I spent the morning with Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Charter Review Committee, which was quite a worthwhile enterprise. The committee has moved much more quickly and relatively quietly than I think many of us had expected, and considering that the shape of the city’s constitution is at stake, us in the media have admittedly done a relatively lousy job of keeping up with them.
I was actually quite surprise by what I found: a subcommittee is examining whether the city attorney should be an appointed, rather than an elected, position. It has been an elected position since 1931.
But committee consultant James Ingram opines in a report to the committee that, “It is difficult to argue that moving to an elected City Attorney improved the City’s legal representation.” Ingram argues that the appointed city attorneys in San Diego’s history had a more stellar record than their elected successors.
He wrote that a 1998 study found that the election of city attorneys is a purely a California thing, as no major U.S. city outside of California elects its legal rep.
The subcommittee didn’t make a decision on the issue this morning and will take it up again Sept. 7, but representatives from the City Attorney’s Office warned that the committee is stepping outside of its boundaries in studying the issue. Deputy City Attorney Dan Bamberg argued that because the committee is comprised of mayoral and council appointees — without any appointee from the city attorney — it is improper to take on the topic.
Additionally, Bamberg said, “It’s just a bad idea.”
In his report, Ingram argued that there are inherent flaws to having an elected attorney, including determining whose interests the attorney represents.
That, as those who have been paying attention to local politics know, has been a major bone of contention here in San Diego, as City Attorney Mike Aguirre has argued that he serves the public and can therefore file lawsuits unilaterally without City Council approval.
To that end, the subcommittee today also received proposed language that would alter the city charter to essentially spell out that the municipal corporation — led by the City Council — is the client. The proposal, which would seek to resolve that long standing dispute between Aguirre and a majority of council members, is based on charter language in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The committee is working to finalize a report by Sept. 27, and these two issues are sure to be some of the most contentious. The report will recommend certain charter amendments for the City Council to place on a 2008 ballot.