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Voters will decide in June about instituting strong-mayor system

By Joe Britton

City News Service

San Diego voters will decide in June whether to make the city’s strong-mayor form of government permanent, create a ninth City Council district and increase the number of votes needed to override a mayoral veto.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place the measure on the June 8 ballot.

The strong-mayor system was approved by voters for a five-year trial period with the passage of Proposition F in 2005. The system will be automatically repealed on Dec. 31 unless it is made permanent by voters.

The language authorized by voters nearly five years ago mandates that a measure be placed on the ballot this year that would make strong-mayor permanent and establish a ninth City Council seat to coincide with the 2010 U.S. Census. It would also require a two-thirds majority to override a mayoral veto.

Under the switch to a strong-mayor form of government, San Diego’s mayor assumed the duties previously held by a city manager, such as hiring and firing department heads and proposing the budget.

In the process, the mayor ceased to be a voting member of the City Council, which now consists of eight members. The mayor was given veto power, but that mayoral veto can now be overturned by a simple majority vote on the council.

Councilman Todd Gloria said that while he supports the will of the voters, he is “openly skeptical” of the strong-mayor form of government in its current form, arguing that it is fraught with “deficiencies.”

He citied issues with the way the city’s redevelopment agencies are run; how appointments are made to boards and commissions; the authority of the independent budget analyst; and budget authority.

“We know that there are parts of this that have worked well, but there are parts that have not worked well,” Gloria said.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said the strong-mayor system experiment in San Diego has largely been successful.

“I personally believe this system is vastly superior to the old system where we had an un-elected city manager proposing a lot of the things for the city,” Faulconer said.

Last week, a City Council committee rejected a competing ballot measure proposed by the League of Women Voters that would have extended by four years the strong-mayor form of government without adding a ninth City Council seat.