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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders used his veto pen for the fifth time Monday, this time to cross out a line-item in the budget passed by City Council last week calling for the restoration of 62 city jobs.

The general sense right now at City Hall is that the council’s 6-2 majority will hold, and the veto will be overridden. The vote will likely happen Monday. However, judging by the outcome of the mayor’s previous four vetoes, the prospect of compromise with the City Council or a shift in council sentiment is also possible.

Only twice has a veto played out in textbook fashion. On a measure involving water reuse, the council bucked Sanders with a veto override. And when the mayor vetoed legislation banning big-box grocery stores, the veto was upheld after one council member’s change of heart.

But in two instances the mayor and council used the time between the veto and the override vote to come up with a compromise that rendered it moot in one way or another. And in one case, council members rescinded their votes that led to the veto.

Sanders is the first San Diego mayor with veto power. It came as part of the “strong mayor” charter reforms voters passed in 2004, which removed the mayor as a member of the City Council and made the mayor the city’s chief executive officer.

Most involved in the process, as well as those who played a role in developing the strong mayor form of government, say it is working as intended. A veto, they say, is a demonstration of executive power, but it also serves as a window for further negotiations.

Council President Scott Peters said vetoes by Sanders have, more often than not, provided an opportunity for reconsideration. “It gives the mayor another shot to make his argument,” he said.

Here is a rundown of mayoral vetoes and the result:

  • In November 2006, Sanders vetoed funding for the city’s swim team. Council voted to override the veto, but the vote came after Sanders agreed to find a way to keep funding the team.
  • In June 2007, Sanders vetoed funding for a winter homeless shelter near Petco Park. Council upheld the veto, but only after an agreement was reached with Sanders to find money from a source other than the city’s general fund for the shelter.
  • In July 2007, Sanders vetoed a bill that would have banned Wal-Mart and other chains from building big-box grocery stores in the city. The veto was upheld after Councilwoman Donna Frye changed her original vote.
  • In November 2007, Sanders vetoed funding for a pilot study for treating wastewater for potable use. Council overrode the veto.
  • In April, Sanders vetoed raises council members gave themselves. The veto was rendered moot after Council President Scott Peters and Councilman Ben Hueso rescinded their votes.

Monday’s veto came after council restored nearly half of the 125 jobs Sanders had cut in his fiscal 2009 budget proposal by requiring the city’s downtown redevelopment arm, Centre City Development Corp., to increase its annual debt repayment to the city.

Only Councilmen Jim Madaffer and Kevin Faulconer voted no. The council’s decision was based on a recommendation by Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin.

John Kern, former chief of staff to Mayor Dick Murphy who had a hand in drafting the strong mayor charter amendment, said the results of Sanders’ vetoes show how politics of passing a bill are different from veto politics.

“When it comes time to override a veto, you have the mayor’s prestige on the line, his authority, his allies,” Kern said. “This is different than when council is just passing something. Veto politics are different.”

Glen Sparrow, a professor of public administration at San Diego State University who also contributed to the charter amendments, said he expects the new council to be tougher come veto time. Four new council members will take office following the November election.

Most current council members served the majority of their time under the old city manager form of government, and have been somewhat slow to adapt to the new form of governing, Sparrow said.

“Remember, this is a strong-mayor and strong-council form of government,” he said. “With the new council the power will balance and the mayor will have more fights on his hands.”

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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