how five council votes are needed to both pass an ordinance and override the mayor’s veto of that ordinance.
The chamber of commerce was a visible backer of the initiative – working with former Mayor Dick Murphy on the measure’s language, rallying its 2,800 members and advertising in a local newspaper. Ultimately, Murphy finalized the language that was approved as Proposition F last November, chamber Vice President of Public Policy Mitch Mitchell said.
Real estate moguls John Moores and Malin Burnham, also Proposition F proponents, commissioned a study by the RAND Corp. that criticized the city’s sluggish progress toward its deadline. Murphy, who proposed putting the change in front of voters, bowed out of office in July.
The passage of Proposition F removes the mayor’s vote from the City Council but grants him or her authorities similar to the current city manager position, such as drawing up his or her own budget and hiring and firing city personnel. Accordingly, the eight-person council will review the mayor’s budget proposals and continue passing ordinances. The changes will be effective in the 2006 calendar year.
Donna Jones, who chairs the chamber of commerce’s legal committee, presented the organization’s suggestions:
– To extend the term for the council president, who will chair the meeting and will be responsible for setting the council’s legislative agenda, from one year to two.
– To require six council votes to override a veto by the mayor instead of five.
– To increase the size of council committees to five members, which is the current amount when the council is at full strength. Council members decided in July that committee membership would be lessened to four.
– To propose to voters additional City Charter amendments that are related to the strong-mayor structure, such as language dealing with an Office of Legislative Analyst for the council and the role of the mayor in the redevelopment agency and housing authority. Mitchell also suggested that the charter outline the balance between the mayor and council regarding contract negotiations with the city’s labor unions.
Jones, an attorney at Shepard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, said the chamber’s legal committee began studying some of the legal implications related to the strong-mayor switch in April. The suggestions were reviewed by other chamber committees and the group’s board of directors before they were submitted to the City Council, she said.
Mitchell said that the chamber started studying the issues before the council began meeting regularly in late April. He said the transition has been especially rough because of the early exit of Murphy, who was supposed to oversee the switch but resigned in July.
Norma Damashek, who chaired the citizen panel charged with advising the council on the strong-mayor switch, said the chamber’s arrival with suggestions Wednesday was further evidence that the transition was not provided the necessary attention.
“It got very little analysis before and now we see why it’s not what people thought it would be,” said Damashek, whose committee started meeting in March. “This is not a perfect changeover, it’s not even adequate.”
The citizen committee recommended that the consultants from Dewey Square that were hired to advise the committee on refining the government’s structure should be retained to determine the best practices for monitoring the city’s progress under the new form of governance and setting up a charter-review commission.
Councilman Scott Peters, who chairs the council’s strong-mayor transition committee, said he likes the citizens’ proposal to monitor the transition when it takes place three months from now.
Wednesday marked the last time the council considers proposals for how legislation passes through a reconfigured council and how to alter city’s policies to comply with the changes Proposition F made to the City Charter.
The full council will vote on the package of policy changes at a public council meeting on Oct. 17.
The city’s first strong-mayor will be the victor of the Nov. 8 election to replace Murphy. Councilwoman Donna Frye and former police Chief Jerry Sanders, the two candidates vying for the position, have both outlined how they would like their bureaucracy to look if they are elected.
Frye said she would view herself as the head of a cabinet made up of six department heads and cut the city’s payroll. Sanders said he will exercise his executive powers by asking for the resignations of 300 high-level city employees.
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