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City Council rejects group’s alternative to strong-mayor system

By JOE BRITTON

City News Service

A City Council committee on Wednesday rejected a proposal by the League of Women Voters to put a competing measure on the June 8 ballot to extend by four years the city’s strong-mayor form of government without adding a ninth council seat.

The League of Women Voters wanted the measure to challenge one the City Council will likely put before voters that would make the strong-mayor form of government permanent and create a ninth council seat.

However, the Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee declined to act on a motion by Councilwoman Donna Frye to have the full City Council hear the league’s proposal on Feb. 16, when it considers putting the measure on the ballot that would make strong-mayor permanent.

Norma Damashek, president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego, testified that extending the trial period for the strong-mayor form of government through 2014 without adding another City Council seat would maintain the status quo while giving voters a “wider and deeper perspective.”

“An extension would make no change for the time being and would cause no disruption to the mayor’s or the City Council’s ability to conduct the business of the city,” she said. “It simply maintains the status quo.”

Kevin Casey, the director of council affairs for Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office, told the committee that the league’s proposal for two competing ballot measures was an effort to kill the strong-mayor system.

“The mayor believes that this measure, the league’s measure, is a strategy to sink strong-mayor by confusing voters,” he said.

The strong-mayor system was approved by voters for a five-year trial period with the passage of Proposition F in 2005. It will automatically be repealed Dec. 31 unless voters decide otherwise.

According to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, the language authorized by voters nearly five years ago mandates that a measure be placed on the 2010 ballot that would make strong-mayor permanent and establish a ninth council seat to coincide with this year’s U.S. Census. There can, however, be a competing measure.

Once San Diego switched to a strong-mayor form of government, San Diego’s mayor assumed the duties previously held by a city manager, such as the power to hire and fire department heads and propose the budget. In the process, the mayor ceased being a voting member of the City Council, which now has eight seats.

The even number of council members has led to a few stalemates.

The mayor was given veto power, but that mayoral veto can be overturned by a simple majority vote on the council.

In addition to asking voters whether to make permanent the strong-mayor form of government, the measure that the City Council will consider later this month would require a two-thirds majority to override a mayoral veto.

Councilman Todd Gloria said on Wednesday he has “strong reservations” about extending strong-mayor.

“There are many unanswered questions,” Gloria told his colleagues. He cited issues surrounding redevelopment, boards and appointments and council resources.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said strong-mayor has improved transparency and checks and balances between the City Council and the executive branch of government.

“I believe the system is vastly better than the old city manager system,” Faulconer said.