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SD city council to elect council president

The new strong mayor form of government goes into effect in just 6 weeks. Under the change, the mayor will no longer preside over the council. KPBS Reporter Alison St John says that could radically

The city of San Diego is on the brink of a major change in its management, the most important change since 1931 when the "manager - council" form of government was created. The new "strong mayor" form of government goes into effect in just 6 weeks. Now that we know the new mayor will be Jerry Sanders its time to find out who will lead the CITY COUNCIL. Under the change, the mayor will no longer preside over the council. A new council president will have that job. And the job is expected to go to La Jolla councilman Scott Peters. KPBS Reporter Alison St John says that's a change that could radically change politics at San Diego city hall. So much attention has been focused on electing the mayor, that relatively little has been said about the new council president, who will be chosen by the council tomorrow. But Jesse Knight, President of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce says he cares very much who gets the job

KNIGHT : Oh absolutely, absolutely This is a very, very important event that's going to take place because the liaison between the mayor's office, as the chief executive officer and the council, as the legislative body is extraordinarily important.

Knight says from his point of view, the key will be someone who doesn't get in the way of the new mayor's efforts to sort out the financial mess.


KNIGHT : For us for the chamber the business community, we want a consensus builder, going to work in concert with the mayor, so the city can move ahead.

But political observer Carl Luna of Mesa College the new strong mayor form of government pits the mayor against the council to some degree.

LUNA: When you go to a divided government with a mayor and council, it's an adversarial system, there's checks and balances here, and the president of the council would be the prime person to be the counter voice to the mayor on the city council 16.

One basic source of conflict is bound to be over city services, like police, parks and libraries. Basic city functions are already stretched thin by constant budget cuts. Professor Glen Sparrow of San Diego State University's School of Public Administration, says the city council has always had control of constituent services, till now.

SPARROW : but they in effect have been cut out of that role, now that becomes a mayor's function under the charter, but it's very, very vital function that the council wants to hold on to 'cause that's how they get reelected - by taking care of their constituents.


There will be plenty of opportunity for the mayor and council to face off over budget priorities under the new form of government. The mayor will draw up the budget but it has to be approved by a majority of the council. If mayor elect Jerry Sanders, opts to close parks and libraries for example, to balance the budget, the council may balk.

Norma Damacheck of the League of Women Voters chaired the citizens committee that worked on the transition to the strong mayor form of government. She says the Council President will be an important counterbalance to the strong mayor. But she says maybe not right away.

NORMA: It's likely, however, because our financial status is so dreadful, that the city council and the council president will probably take a less confrontational approach, and try to play nice with the mayor, let the mayor take on the dirty work of trying to get us out of the mess that we're in. 22

Councilman Scott Peters is likely to become the first city Council President. Peters is one of the Democratic majority on the city council, but he is more of a centrist than some of his colleagues. This could help his relationship with moderate Republican mayor elect, Jerry Sanders. Peters was elected in 2000 and represents the relatively affluent neighborhoods in the north west of the city. Sitting near the ocean at La Jolla Shores, Peters says he had a brief meeting with Sanders last week and handed him a whole file of issues that matter to the neighborhoods.

PETERS: I don't know Mr Sanders' attitudes toward a lot of things. The mayor's race is so focused on the financial issues that we didn't really get that great a discussion of other things. I think the mayor will find that people care about more than the pension.

Peters says it's all very well to talk about running the city like a business, but in a city, the bottom line is the citizens.

PETERS They care about public safety, also parks and libraries, that's what makes the decisions hard, if it were just about balancing the budget you could close all the parks and libraries but that's not what its all about, and that's what makes it different from a business, so I'm looking forward to working with the mayor on that and expect that he's interested in learning.

Councilman Scott Peters understands the new strong mayor system well he was involved with the group that worked on the initial proposal as far back as 1999. If he's elected as council president by his colleagues tomorrow, he will have a chance to try putting it into practice, though under more difficult circumstances than he might ever have imagined. Alison St John, KPBS news.