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The debate over revising the city of San Diego’s charter — particularly in light of the city’s recent move to a “strong-mayor” form of government — is one of the most critical issues that will shape the future of the city. The charter “serves as the basic set of rules for our City government … prescribing the relationship between … the Mayor and the City Council and the interaction of the City Attorney with both.” Despite the document’s importance to the people of San Diego, a massive behind-the-scenes fight is taking place to determine how much say the public will actually have in deciding the future governance of our city.

Mayor Sander’s Charter Review Committee may give the appearance of being open to public opinion and dialogue; but it is a thinly veiled attempt by the same “good old boys” who have helped create the mess in this city to maintain their power. Everything about this committee — from poorly publicized meetings and forums, to the time they are held (Friday mornings), to Chairman John Davies edict (that only a total of 20 minutes of public non-agenda comment will be allowed at each meeting) — has helped keep the public out of this process.

According to committee member Mike McDade, “This couldn’t be a more public process when you consider it winds up with a public vote.” Does public process mean a public vote? Or does public process mean an engaged public that has representatives on the committee and not primarily City Hall insiders? I think we are all astute enough to know the difference. A cursory review of the committee may lead you to the conclusion that it is representative. But people who live in underrepresented communities recognize that there are crucial subtleties missing in the process. The committee is comprised of seven members from the mayor’s camp. The City Council appointed eight members (one from each district), though the mayor also got to decide which of the council nominees he would take. When you take a deeper look into where the members live, you will discover that four of the members do not live in the city and not one of them lives in Districts 4 or 8.

The committee had the work plan and agenda laid out for them when they began the process. As someone who has personally attended or watched several committee meetings, it is clear that the committee is talking about issues, but the issues that they are discussing have been framed for them by the mayor’s staff.

What is also disheartening is that this administration was supposed to be different. After all, it was “Former Police Chief” Jerry Sanders who cosigned the argument against Proposition F, the “Strong Mayor initiative” in 2004, joining Councilwoman Donna Frye and the League of Women Voters. The ballot argument cited the need for “government accountability,” “protection of our neighborhoods,” and the need to “stop backroom deals” as the rationale for opposing the Strong Mayor. I guess power has led to a change in his tone.

Thus, Progressive San Diego joins the broader progressive community in calling for a charter review committee to be elected by district (rather than anointed by a few in power) so that all San Diegans will have a say as to who represents them in crafting changes to the charter. This is the only way to have a true “public process.” We must work on the public’s agenda, not on the Mayor’s. We must ensure that those individuals who truly have a stake in the process, who come from various communities and backgrounds, review the charter, our guiding community document.

— TOMMIE WATSON

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