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So I got pretty beaten up in reader comments and e-mail after this column Monday. If you need a refresher, I wrote rather supportively of council members Carl DeMaio and Donna Frye’s proposals to reform the rules governing the City Council. I was especially sympathetic to their suggestion that the City Council allow any two of its members to push for an idea to get on the City Council agenda — basically stripping the council president of the brunt of his or her power.
My point: A cynic could view what Frye and DeMaio are doing as merely an effort to declaw the council president because they are worried neither of them will be council president. But the council president — if it turns out to be Ben Hueso as many are hoping — didn’t really do anything to deserve the power to decide which of his colleagues’ ideas warrant going forward or not.
The first, and best, dissent of the day, came from my good friend — the super-student of all things government, Vladimir Kogan. He’s a graduate student of political science at UCSD.
His point was simple: DeMaio and Frye’s idea (and my support) was “terrible,” he wrote. One person needs to have power of the council’s docket to prioritize the body’s business. Otherwise, it could be chaotic. Here’s what Kogan wrote, in part:
Now, we know the council can consider only a limited number of proposals in a given year. Imagine that all of the council members write up hundreds of stupid resolutions to please the various constituents (and you know they would if they could). What order should the council consider them? The order they were submitted? What if the last thing that was submitted was the budget, and is far more important than everything else? Should we really have to wait three months for them to go through all of the resolutions before they can talk about the budget? If proposals should not be considered in the order they were submitted, who gets to decide what order they’d be heard?
Eliminating the council president will not allow ideas to “live or die on their merits.” We know this from many examples of people trying to eliminate agenda control (read about what happened in the Colorado Legislature when they passed Give a Vote to Every Legislator eliminating the majority party’s agenda powers). What you do is you empower every councilman to introduce the most moronic proposals that their districts, and only their districts care about. Of course, council people only care about their district because that’s who elects them.
I wrote back with this:
There can be simple protections against the nightmare you imagine. One, yes it’s first come, first served. But two, if there are priority discussions, the council president or the council prez and the pro-tem could move them up. The fact that resolutions would either have to go to a committee first or have a partner signed on would dramatically limit the overwhelming list of moronic resolutions you worry about.
But I also passed it on to DeMaio to see if he had a response about prioritizing the council’s work.
On a flood of items, it is NOT easy to come up with the 1472 back up materials. Workload wise it will be hard for any one councilmember to generate that much. We’re trying to prevent manipulation of the docket and we think the multiple avenues we put in for docket access will allow for that.
The 1472 is the document council members have to fill out to get an item on the docket. It requires a significant amount of cooperation and research from city staff to produce.
DeMaio went on:
Here’s a key ingredient in all of this: We are creating rules that are open and fair (first come, first served). Those rules will be the “default” when other accommodations can’t be made. Of COURSE you will have dialogue with the council prez, pro tem, committee chairs, and rank-and-file members. And we will come to agreement. That is called “legislative courtesy.” People are usually reasonable — except when they feel in the past one person (Council prez) has given them the shaft.
Vlad is very worried about the City Council being even less powerful than it is now, and that’s the effect he thinks creating more open access to the agenda would have. That’s a good point.
I think our different views might be easy to explain: He’s looking at this philosophically through his intense study of political science. I’m looking at the persons involved and the lame ducks who are getting ready to leave us with a legacy appointment.
What’s your perspective?