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San Diego Councilman Scott Sherman: Council Should Stick To ‘Nuts And Bolts’

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

San Diego has a new City Council this year with five Democrats and four Republicans, erasing the supermajority Democrats held for much of 2014. Republican Scott Sherman said he hopes this means the council will move away from agenda-driven politics and get back to government basics.

Special Feature Who's On San Diego's City Council?

KPBS is profiling the nine people who make up the San Diego City Council, and sharing details about their backgrounds and their goals. They each represent a different geographic area of the city, but their actions affect all of the people who live in America's eighth largest city.

When San Diego City Council members elected their president a year ago, all of them spoke in support of Democrat Todd Gloria. Just months before, Gloria had stepped in to lead the city on a temporary basis after Mayor Bob Filner resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.

Democrats and Republicans alike hailed Gloria.

“I admire, respect and think the world of you,” Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said.

“I look forward to having you serve as our council president for another year and another year and another year,” said Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, a Democrat.

“With the dignity and professionalism and grace you've brought to the office after everything we had to endure, it's really restored the citizens' confidence in government,” added Republican Councilman Scott Sherman.

The vote to re-elect Gloria was unanimous.

But this year, the four Republican council members voted to oust Gloria and elect Lightner president instead. Only one person spoke in support of Lightner: Republican Sherman.

Councilman Scott Sherman

Represents: District 7, which includes Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, Linda Vista, Mission Valley and Tierrasanta

Age: 51

Family: Wife, two children, two grandchildren

College: Attended Grossmont Community College, focused on history

Hometown: San Diego

Career: President of 5th Avenue Insurance, which his father started. He began at the company as an independent contractor and said his first paycheck was $43.

Other interests: An avid angler and kayaker. He also works with charities, including the San Diego River Park Foundation, the Serra Mesa Food Pantry, DS Action, Military Kids Fishing and Friends of Rollo.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

A drawing of Indian warriors done by City Councilman Scott Sherman hangs on the wall of his City Council office, Jan. 14, 2015.

“Last time I voted for Todd Gloria and I was praised as being nonpartisan,” Sherman said at the meeting. “Am I going to be partisan if I vote for a different Democrat this time?”

Some in the large crowd that had turned out to support Gloria shouted back, “Yes!”

“So is it being partisan voting for one and not the other?” Sherman asked them. “I don't understand how that works. It may not be your choice, but that doesn't mean it's not a nonpartisan choice, OK? Sherri Lightner has proved herself to be a very capable leader, a very bipartisan leader. She's been here, she's intelligent, she's smart, we care a lot about the same things.”

The vote was one of the first from the new City Council of five Democrats and four Republicans. Democrats had lost the supermajority they had held for much of 2014. It’s not yet clear whether this new council makeup will lead to more contentious votes and who will influence the new dynamic.

Sherman is one of the most outspoken council members, but he said he does not see himself as the Republican leader on the council. Sherman named Gloria, Lightner and newcomer Republican Chris Cate as council leaders. The Republicans don’t have one clear-cut leader, he said.

“Even though we all have R's after our name, I think we're all very different in how we operate,” he said. “I don't know if there's an actual leader. Depends more on an issue or a situation.”

Sherman’s fellow Republicans agreed there's no clear leader among them.

“Mayor Kevin Faulconer is driving most of the agenda,” Councilman Mark Kersey said, giving a nod to the Republican chief executive.

Cate’s answer: “Ugh, I don't know.”

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, the longest serving Republican on the current council, said she views herself as a leader on some issues and said other council members lead on others.

Advocates Changing Council President Elections

Sherman said he wanted to take the presidency away from Gloria in part because he thinks it should rotate, so that no one person is in charge for too long. He's going to suggest new rules for the council president position, including possibly limiting them to two, one-year terms.

“Because that will take away the politics that can get involved, the hurt feelings, the accusations, and it makes for a more cohesive working group,” he said.

He said he supported Lightner because she's good at the technical details of government, but he also didn't like that Gloria pushed issues on the council that led to referendums from business groups — updating the Barrio Logan community plan, increasing an affordable housing construction fee and raising the minimum wage.

“It got to be where it was more an agenda-type driven mentality and ideas, where it should be to me nuts and bolts government. How do we provide this service in the most efficient way possible?” he said.

Speaks Out On Minimum Wage

Sherman helped gather signatures for the minimum wage referendum, which ultimately was successful. The increase won’t go into effect unless voters approve it in 2016. When the council voted for the increase in July 2014, Sherman was outspoken in his opposition.

“Twenty-five years ago I was a single dad, raising a 2-year-old daughter by myself, working two jobs,” he told the large crowd assembled at the council meeting. Many were there to support raising the minimum wage.

“But I didn't look to government to say, please, please government, do something to tell my boss I'm worth an extra buck-fifty an hour,” he continued. “I went to them and convinced them I was worth an extra five bucks an hour. I found out what was special about me. I don't believe in the power of government to make your life better, I believe in the power of the individual. I believe in every single solitary one of you out there is worth more than the minimum wage. But it's not for us to decide what your worth is. It's for you to prove what your worth is.”

As a young man, Sherman said he did find a job that recognized what made him special. He was working in landscaping until his father hired him at his insurance company. Sherman went on to run the company, 5th Avenue Insurance, but left when he was elected to the City Council.

He said he does support a minimum wage to protect entry-level workers but doesn’t think San Diego’s entry wage should be higher than the ones in other cities. Everyone has the ability to earn a raise, Sherman said.

“Too many times I think people listen to some people in government who like to tell them you can't do it without us,” he said. “And I like to tell people no, no, no, no. You can do it despite us. And that's really what I like to convey to people is, take some time, try to learn something from everything you do every day, and eventually you'll have skills that will get you along.”

Touts He Isn’t ‘A Politician’

During council meetings, Sherman brushes off the label politician.

“I’m surrounded by a bunch of them, but I'm not a politician,” he said at a meeting nearly two years ago during a vote to require then-Mayor Filner to sign an agreement with the Tourism Marketing District.

While Sherman still doesn’t consider himself a politician, after two years on the council he said he is becoming more political in some ways.

“Understanding that politics kind of gets involved in what I thought a lot of was everyday nuts and bolts kind of decisions,” he said. “There's always somebody nagging in your ear of the political consequences that might be had.”

But Sherman said his support for Lightner wasn't one of those political decisions. And he said he isn't too worried about political consequences, because while he wants a second term on the council in 2016, he likely won't run for another office after that.

“You never want to rule something out completely, but I'll give you a strong 95 percent,” he said.

In the coming year, Sherman hopes to expand the types of neighborhood projects community members can volunteer to work on.

“To let people from the neighborhood actually take time in the community and in their neighborhoods to do things like cleanups and those types of things without running into some of the bureaucracy and the hurdles that government can put into the way sometimes,” he said.

He also wants to reexamine city fees and how they’re charged.

“When you're charging kids from the school a fee to come over and have a picnic in the park, when you're charging Little League groups who use the park out there, in some cases thousands of dollars to bring in temporary lighting at night so when it gets dark they can finish their games, it's like, well wait a minute. Our taxes are paying for these parks. We should be able to use them,” he said.

These are the types of “nuts and bolts” projects that Sherman wants council members to focus on. But if the City Council gets involved in more political agendas that he opposes, he said he won’t be afraid to speak up.

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