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Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | San Diego City Council’s newest political duo — Donna Frye and Carl DeMaio — announced Monday the formation of a study group that they hope will improve how the city’s legislative body conducts its business.

The two described the current City Council as a morose and partisan institution whose members too often get bogged down in disagreements and confusion over rules and processes to the detriment of sound policymaking.

The study group, they said, will produce, among other things, more precise rules on how council committees are structured; better handling of public input; a clearer role for the council president; and far better communication between City Council and the Mayor’s Office during budget time.

Specific plans to address these issues will be developed over the next six months through a series of town-hall meetings. The plan is for the study group to submit a report to council Nov. 10.

Both Councilwoman Frye and Councilman-elect DeMaio had harsh words for the way the current council conducts its business and said better processes will lead to a happier and more productive legislative body.

“We need to stop the politics, stop the Democrats vs. Republicans, reformers vs. anti-reformers, good vs. bad,” Frye said, speaking of the atmosphere surrounding the current council.

Added DeMaio: “Right now there is no trust in City Council among the people of San Diego.”

The two could be a force come December on a council that will include four new members. DeMaio, the only candidate to win outright in last week’s primary, will replace Brian Maienschein in District 5. Seats in Districts 1, 3 and 7 will be up for grabs in the November election.

Frye, who acknowledged Monday that she has been working with DeMaio for two months on their reform plan, is often an outcast on the council — posting the sole “no” vote. DeMaio could become a valuable ally.

Reaction to the plan Monday from other council members and Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office was mixed. Councilman Tony Young said it was “presumptuous” of Frye and DeMaio to launch such a program without input from their colleagues.

Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz characterized the reform plan a “bunch of hypotheticals [Frye and DeMaio] are trying to fit together.”

Frye and DeMaio said City Council has struggled during the city’s transition to a strong-mayor form of government, which voters approved in 2004 and was implemented in 2006. Under the new form, the elected mayor controls the city’s staff and daily operations rather than an appointed city manager.

On Tuesday, both emphasized that voters approved a “strong-mayor/strong-council” form of government, but that the council has not been very strong. Its weakness, they said, lies in a broken process for doing the peoples’ business.

As an example, they pointed to the poor communication between the council and the Mayor’s Office during budget time.

“Often we have received information at the last minute, or not at all,” Frye said of council’s plight during budget season.

The two stood shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday at a podium in City Hall’s 13th floor press room, nodding in approval at each other’s remarks and sometimes finishing sentences together. Such bipartisan displays are the only way to move forward, they said.

“I know that some may said Ms. Frye and I make an interesting team,” DeMaio said. “But the public is sick of infighting on City Council.”

No other member of council attended the news conference, and those contacted said they have not yet read the entire proposal. Young indicated that the pair’s proposal smacks of political grandstanding.

“I hope things are well thought out and inclusive — I will not be part of any voting block,” Young said. “Fanfare is never the most effective way of getting real progress done in the city or anywhere else.”

Council President Scott Peters would not go so far as to embrace the pair’s plan, but said in a statement that he shares Frye’s “commitment to strengthening the City Council.”

Please contact David Washburn directly at david.washburn@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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