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San Diego Political Leaders Begin Weighing How To Oust Elected Officials

Credit: CityTV

Mayor Bob Filner tells the City Council he will resign.

Aired 2/3/16 on KPBS News.

San Diego's Charter Review Committee will move on to more controversial changes in the coming year, including how to remove the mayor or city attorney from office.

The committee of elected officials updating the document that acts as San Diego's constitution is moving on to more controversial changes this year, including how to remove the mayor or city attorney from office.

That's according to City Council President Sherri Lightner, who chairs the Charter Review Committee. The group's four council members began reviewing the 149-page charter in January 2015 in what they said at the time was a yearlong process. Now Lightner says their discussions will continue until June.

Review of the charter began when council members noticed during the 2013 sexual harassment scandal involving former Mayor Bob Filner that no provision existed to remove an elected official from office.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said it's very important the committee tackles this issue, because right now the mayor could be in a coma or sent to prison and still be in power until he or she is recalled or resigns.

"It's very difficult to do this right," he said. "If we make it too easy, then it becomes political. If we make it too hard, you can have someone in city hall committing illegal offenses, and then have your hands tied."

Goldsmith said it will take more than one meeting, but he hopes the Charter Review Committee will begin the discussion at its first meeting of the year on Wednesday, and will designate staff to start collecting information about what other cities do to remove an elected official.

"That would be a very good start," he said.

The committee will begin the discussion on Wednesday, Lightner said. Members will also discuss sections of the charter relating to salaries for elected officials and purchasing and contracting.

If you look at the purchasing and contracting section of the charter, "you will discover there must have been a lot of scandals in the history of the city because every time they had a problem, they added another section to make it more clear how to do business," Lightner said.

While City Councilwoman Marti Emerald asked that the committee consider ending free trash pickup for single-family homes, Lightner said that's not part of the charter. But, she said, the committee may still have a hearing on it this year.

City Councilman Mark Kersey had asked the committee to create an online tool that allows San Diegans to offer comments on charter revisions, but Lightner said that could violate the state's open meeting laws.

The committee worked last year on smaller changes, such as adding gender neutral language to the charter and changing how City Council district boundaries are updated.

"We wanted to build confidence in how we were doing things, so we did the things we thought everyone could agree on," Lightner said. "For the ones coming up, we don’t expect to have a lot of disagreement, but we want a larger voter pool to vote on them in November."

All charter changes must be approved in a public vote. Lightner said the changes approved by the committee this year will go before voters in November.

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