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Oceanside To Consider Charter Change For June Ballot

An Oceanside city councilman came under fire last night for proposing drastic changes to the city charter with little time for public review. The council will vote in two weeks to put a measure on the ballot to change how the city council is elected.

Most public reaction at an Oceanside city workshop was skeptical, as the council considered a list of 14 changes to city government. It included all–mail-in ballots, term limits, changing the way the city council is elected and adopting a strong mayor form of government.

Currently, the City of San Diego is the only city in the county with a Strong Mayor form of government.

Glen Sparrow, professor emeritus of SDSU’s School of Public Administration, said in a phone interview it is not a move that would save money.

“If you look at the political science literature,“ Sparrow said, “they will show you that city manager forms of government are more efficient - they cost less money than do political systems like strong mayors, that’s a fact.“

Sparrow said a strong mayor form of government does provide more political accountability, but he would not recommend it for cities with under three quarters of a million, or 750,000 people. Oceanside has just 180,000 residents compared to 1.3 million in the city of San Diego.

Most residents at the workshop spoke against the idea of adopting a strong mayor form of government. Resident Dana Corso, president of Alliance of Citizens to Improve Oceanside, said the council majority was rushing through changes.

“In my opinion,” Corso said, “this workshop is yet another tactic to obtain more power among three council members to implement changes that your campaign contributors - the developers and park owners, who don’t even live in Oceanside - would like.”

Councilman Gary Felien, who proposed the list of changes for discussion, said the workshop was simply the first step in the process of making charter changes. He proposed a June ballot initiative to change the way the city council is elected.

“I believe this explains much of the political dysfunction that we’ve seen in Oceanside for a long time,” Felien said. ”We’ve had a back and forth that relates to the fact that no one has had to win a majority in our city elections.”

Felien said since 1998, only two candidates have won more than 50 percent of the vote, while others have won a council seat, sometimes with only one-third of the vote.

He asked staff to return in a week with charter changes that would implement numbered council districts and require a Primary Election, and a run-off if no candidate gets more than 50 percent.

City Attorney John Mullen said one week was too little time to draw up the initiative, so Felien agreed to a special meeting in two weeks. However that meeting may not be televised.

Felien also agreed to a Citizens’ Advisory Committee to consider other charter changes more fully, something many people in the audience had called for.

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