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District One Candidates Debate Outsourcing City Jobs

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Aired 4/19/09

Four of the eight San Diego city council seats are up for election this year. In District One, three candidates are vying to take over from Council President Scott Peters, who will be termed out. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on where the candidates stand on the question of privatizing city jobs.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has pledged to open many city jobs to competition from the private sector. In fact, Sanders' leading opponent in this year's election, Steve Francis, says Sanders is not moving fast enough to contract out city services.

The city council has to approve the mayor's initiatives, so this is one of the issues that came up at a recent district one forum. Whoever wins District One will represent La Jolla, University City, Rancho Peñasquitos, Carmel Valley, and Torrey Pines,

 Phil Thalheimer , a Republican, is all in favor of contracting out city services.

Thalheimer: The issue -- the taxpayer, it's their money and we need to do things as efficiently as possible. There is an overload of   city jobs and we can do things better by contract

Thalheimer who has worked in the city's data processing unit, guesses the city could save $40 million to $50 million right off the bat by privatizing information technology. He suggests consolidating services with the County, which has already outsources many of its departments.

Mayor Sanders has made it clear he would not outsource police and fire. But candidate Sherri Lightner , a Democrat, says there are many other city jobs that should stay in the hands of city employees

Lightner: I do not support outsourcing city jobs. There are expectations we have as citizens for services that are to be provided by the city, and I am concerned about the way some of the contracts have been left at the city

Lightner says if the way the city handles contracts with developers is any indication, she's not confident numerous new contracts with private service providers would benefit citizens. 

But Marshall Merrifield , a businessman, thinks the private sector will handle jobs just as well as city employees, and for half the price. He cites as an example what city workers charged to put up floodlights at a local ball-field in his neighborhood.

Merrifield: They charge twice what a private contract would to put those lights up . That's insane -- managed competition is a huge opportunity for us.

Merrifield believes contracting out will save the city money it can then invest in other things.

Thalheimer, Lightner and Merrifield will face off in June, and if none of them gets more than 50 percent of the vote, there'll be a November runoff.

The outcome of this race, and race for the other three open city council seats, will collectively be as important as the mayor's race to the future of the city.

Alison St John, KPBS News.

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