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Having spanned a 30-plus-year career in the city of San Diego in project management, I personally witnessed the transition from a highly effective city manager form of government to what has become the current City Hall circus. I joined the city under the manager form of government when it was heralded as one of the best-run in the country. Though I was not a public administration major in college, the notion of separating power between the legislative body and executive branch always made sense to me. An effective city manager runs the city based on policy decisions made by the legislative body, minimizing the impact of political bickering and shielding the employees from the same. That form of governance also provides a career path for exceptional employees to ascend to upper management, ensuring continuity and corporate history within the organization.

I clearly recall the great hoopla and promise that led to strong mayor governance while harboring severe concerns during that transition period. The strong mayor system has eliminated that separation between the employees and the policy makers. Unlike the manager system, the city’s entire management structure is now replaced en masse with each new mayor (in four- or eight-year intervals), virtually eliminating all management continuity. I would propose Voice of San Diego undertake a thorough, independent analysis of the road traveled from city manager to strong mayor governance, highlighting the best and worst aspects of each and making comparisons to other cities that also made the transition. My personal take is the San Diego “experiment” with strong mayor has become an unmitigated disaster, and it is perhaps time to reconsider the concept of city manager form of government.

Ron A. Smith lives in San Diego.


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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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