Mayor Jerry Sanders' Charter Review Committee is a total waste of energy, time and money, and we hope the San Diego City Council realizes that when it comes time to consider the committee's recommendations.
The committee, convened earlier this year, is tasked with recommending structural changes to the way San Diego is governed. If the City Council agrees, these changes would be put before voters in 2008. There are 15 people on this committee. Seven were appointed directly by Sanders. The other eight were chosen by the City Council, sort of. Sanders instructed each council member to identify three candidates, and he made the choice from among those three. The committee doesn't even pretend to be representative of the community. Seven of the members are lawyers. Four are lobbyists. Three of those lobbyists are registered with the city and represent 24 businesses or organizations that seek favor from the city, not including the clients represented by other lobbyists in these committee members' firms. These lobbyists and their clients could benefit financially from governance changes. The fourth lobbyist on the committee represents Sempra Energy, which does business with the city.
That's enough information already for the City Council to cast a cynical eye toward the recommendations. But wait--there's more: The entire committee process is being controlled by Sanders' policy advisors. Sanders chose the members as well as the chairs of the various subcommittees, and he set a rigid agenda. CityBeat has viewed a small sampling of the huge volume of e-mails that have passed back and forth among committee members and the mayor's staff, and it's clear that Sanders' team is closely guiding the process. The mayor's staff drafts the language of the recommendations (subject to committee approval, of course) and coordinates the people who'll be presenting information to the subcommittees. That's OK, we suppose--after all, it is the mayor's committee. But that doesn't mean the City Council has to pay it any mind.
Already, the committee has made three recommendations, two of which would give Sanders' greater power over city affairs should he win reelection next year. One extends until 2014 the city's current form of governance--the mayor as the elected chief executive, replacing an appointed bureaucratic executive--which is currently effective on a trial basis only until 2010, at which time the city reverts back to the old way, unless the pubic votes to make it permanent. Importantly, the committee's recommendation changes the burden on that sunset provision. Under the proposal, the new governance structure becomes permanent after 2014 unless the public votes to go back to the old way. So, the possibility of Sanders losing power during the second half of his next term is replaced with a guarantee that he retains that power for his entire tenure.
The other recommendation that benefits Sanders and his friends is the one proposing a higher hurdle for the City Council when it comes to overriding a mayoral veto. The proposal would require at least a two-thirds vote of the City Council to override a veto. There are eight members of the City Council. That means the City Council would need six votes to defeat the mayor--that's a three-quarters requirement. Under the proposal, the new hurdle would be in place in January 2009, long before the third committee recommendation--expanding the City Council to 11 members--can become reality (because it requires the city to be redistricted, a complicated process that can't begin until after the 2010 census).
You wouldn't think the City Council would want to ask voters to take away some of its power, but the mayor, who, despite the Sunroad debacle, is still more popular than the City Council, will threaten to cast the council members as enemies of reform if they even think about fighting that recommendation. And considering that it was Councilmembers Scott Peters, Ben Hueso and Kevin Faulconer who put the lobbyists on the committee, we're not confident that they would even fight the mayor's power grab. Hell, Hueso's selection, Adrian Kwiatkowski, while a very nice guy, is a zealous advocate for consolidating authority in the mayor's office. Nice pick, Ben--way to battle for democratic representation and balance of power.
Critics of the committee are still calling for an elected charter commission, but we see problems with that, too--and it ain't gonna happen anyway, now that the City Council has endorsed this process.
In the coming weeks, we'll comment more on the specific proposals, such as the one coming before the full committee this Thursday that would give the mayor too much power to meddle in the business of the city's financial-audit function. But for now, we simply urge the City Council to be mindful that they are the check on the executive branch, to see these recommendations for what they really are and to respond appropriately.
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