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Without even trying to go into the political peculiarities of the times, it’s fair to say that when the so-called “Strong Mayor” form of government was placed on the ballot and passed by the voters, there were missing pieces. Not everything was fleshed out, in part because it happened more quickly than anyone expected.
So we are now stuck with a couple of fairly bizarre situations – one is the fact that we have an even number of councilmembers, so the same five people who pass a resolution in the first place can then override a mayoral veto. That needs to get fixed, but the solution isn’t as easy as you think. Do you simply split the city into nine (vs. 8) districts? Or reduce it to seven? Maybe. Or maybe you want at-large members to offset some of the parochialism created by district-only elections. But if you do that, do you only add one? Does that person become a “mini mayor?” Would the public support adding more?
Another missing piece has to do with the relationship between the mayor (executive branch) and the council (legislative branch). That, of course, assumes that the intent of the changed structure was to create that same sort of division that we see at the federal and state levels.
Those of us who support Mayor Sanders and understand the daunting task before him, would like to give him as much leeway as possible to get things fixed. On the other hand, we need to think very carefully about the establishment of precedent and the potential outcome of placing too much power in the hands of any one person. Mayor Sanders won’t be here forever…what if we give too much power to the next mayor and he or she abuses it? What recourse do we then have?
This lack of clarity is currently playing out in the budget arena. Scott Lewis wrote about this last week. If your eyes glazed over, pinch yourself and read it again. This is important stuff.
As a wise friend of mine says…”policy is budget and budget is policy.” He usually follows that with a reminder that it is the job of the legislative branch to set policy and the job of the executive branch to execute that policy (hence the word “executive”). On the other hand, the right to establish policy should not become an excuse for micro management.
This truly needs to get sorted out before the mayor and council end up at odds. We’ve had enough odds. It’s time for some ends. In a normal city, one would ask the city attorney to weigh in. In San Diego, he will be weighing in, but then the question is whether either the mayor or the council will accept his advice. I’m having a difficult time seeing both sides accepting him as referee or mediator.
In a normal city, when the council expresses their need to make policy decisions in order to represent their constituents, the citizens listen and think. In San Diego, the council as a whole has pretty much zero credibility, so they are viewed as attempting to thwart the mayor’s efforts at reform.
I keep waiting for the city fathers (I don’t think there were any mothers involved) who envisioned this change to speak up to provide direction. OK fellas, you got us this far, care to finish up?