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Not long ago, Jerry Butkiewicz, leader of the regional AFL-CIO, hosted Café San Diego and mocked the idea that the San Diego City Council needed one-to-three new members.

Ever since the city changed to a strong mayor form of government, the City Council has only had eight voting members. An even number like that leaves open the possibility that they will deadlock with 4-4 votes. With those deadlocks, motions fail even though the opposition couldn’t secure a majority of votes against it.

Butkiewicz thought that was a joke and a prohibitively expensive reform. Here was part of Butkiewicz’s mocking critique:

One of the central ideas in strong mayor reform is adding anywhere from 1-3 “at large” City Council seats. Apparently, the individuals that are drafting these new ideas have been witnessing something on the City Council that I have missed … all of those deadlocked votes. In fact, I can’t count the number of times our city has come to a complete standstill because of those dang 4-4 votes. So, yes, let’s spend millions on creating a new council seat that doesn’t even represent the neighborhoods. We need that voice on the council. So we get fewer cops on the street, fewer pot holes filled, our children can spend fewer hours at the library, but now we will have someone who can break all of those ties at the City Council.

How ironic that he would be so dismissive of the possibility only a couple of weeks ago before today’s vote on the firefighters’ issue.

Butkiewicz was passionately in support of giving the firefighters a raise. Without a raise, the city was headed toward a crisis, he claimed (quite vehemently).

But Mayor Jerry Sanders, equally passionate, opposed a salary raise and said the market didn’t warrant it.

He wanted to impose a contract on the firefighters that did not include a raise.

The council was set to throw out that impasse. A motion was made to override the mayor but it failed.

Why?

Because the council deadlocked 4-4.

The council members who opposed a raise didn’t have to convince a majority of their colleagues to side with them. They just needed a deadlock. And they got it.

SCOTT LEWIS

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