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Mayor Jerry Sanders thinks the strong-mayor form of government should be made permanent, but he thinks those voters should have more time to think about it before doing so.

That’s the advice he gave council members in a five-page memo this week as they started dissecting the suggestions a citizen panel made for revising the city charter in 2008.

I asked Sanders why he didn’t want to at least recommend making strong-mayor permanent if he supports it. It is the very foundation for the bureaucracy overhaul he has promised and for implementing the improvements that Kroll recommended for the city’s financial reporting structure. Currently, the strong-mayor system is set to expire after 2010.

He said he just thought it was “too new for voters” and predicted the council would feel the same way, despite any calls he would have made to put it on the June ballot. As we witnessed at Wednesday’s Rules Committee meeting, it looks like he’s right about the council scuttling any chance of putting anything that would cement strong-mayor on the 2008 ballot.

But what about that campaign committee, San Diegans for City Hall Reform, which has been stockpiling money for no apparent reason since the campaigns for Propositions B and C a year ago — except that it might help ballot causes that are near and dear to Sanders?

The committee threatened to stage a signature ballot measure in 2006 if the council didn’t put Props B and C on the ballot. Couldn’t the group use the same leverage this time around?

Sanders said there was a “very good possibility,” but added that the decision was up to San Diegans for City Hall Reform. If it did, he said he would actively campaign to make strong-mayor permanent.

I asked how he could recommend to the council to leave a strong-mayor extension off the ballot this year, but campaign for the extension if his friends from the committee wanted it.

“I’m not uncomfortable doing that,” Sanders said.

Tom Shepard, the political consultant for Sanders who has advised San Diegans for City Hall Reform, said he doesn’t think the committee would push the issue. He said it would be difficult to gather signatures given the short notice and the high demand for signature gathering for the three elections slated for 2008. Also, the political winds aren’t blowing in favor of making strong-mayor permanent, he said.

“The way we communicated it to voters was this was going to be a five-year experiment about whether it’s going to work or not,” Shepard said. “I think we have a responsibility to follow through on that promise and give people that chance to decide.”

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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