This week, the City Council convened for the third in a series of financial training sessions. The media doesn’t seem too interested in covering them, but I think they’re pretty important.

One of the hallmarks of local government is the concept of citizen leaders; people who leave their jobs as farmers, businesspeople, lawyers or teachers to take an active role in government for several years. I think San Diego has been well-served by the varied and unique perspectives these citizen leaders bring to the City Council.

It does, however, mean that we are laypeople, somewhat unfamiliar with the nuances of local government and its attendant regulations. We rely on experienced staff to tell us what we don’t know about things like the laws regulating land use and municipal finance.

The year 2004 brought a major step forward in council management of financial affairs with the establishment of the Independent Budget Analyst, approved by voters as part of Proposition F.

In 2006, we asked the IBA to organize professional financial training for councilmembers. San Diego is the first city in the country to establish this kind of training, thanks to the hard work of Andrea Tevlin and her staff, who built the program from the ground up. They are teaching us the ins and outs of bond disclosures, financial statements and debt issuance. We’re learning the kinds of questions to ask city staff, and hopefully, we’re learning to hone our bull detectors. If I had really been a farmer, I would already be good at that.

Sure, it’s a little dull, and I dread seeing that foot-tall binder of back-up material hit my desk, but this could be one of the most important measures instituted by this council. I’m proud to be a part of it.


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