I had a chance just now to speak with Council President Scott Peters about how his colleagues should choose his successor and the role that person should have. Carl DeMaio, an incoming City Council member, and Donna Frye, are working to gut the power of the prez.

First off, Peters defended his decision to docket a discussion of the new council president Nov. 18. This will allow the lame-duck council members to potentially saddle their successors with a new president. Remember my point on this: The power of the council president comes from the support he or she earns from his or her colleagues. If the new members of the council, though, aren’t allowed to choose the new president, it takes away that person’s credibility as the president.

Peters said he doesn’t necessarily want the old council to choose the new president on Nov. 18. But he said, he had no choice but to put it up for discussion then.

“It’s not my decision to make to not let the council talk about it — to not let this council have any input,” Peters said. He said the discussion of who would be the new council president had always taken place in mid-November. Never mind that always means just twice three times as we’ve only been grappling with this since the strong-mayor form of government came to be in 2006. Correction: This is the end of Peters’ third term. The process of voting him president has occurred three times — not twice as I originally had.

He said he didn’t feel comfortable making the decision to change that and leave the current council out of the discussion. I asked him whether he wasn’t making a kind of decision just by putting it on the docket now.

He said the council could always decide just to put off the discussion for the new group to handle.

“They don’t have to take any particular action on it,” he said.

At this point, I switched to the role of the council president. Remember, Frye sent me two examples of instances in which she asked to have something (two issues regarding employee retirement benefits) put on the council’s docket for discussion and Peters had “ignored” her.

What was up with that, I asked Peters.

First, Peters said those were the only two instances he and his staff could find when a colleague had asked him to put something on the docket for discussion and had filled out the appropriate forms and had been turned away.

Then he said the reason was that those issues were “in litigation.”

“There’s nothing you can do about DROP or retirement benefits if they’re being litigated,” he said. He said he told Frye that and then referred the matter to the city attorney for his input. He said the city attorney never responded.

Then he got adamant. He said he’s made a point to put everything on the ballot that has been requested.

“If you have the forms filled out in time so that the public and council can review it, we try to make sure it is heard,” Peters said. He added, as an example, that he didn’t necessarily want the council to debate its support or nonsupport of the controversial Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to be married in California. He said the council meetings are “business meetings” not “political rallies” but he put his instincts aside and allowed the discussion to go forward.

Finally, I asked him if this was the best process. Let’s assume, I said, he’s fair and equitable and effective. What if someone not so admirable takes the post and isn’t fair and does play games? Should they have this power?

“It’s really important for a council to select someone to do this,” he said. “I have to find a majority on the council that trusts me. The first time I start messing with the process I’m going to lose support. That’s the watchdog on this.”

This is productive, I think. What do you think about what he said?


P.S. Here’s a copy of Peters’ own memorandum on the issue.

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