Saturday, December 10, 2005 | The City Council will appoint a city administrator from Phoenix as its independent budget analyst Monday, setting in place a key component to San Diego’s switch to a strong-mayor form of governance in January.

Andrea Tevlin was tentatively hired this week to assess financial proposals made by the Mayor’s Office for the council when Mayor Jerry Sanders takes over the city’s executive powers after the New Year. She worked most recently as a deputy city manager in Phoenix, a city whose population is slightly larger than San Diego’s but whose day-to-day budget is roughly half her new employer’s.

The city spent the better part of Wednesday behind closed doors discussing applicants for the job before deciding on Tevlin.

As part of a citywide proposition voters approved in 2004, Sanders will oversee the hiring and firing of city employees while also preparing an annual budget, but will no longer be a voting member of the City Council. As a check to balance the mayor’s authority over the city’s financial management officers, the council will rely on Tevlin and her eight-member staff to review the mayor’s fiscal plans.

Council President-elect Scott Peters will assume the mayor’s current role presiding over council meetings and setting the city’s legislative agenda when Sanders becomes the strong mayor. Extending the strong-mayor structure past 2010 will require another citywide ballot measure.

Several council members are embracing a sense heightened of accountability along with the new independent budget analyst. The council will have its own set of trained eyes to pore over the city’s books at a time when the municipal government faces countless questions over its finances. The city’s everyday budget – which includes funding for parks, police and street sweeping – is being strained by increased payments to its beleaguered pension fund. Outside auditors haven’t certified San Diego’s financial records since the 2002 fiscal year.

Several council members have on more than one occasion questioned figures released from the city’s Financial Management Office, complaining that they haven’t been shown real numbers that oppose popular spending projects or expose poor fiscal management.

“Instead of telling people what they want to hear, we should tell people what they need to hear,” Councilwoman Donna Frye said. “What’s important is the believability of the information that’s being provided.”

There has been scant speculation about the independent budget analyst’s role, but experts say that the office should not be underestimated. University of California, San Diego political scientist Steve Erie said there have been cases in Los Angeles, a strong-mayor city, where the independent budget analyst has been more powerful than the mayor.

Tevlin was unavailable for comment on Friday.

She has worked for Phoenix’s city government for 26 years in several high-level capacities. She was chief of staff to former Mayor Skip Rimsza, a Republican, for four years and is currently the city’s administrator in charge of water, information technology and the Sky Harbor International Airport.

Her new position will be to research the fiscal impacts of proposed legislation and prepare a comprehensive review of the mayor’s annual budget. At the council’s discretion, Tevlin can be asked to forecast the finances of capital improvement projects, analyze funding sources from other governments and review existing and potential tax revenues.

Frye said Tevlin’s experience in an elected office and as behind-the-scenes administrator give her a unique prospective on the nuances of balancing politics with policy.

“You want someone strong enough to make disagreements with the other side, but at same time don’t want to be in adversarial position,” she said.

Councilman Jim Madaffer said that he is happy to add a new voice to the city’s important budget discussions in an era when “the city and the public have discovered lack of accountability, accuracy and attention to detail.”

He said he is confident that Sanders’ chief financial officer – who has not yet been named – will be fair, but that he enjoys the option of having the independent analysis.

“It gives the council a person to crunch the numbers that is equally competent to whoever will be the CFO, but I see the two as being a compliment to one another,” he said.

Tevlin will report first and foremost to the council, but her priority after that will be to the council president, chairpersons of council committees and individual council members. As San Diego’s first independent budget analyst, Tevlin will earn $180,000 per year. She can be fired with or without cause by a majority of the council, which will consist of eight members after the strong-mayor switch.

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