Has The Strong Mayor Changed The Way San Diego Runs?
Friday, June 4, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Now we turn to the City of San Diego elections and Prop D, which would make the strong mayor form of government permanent, add a 9th council district, and require 6 council votes to overturn a mayor's veto. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr is with me to explain the details of this proposition. Welcome, Katie.
KATIE ORR (KPBS Metro Reporter): Thanks Gloria.
PENNER:What prompted the city of San Diego to try out the strong mayor form of government five years ago when it passed Proposition F at the time?
ORR: Well, the city was dealing with the underfunding of the pension system – the intentional underfunding of the pension system and we all know what a mess it got San Diego into and voters just decided they wanted to try something new. They wanted to try a different form of government.
PENNER: So how has it worked out? For five years we’ve had the strong mayor form of government?
ORR: Well, I’ve heard it called a quasi-strong mayor form of government because what we have right now – the mayor isn’t truly strong because his veto can be overridden so easily. It just takes a majority of the council to override the mayor’s veto. And as you just mentioned under the strong mayor proposal that voters will decide on next week, the mayor would have a stronger veto because you would need two-thirds of the city council to overturn it.
PENNER: Other then that, how else how else would Prop D change the way San Diego’s government is structured now?
ORR: Well, it would add a ninth council seat, so that would involve redistricting the city. That ninth seat is there to break ties. When the city moved to the strong mayor test five years ago, it essentially lost a council member, because the mayor didn’t serve on the council anymore. So now you have eight council members, which brings up the potential for tie votes. So the ninth council seat would be a tiebreaker.
PENNER: And now that’s part of some of the controversy because if you have a ninth council district you’re going to have to pay for a ninth council district – like $1 million dollars or more.
ORR: Right that’s what Councilwoman Donna Frye has said. She opposes the strong mayor. And she is saying the city can’t afford it. We have huge budget deficits. Where are we going to find this money? Supporters like Councilman Carl DeMaio and Councilman Kevin Faulconer say that we’ll just redistribute the money that is allocated for the council seats now and instead of going to eight council seats, it will go to nine.
PENNER: So who is supporting Prop D? And why?
ORR: Well, as I just mentioned council members DeMaio and Faulconer are supporting it. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association are supporting it and the mayor is supporting it as well. They say it gives the voters someone to hold accountable. If something goes wrong, the voters can blame it on the mayor and vote him out in the next election. They also say that it gives someone responsibility, problems are solved easier. The mayor says that before they were swept under the rug. And this time they’re out their for the public to see.
PENNER: That word “accountability” is kind of interesting because both opponents and supporters are saying that their side would make it more accountable. That if Proposition D is defeated and there is no strong mayor, that actually the city becomes even more accountable.
ORR: Well, Donna Frye has said that she believes the mayor is less accessible because he doesn’t sit in the council meetings anymore. He says he is more accessible because instead of being in council meetings he is out around the city meeting people. As far as accountability – again the mayor says he’s the guy. He’s the guy leading the city. He’s the one that is accountable to the voters. I’ve heard it also said that if we have just a council manager system, the council members are more accountable to the people in their districts – because they are the ones leading their districts.
PENNER: It’s interesting, back in 2004 when voters approved this five-year trial for the strong mayor form of government Jerry Sanders signed the ballot argument against it, citing accountability and now he supports it.
ORR: I guess it’s just been his experience as the mayor. He has just changed the way he thinks. He thinks he is more accountable as the executive. It’s like comparing it to the United States government – you have an executive branch and a legislative branch. I suppose he feels this way he is more accountable to people.
PENNER: You know you almost can’t talk about issues like this without bring up money. And it looks to me as though the supporters of Prop D have raised and spent more than $300,000 – much of it coming from business and developers. Why do they want Prop D?
ORR: Well if you are trying to get a project passed in San Diego and you want to see something built, it’s probably much easier to just have to convince one person that it’s a good idea and then he can go out and lobby for you versus having to go and convince nine different council members or a majority of them anyway that this is a good project and they have to come to consensus. It just gives them a person that they can go to and you know present their ideas and try to get an advocate.
PENNER: Just quickly, I know that the opponents are passionate, Donna Frye is passionate, the League of Women Voters passionately opposed to it, but I don’t see any money there at all.
ORR: Yeah and that’s one of the things people have been saying. There hasn’t been a lot of money spent on the opposing Prop D camp. They are trying to do it on a grass-roots effort. As we get closer to the election you see them stepping up a bit. They had a high-profile news conference yesterday that people attended. And as we get closer to the election, maybe we’ll start to see them reminding people that they are there as well.
PENNER: Katie Orr, thank you very much.
ORR: Thank you.