Donna Frye“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”—Voltaire
Now entering the sunset of her City Council career, Donna Frye is waxing nostalgic for the Dick Murphy era.
What the huh?
“Yeah!” she said with a gregarious laugh. “I'm not particularly missing the former mayor. What I am missing is the process—because I felt it was a much better process for the public as far as their ability to address their elected officials directly.”
Process and public access. They are the cornerstones, the drumbeats of the termed-out Frye—and neither the frequency nor the decibel level seem to be waning a lick as her council stint enters its final eight months.
Mention Proposition D, the June 8 ballot measure that, among other things, would make permanent the city's five-year experiment in an executive-mayor form of government, and Frye hammers home why it should be defeated.
On process if Prop. D passes: “My prediction is we will start seeing a series of ballot measures that will continue to diminish the authority of the legislative branch and push to concentrate more power into one elected official.”
On public access: “The public has a chance to do something really good and actually reform the city government and get it back to where they have access once again to their elected officials. They have access to the City Council. They don't have access to the mayor.”
Her decision recently not to run against county Supervisor Ron Roberts, she told Spin Cycle, has not so much energized her as allowed her to realize that “there are all sorts of things out there that I can do to serve the public.”
She's elusive about her future, remaining instead focused on her day-to-day duties and as point person in the battle against Prop. D. Judging by the mainstream media, its passage in June is considered a slam dunk. But don't tell that to Frye.
“Remember, only 51 percent of voters approved the five-year trial [of strong mayor] in 2004. It barely passed. And I think I could have stopped it, but I was running for mayor at the time,” she noted with a chuckle. “And once voters come to realize that majority rule will become supermajority rule, then I think we have a real chance to defeat Prop. D.”
What she's talking about is another aspect of Prop. D—the part that got a little press last week amid a legal tussle about ballot language.
Not only would the mayor retain more power, but, also, a ninth council district would be carved out based on upcoming census figures. With nine council seats starting in 2012, it will require a six-vote supermajority to override any mayoral veto.
“I'm not sure that's what serves the public best,” Frye said. “That four council members can essentially block passage of almost anything. That a majority vote will not be good enough here in the city of San Diego.”
The irony, she can't help but point out, is Mayor Jerry Sanders' continuous tirades against the state government in Sacramento—how its dysfunctional, two-thirds-voting system prevents timely budgets from getting passed and generally encourages chaotic, politically nutty behavior.
In supporting Prop. D, the mayor is saying, “Let's put in a governance structure that is very similar to that same structure,” Frye suggested, adding, “I don't think we should turn San Diego into Sacramento.”
Still, Frye concedes that a philosophical debate over the merits of strong-mayor is welcome. What's not, however, are attempts to suggest that adding a new council district can be done at no cost to the city's general fund.
Last week, Frye sued the city—Sanders, really—over just that claim, which was included in the mayor's original “impartial” cost analysis of the ballot measure.
“The fiscal impact of adding an additional Council District would be $0 up to $1,072,000 annually depending on whether the City absorbs some or all of the costs of the new Council District in the city's budget,” read a portion of the mayor's first version.
“Zero dollars? I thought it was a typo when I first read it,” Frye said. “Even if the other eight council offices were to ‘absorb' it, the effect is that something will be cut. Money doesn't get absorbed in a budget. Money is either cut or spent. That's how it works.”
In fact, nothing in the Prop. D ballot-measure language suggests how a new council district should be paid for.
“I could say, ‘Take it out of the mayor's budget. Or Park and Rec. We could take it out of police,'” Frye said. “The only thing we can say with any certainty is that it will come out of the general fund, and that could result in cuts to other parts of the general fund.”
If Frye's surprised about anything, it's how quickly the Mayor's office acquiesced. Spin Cycle had hoped to hear from the mayor's folks to get their take on the language change, but they did not respond by press time.
Tom Shepard, the mayor's chief political strategist and campaign consultant for the Yes on Prop. D campaign, offered this insight: “The primary disagreement appears to center on the question of whether the office expenses related to a ninth council seat will require an incremental increase in the council budget or will just result in a re-allocation of the existing council budget.
“I believe the mayor and the Taxpayers' Association have both suggested the existing budget should just be divided nine ways instead of eight. Not surprisingly, Ms. Frye doesn't support that approach.”
Not true, Frye said. “When that happens, I won't be on the City Council. I cannot predetermine what my colleagues will or won't do.”
The solution? “Rather than adding a ninth council district, we could just bring the mayor back [as a voting member of council] and save a million dollars. He or she could vote in public rather than behind closed doors with the veto!”
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