Nov. 10 2011 12:00 AM

When it comes to ballot measure, the mayor's not the mayor

Carl DeMaio pitches pension reform in front of a Clairemont Vons on Saturday.
Photo by Kelly Davis
On Tuesday, the San Diego City Clerk announced that the so-called Comprehensive Pension Reform ballot measure—which, among other things, would close the city's pension plan to all new city employees except police officers—had gotten enough signatures to qualify for the June 2012 ballot. 

A day after the announcement, a battle over whose ballot measure it is has emerged. Wednesday, from Mayor Jerry Sanders' spokesperson Darren Pudgil, via Twitter (emphasis added): "Look for mayor on the morning shows today making pitch for his pension reform initiative, now headed for June ballot. Many people to thank."

Then, later that day, this appeared on City Councilmember (and mayoral candidate) Carl DeMaio's campaign website: ---


Pension reform is the hobby horse DeMaio hopes to ride to victory in November 2012, though he's far from being Sanders' hand-picked successor—Sanders has endorsed District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to take his place. So, who's initiative is it? The answer becomes more complicated when you take a look at the mayor's online bio:

Last year, Sanders announced he would pursue, as a private citizen, a ballot initiative eliminating traditional pensions for non-public safety employees, instead providing employees with a 401(K)-like program.

Note the "private citizen" thing. 

"As he has said, he is bringing this initiative forward as a private citizen—not as mayor," Pudgil told me for this story on the Comprehensive Pension Reform measure. 

Mayor Jerry Sanders? Private Citizen Sanders? Huh? Who exactly is behind the ballot measure could prove to be a tricky legal issue for its backers. The mayor, legally, can't sponsor a ballot measure that makes significant changes to the city's pension system unless he first meets with the city's labor unions. Sanders knows this. In May 2008, he proposed a pension-reform ballot measure that included raising the retirement age and changing the formula used to calculate an employee's final pension. Two months later, the City Council's Rules Committee asked for an opinion from the City Attorney's office as to the legality of doing this without first meeting with the city's labor unions. Among the questions:

Can the Mayor initiate or sponsor a voter petition drive to place a ballot measure to amend the City Charter provisions related to retirement pensions? So so, what, if any are the meet-and-confer requirements under the California Government Code, and how would this be fulfilled.

The answer (emphasis added): 

The Mayor has the same rights as a citizen with respect to elections and propositions.... He has the right to initiate or sponsor a voter petition drive. However, such sponsorship would legally be considered as acting with apparent governmental authority because of his position as Mayor, and his right and responsibility under the Strong Mayor Charter provisions to represent the City regarding labor issues and negotiations, including employee pensions. As the mayor is acting with apparent authority with regard to his sponsorship of a voter petition, the City would have the same meet and confer obligations with it unions....
A few weeks after this opinion was issued, the mayor met with the city's labor unions and hashed out a compromise that was lauded then as "comprehensive pension reform." 

The June 2012 measure's savings comes largely from a five-year freeze on employee pay—which, labor unions argue, triggers the meet-and-confer requirement prior to the measure being placed on the ballot.

In a letter to the Municipal Employees Association, the city's largest union, in September, the City Attorney's office argued that its was three private citizens, and not the mayor, who submitted the language for the ballot measure. Regardless, it's Sanders who took the lead on hashing out (U-T) the measure's language (VoSD) and Sanders who announced (U-T) last November that he planned to put a pension-reform measure on the ballot. 


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