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Politics

San Diego Charter Review Committee Struggling To Set Schedule

San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner and Councilman Chris Cate pose with the city's charter in the Civic Center lobby, April 7, 2015.
Chris Cate via Twitter
San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner and Councilman Chris Cate pose with the city's charter in the Civic Center lobby, April 7, 2015.
San Diego Charter Review Committee Struggling To Set Schedule
So far, San Diego's Charter Review Committee has fumbled on its promise to let the public know what proposed changes are being discussed and when.

So far, San Diego's Charter Review Committee has fumbled on its promise to let the public know what proposed changes are being discussed and when.

The charter acts as the city's constitution, and it's undergoing a major overhaul this year, with potential for big changes to how elections are run and what powers the mayor and City Council have.

When Council President Sherri Lightner first described the charter review effort, she said monthly meetings about proposed changes would be organized "thematically." She then listed those themes at the start of the committee's March meeting.

April's meeting would be about Charter Article 7 relating to finance, she said, while May's meeting would be about Article 5, which is the executive and administrative service. June would focus on Articles 8, 9 and 14 dealing with civil service and retirement. July would address the city's balance of governance.

City Councilman Chris Cate, who also sits on the Charter Review Committee, asked Lighter if she would publish that list publicly.

"In terms of the outline you proposed, are we notifying or noticing the public in any way about those meetings, about the subject matter and subject areas in the monthly meetings? Is there a memo you can distribute and we can forward on?" he said.

Lightner, who heads the committee, responded that she would put out a memo once the schedule was finalized. That never happened.

Steven Hadley, the committee's consultant, told KPBS that the schedule Lightner listed is no longer accurate. He said a memo was never published because the schedule of meetings keeps being revised, and that some discussions are taking longer than expected, which pushes items onto future agendas.

"We’re thinking out loud in part, telling people where we're trying to get to, but that runs the risk of having to go back and revise that," Hadley said.

He added: "Sometimes having an open government is messy."

Hadley said the next Charter Review Committee meeting will be Thursday, June 11, at 6 p.m., and that meeting will be oriented toward collecting public comment on the charter. While the public can comment at any meeting, the June meeting will be in the evening so more people can attend, he said.

The meeting doesn't have a particular focus. "It's an open airing for people to put out whatever they’ve got we haven’t heard about," he said.

Hadley said Lightner's office has let the public know about this meeting because she announced it at the end of the last Charter Review Committee meeting.

Some more controversial suggestions for charter changes have not been scheduled yet. In February, City Councilwoman Marti Emerald floated the idea of rewriting the charter to end free trash pickup for homeowners. That discussion has not been put on an agenda yet, Hadley said.

City Councilman Mark Kersey also suggested posting proposed charter changes in an online tool so the public could weigh in, but that has not happened.

Beryl Flom, who heads the charter review efforts for the League of Women Voters of San Diego, asked Lightner's committee to publish materials a week in advance of its meetings so the public would have time to review them. So far, she said, the committee has mostly met her request.

"This is a huge project to keep up with, and I commend them for it," Flom said.