You might remember a column I wrote a while ago about a conversation I had with Mayor Jerry Sanders. I had pressed him about his push for reform of the charter and why he had chosen the path that he did. I wondered why he hadn’t considered the possibility of the city electing a charter reform committee that would formulate proposals for the governance of the city at put them directly on the ballot for approval.

Here’s how I went with it (emphasis added):

Instead of appointing a committee at the mercy of the City Council like this, the city’s residents can themselves empanel a committee with a citywide election. This elected Charter Review Committee would make recommendations for charter changes that automatically would appear on a ballot for residents to consider.

I asked the mayor why he didn’t want to go that route.

“I guess this shows my ignorance but I’ve never heard of an elected charter commission. I’ve never seen one of those,” he said.

I did my best to explain the background. Sanders said what I described would take too long.

“I don’t think we can afford to wait to elect people to a charter commission,” he said. “Our next election is in 2008. That means nothing would go on the ballot until 2010. I think that’s too long to wait for some of the things that need to be done.”

So I was surprised to learn, a couple of days ago, that the mayor decided he doesn’t want voters to have to consider major changes to the charter until 2010. It was premature, his office said, for voters to decide on an experiment — the strong mayor form of government — that had yet to play out.

If that’s the case, then why couldn’t we have empanelled an elected charter review committee?

I asked Fred Sainz, the mayor’s spokesman, what the deal was. He said the mayor never said he wanted everything on the ballot in 2008 and that I would be taking his statements above out of context if I implied he had ever planned to get strong mayor on the ballot by 2008.

All, he wanted to change by then, Sainz said, was the charter language related to the recommendations from the investigators at Kroll Inc.

But Kroll’s recommendations — things like who should appoint the city auditor, etc. — are all dependent on the city being run by a strong mayor form of government.

So why did he rush through all the recommendations including an extension of strong mayor? If he now feels that voters shouldn’t decide on it until 2010, why couldn’t everything have been less hasty and even pushed back in favor of a thorough process?

“It was a thorough process,” Sainz said.

We didn’t really communicate very well.

Look, let’s be clear: What Sanders has decided — that this stuff needs more time — is a reasonable and logical choice. It appears as though in the face of mounting opposition to the way this thing was handled, he has retreated from path he set out on to immortalize these major changes in the charter right now. There’s a good argument for that: After studying things, the mayor decided the city deserves a chance to see these things through. Some of the best aspects of the new government and the ideas to make it permanent might be opposed by people concerned with the process, who might otherwise have supported them. That wouldn’t be good.

There’s no need, however, to insist that this was his plan all along.

More to come on this.


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