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A few days after the election, I spent a few hours on the “10th Floor” in City Hall — where the City Council offices are located. I found a mixture of denial and depression. Some emphatically held the view that the city’s financial problems weren’t bad at all — a figment of the public’s imagination.

One official suggested that the City Council was actually held in high regard by the public! Hence there is no need to change how the Council operates.

Others were downright depressed — and a ton of staff seemed focused on getting their resumes out instead of working on policy, oversight or constituent service.

The overall message, however, was unmistakable. Learn the current system, play the game, and you’ll get some things for your district. Oh, and by all means, keep your mouth shut.

I almost expected a babysitter to come by with the jar of the afternoon Kool-Aid.

That’s not the kind of legislative environment I want to be part of — and I’m seeing that the returning Councilmembers and the remaining Council candidates want to change how the City Council operates.

In June, I launched an initiative with Councilmember Donna Frye to examine the internal policies and procedures of the City Council with an eye on making it a truly independent, transparent and effective legislative body.

We’ve spent the last several months canvassing experts and the general public for ideas on how to make changes in four areas.

  • Budget and Legislative Processes: How can the budget and legislative processes be reformed to position the City Council as an effective legislative partner in solving San Diego’s financial and operational problems? Some initial ideas have been to improve approaches for budget forecasting, transition to a true performance-based budgeting system, and enhance the use of the annual Appropriations ordinance to prod the executive branch to faithfully implement the budget as approved by the mayor and council.
  • Council Oversight: How can the City Council fulfill its duty to provide better oversight of taxpayer monies being spent by the city government? Some initial ideas have been to hold annual joint meetings with boards of so-called independent city agencies and expand capacity of the IBA’s office to assist with oversight studies.
  • Public Participation: How can the City Council be a more open and transparent body? Some initial ideas have been to expand the use of evening meetings, hold meetings in communities impacted by specific legislation, and enforce timely public disclosure of supporting documentation and information on issues pending before the Council.
  • Presiding Officers, Rules of Order and Committee Structure: How can internal policies improve the decorum and efficiency of the City Council in its deliberations? Some initial ideas have been to rotate the Council President like the County Board of Supervisors do. We are also considering changes in how ideas and legislation can be docketed and put to a roll-call vote.

How do you think the City Council ought to operate? Both Councilmember Frye and I would like to hear from you!

We will package the best ideas and present them to the new City Council after the election.

— CARL DeMAIO

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