Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 | The reverberations of the much-discussed Kroll report are still being felt around the city. The mayor, his staff and the City Council now have some very consequential and difficult decisions to make.
The report had little new information but it served yet again to confirm something important about the city and the way its government is run: Not one single person felt accountable for the city’s operation as a whole.
That simply must change. As the city finishes out the first year of a five-year experiment with the “strong-mayor” form of government, we should be preparing now to discuss ways – when the five years are up – to re-inject a citywide focus into the City Council.
As the Kroll report and others have confirmed over the last three years, the City Council and past mayors have blamed city staff time and time again for the misdeeds that have left City Hall with a choice that looks to be as stark as one between bankruptcy and increased taxes.
But ask them what they accomplished over their terms in office and they’ll rattle off an impressive list. Unfortunately, everything they say is tied to their own district, to their own little corner of San Diego.
The City Council has repeatedly shown little interest in issues that affect the city as a whole, as demonstrated by the negligence that was documented well before the $20 million Kroll report. They confine their interests to their particular neighborhoods. Ask them about pension problems and most show an alarming lack of expertise – or even basic understanding. Ask them about a particular street corner or piece of infrastructure worrisome to neighbors in their district and they are surprisingly adept.
Oftentimes, they appear more concerned with opening a skate park in their district than they do with studying the long-term impacts of major financial decisions.
It’s not entirely their fault. In order to cultivate diversity, San Diego’s city government was reformed in 1988 to elect City Council members not with citywide votes but with district elections. Unfortunately, now that the mayor has been removed from the City Council and installed as the city’s CEO, not a single member of the City Council considers all the residents of the city as his or her constituents.
Is it any wonder, then, that none of them are willing to take responsibility for the troubles the city as a whole is now enduring?
We respect the need to protect diversity on the council, but in the next four years, the city must reconvene a Charter Review Committee that can craft a plan to include representatives on the council who see themselves as responsible for the entire city, not just their own nook of it.
It wouldn’t be difficult. Right now there are eight members of the City Council – an awkward number that will lead to tie votes on important issues.
In 1988, the Charter Review Committee recommended that the City Council be enlarged to 10 members – plus the mayor.
With the mayor already removed from the council, a new Charter Review Committee could add three new seats to the City Council. They could be selected through citywide elections and the districts haven’t to be redrawn.
The “strong-mayor” experiment will end, whether we like it or not, in four years. We have, right now, the opportunity to plan effectively not just to renew it, but to put in place a government structure that is as responsive as possible. We can access the best minds and form a Charter Review Committee with the mandate and the time to effectively parse through these issues.
We need to have representatives on the City Council who have only the interest of the city as a whole to serve.
Mayor Jerry Sanders has honorably demanded of his thousands of employees that they bring bad news to him and not tell him what they think he wants to hear. He has taken the first step to ensure that someone will be held accountable for any problems that may be unveiled in the future. The City Council must do the same.
It will not, however, because its members view themselves as only accountable to those who elected them.
We have four years to change that.