Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

City Council Rejects Proposal To Fill President's Job On Rotating Basis

San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.
City Council To Consider Proposal To Fill President's Job On Rotating Basis
City Council To Consider Proposal To Fill President's Job On Rotating Basis GUEST: Scott Sherman, councilman, City of San Diego

>>> IT IS MONDAY, JANUARY 29. OUR TOP STORY ON THE DAY ADDITION, REPUBLICANS ON THE CITY COUNCIL THINK THAT PARTISANSHIP IS RUNNING RAMPANT, AND THEY WANT TO CHANGE THE WAY THE COUNCIL IS RUN. RIGHT NOW, COUNCIL MEMBERS ELECT ONE OF THEIR PEERS TO BE PRESIDENT EACH YEAR, AND THAT PERSON CAN SET THE AGENDA AND SHE WAS WHO LEASE VARIOUS COMMITTEES. THEY WANT THAT TO ROTATE AMONG MEMBERS. HE RENEWED HIS PUSH THAT SYSTEM EARLIER THIS MONTH AFTER COUNCIL PRESIDENT MYRTLE COLE, A DEMOCRAT, STRIPPED SHERMAN AND SOME OTHER REPUBLICANS FROM LEADERSHIP ROLES. HE WILL CONSIDER HIS PLAN THIS AFTERNOON. WE ARE JOINED BY SHERMAN. I SHOULD NOTE, WE REACHED OUT TO MYRTLE COLE FOR A COMMENT ABOUT YOUR PLAN, AND WE DID NOT HEAR BACK. THIS CHANGES SOMETHING YOU HAVE BEEN PUSHING FOR SINCE 2015. WHY DO YOU THINK THE CITY COUNCIL NEEDS TO CHANGE? >> TO ME, IT IS A BROKEN SYSTEM. IN EVERY PRIVATE SECTOR, YOU MOVE YOUR WAY UP THE CHAIRS. YOUR TREASURER, YOUR VICE PRESIDENT, THEN YOUR PRESIDENT AND PAST PRESIDENT. BUT IT MAKES FOR A MORE COHESIVE WORKING GROUP BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOUR TIME IS FINITE AND YOU BETTER WORK WITH THE PERSON WHO IS COMING UP THE LINE. AS IT IS NOW, HAVING TO CHOOSE BETWEEN COLLEAGUES AT BEST. WHICH COUNCIL MEMBERS YOU THINK IS MOST TRUSTWORTHY AMONGST THOSE AND THE PARTY THAT HAS THE MAJORITY, THAT CAN GET SOMEBODY A VOTE. AT WORST, IT IS SPECIAL INTERESTS, PARTISAN POLITICS, AND AT THE END OF THE DAY, CITY GOVERNMENT, I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE NONPARTISAN. THERE IS A REASON WHY THERE'S NOT AN R OR A D AFTER YOUR NAME ON THE BALLOT. LET'S TAKE ALL OF THOSE THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN, THE HURT FEELINGS, THE UNDUE INFLUENCE, THE PARTISAN DC POLITICS, LET'S DO IT LIKE A PRIVATE ORGANIZATION, AND THAT IT ROTATE EVERY YEAR BASED ON SENIORITY, AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS. IT TAKES ALL THE INFLUENCE OUT OF THE EQUATION. >> IS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT OR VOTE WERE YOU THINK, AS AN EXAMPLE OF THIS, YOU SAY PARTISANSHIP IS RUNNING RAMPANT? >> THIS LAST ONE ON THE SPECIAL INTEREST SITE, THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT COMMITTEE CHAIRS, WHICH CAN BE SET. I WAS BEING TOLD BY SOME FRIENDS OF MINE IN THE UNIONS IF MYRTLE WAS TO GET THE COUNCIL PRESIDENCY, SHE WAS GOING TO CHANGE ME AS CHAIR. I ASKED HER WHAT SHE DID, AND THEY TOLD ME IT WOULD BE THE WAY IT WAS AND HAVE ME OUT AS CHAIR. NOT ONE MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY CAME DOWN TO SUPPORT HER. WE HAD NINE UNION LEADERS COME DOWN TO CITY HALL AND SHE WAS APPROVED THE PRESIDENT THE NEXT DAY AND I WAS STRIPPED, JUST LIKE THEY SAID. WHY SHOULD AN OUTSIDE ORGANIZATION HAVE THAT KIND OF INFLUENCE? BACK FOR, IT WAS DAVID ALVAREZ OR MODAL -- MYRTLE COLE. THE PRESSURE BEING PUT ON COUNCIL MEMBERS BY OUTSIDE GROUPS, IT SHOULD NOT BE THERE IN AN ADMINISTRATIVE ROLE. LET'S DO LIKE OTHER CITY GOVERNMENTS AND SUPERVISORS AND THOSE TYPE OF THINGS DO, LET'S PUT IT ON A ROTATING BASIS AND THOSE OUTSIDE INFLUENCE DO NOT COME TO BEAR. >> HOW THAT DECREASE PARTISANSHIP B I COULD IMAGINE A SCENARIO WHERE IT BECOMES -- WHERE REPUBLICANS BECOME THE MAJORITY. THEY DID NOT NEED TO GET THE SUPPORT OF THEIR COLLEAGUES TO BECOME THE COUNCIL PRESIDENT, SO THEY MAY NOT FEEL THE NEED TO BE AS I PARTISAN. MAY FEEL THEY CAN BE MORE FAVORABLE TO THEIR FELLOW REPUBLICANS WHEN CHOOSING THESE POSITIONS BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY WILL SERVE ONE YEAR, NO MATTER WHAT. THEY WOULD NOT HAVE TO BUILD THOSE BRIDGES. >> IF YOU WANT TO GET ANYTHING DONE, IF YOU'LL GET ANYTHING DONE IN GOVERNMENT IN YOUR, YOU BETTER HAVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE PEOPLE YOU ARE WORKING WITH. THAT IS WHAT THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE, HAVING BEEN IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR FOR 27 YEARS, EVERYTHING IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS AND IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO MAKE RELATIONSHIPS WITH FRIENDS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE POLITICAL AISLE IF YOU'RE HAVING TO CHOOSE AMONGST THEM, WHICH ONE YOU THINK IS BETTER OR YOU WERE HAVING TO LISTEN TO ALL THE OUTSIDE INFLUENCE, THE PROMISES AND BROKEN PROMISES. FOR IN ACCEPT -- EFFECTIVE ORGANIZATION, THAT IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO RUN. LET'S TAKE ALL OF THAT OUT. I WILL NOT SERVE -- SOME PEOPLE SAY IT IS NOT ME BECOME A SENIOR MEN -- MEMBER, BUT THIS IS ABOUT TRYING TO BECOME PRESENT WHEN THE VOTES ARE NOT THERE. I AM SAYING I WILL TAKE MY NAME OUT OF IT RIGHT NOW. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. THIS IS ABOUT TRYING TO MAKE THE GOVERNMENT THAT WE HAVE WORK THE BEST THEY CAN IMPROVE TO THE TAXPAYERS WE ARE DOWN THERE TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AND NOT PLAY DC/SACRAMENTO/CHICAGO STYLE POLITICS. >> TO THINK IF HE HAD NOT LOST HER POSITION, YOU'LL BE PUSHING THIS? -- IF YOU HAVE NOT TRIED -- DO YOU THINK IF YOU HAD LOST YOUR POSITION, YOU WOULD BE PUSHING SO HARD FOR THIS? >> IT GOT TO A POINT WITH THE WAY THIS ONE WENT WITH THE UNION PRESSURE BEING BROUGHT TO BEAR ON THE COUNCIL WITH PRESIDENT COLE THAT OTHER COLLEAGUES JOINED ME AND SAID, LOOK, WE NEED TO ADDRESS THIS IN FRONT OF COUNSEL AND SEE IF WE CANNOT CHANGE IT FOR THE BETTER. >> YOU NEED AT LEAST ONE DEMOCRAT, THOUGH, TO SUPPORT YOU. YOU HAVE THE SUPPORT OF YOUR OTHER REPUBLICANS ON THE COUNCIL, AND YOU NEED FIVE VOTES. AS ANYONE EXPRESS AN INTEREST SO FAR? >> I HAVE NOT HEARD FROM THEM DIRECTLY BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE A VIOLATION, IF I TALK TO THEM DIRECTLY. THAT'S ONE OF THE DRAWBACKS, IT LIMITS WHAT YOU CAN DO. I HAVE HEARD A COUPLE OF INTERVIEWS FROM CHRIS WARD, AND IT DOES NOT SOUND LIKE HE IS IN FAVOR OF IT AT THIS POINT. IT WILL BE A TOUGH VOTE FOR THEM. WHEN YOU ARE IN POWER, IT IS TOUGH TO MAKE VOTES TO GIVE UP THAT. BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO BE A GOOD NONPARTISAN PROBLEM-SOLVING GOVERNMENT AND PROVE TO THE TAXPAYERS WE ARE NOT DOWN THE TO PLAY DC AND SACRAMENTO POLITICS BECAUSE THERE OTHER OFFICES YOU COULD RUN FOR A FEW WANT TO PLAY SUCK MAJORITIES THE POLITICS, THIS IS ABOUT LOCAL GOVERNMENT. WHEN I GOT HERE, I THOUGHT YOU DO YOUR BEST IN THE COMMUNITY, YOU SERVE, DO THE BEST YOU CAN ON A GOVERNMENT SCALE, THEN YOU GO BACK TO THE COMMUNITY. UNFORTUNATELY, O -- IT'S GOTTEN TO A POINT WHERE IT IS SO PARTISAN AND CAREER-ORIENTED THAT I AM TRYING TO AT LEAST, WITH THIS PART OF THE PROTESTANT -- PROCESS, GET IT MORE LOCAL. >> THERE WAS ANOTHER PROPOSAL WHERE HAVING AMERICAN -- THE AMERICAN RUN THE PROPOSAL. HOW WOULD THIS SOLVE THESE ISSUES? >> THAT'S WHAT THEY HAVE DONE IN OTHER AREAS AND OTHER CITIZEN -- CITIES. THEY DO NOT HAVE A ROTATION. IT WOULD HOPEFULLY TAKE THE PARTISANSHIP OUT BECAUSE THEN THEY ARE THERE AND IT ADMINISTRATIVE ROLE TO HAVE BOTH SIDES BE HEARD REGARDLESS. IT IS TOUGH TO SAY WHETHER IT WILL OR NOT. I THINK THE BEST WAY TO DO IT IS MAKE IT ROTATE BASED ON SENIORITY, AND IN THAT WAY, YOU WORK WITH THE PERSON COMING UP BEHIND YOU BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOUR TIME IS FINITE. >> I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH SCOTT SHERMAN OF SAN DIEGO. THANK YOU SO MUCH. >> MY PLEASURE, ANYTIME.

After a lengthy debate, the San Diego City Council Monday narrowly rejected a proposal to fill the council president position on a rotating basis rather than by a vote of its members.

The 5-4 vote broke down along party lines, with David Alvarez, Barbara Bry, Council President Myrtle Cole, Georgette Gomez and Chris Ward, all Democrats, casting no votes.

Voting in favor were Republicans Chris Cate, Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf.

Sherman, who presented the proposal to the council, said a rotating position based on seniority would ensure experience with leadership, and remove "horse-trading" among council members, as well as relieve pressure from outside groups or political parties. It would also increase cohesiveness and council unity, according to Sherman, who represents District 7.

"It institutionalizes a non-partisan process," he said.

RELATED: City Council Republicans Call For Change In How Council President Is Appointed

Sherman said to show that he didn't have selfish motives, he would decline serving as council president when it was his turn.

"This isn't about me, this is about having a good, effective government," he said.

In early January, the four Republicans on the council proposed changing how the president is appointed in response to three of them being stripped of key leadership posts by Cole last month. The council's leader is currently chosen by a vote of its members.

Cole, of District 4, was re-elected council president in December by an 8-1 vote, with Sherman opposed.

After she was re-elected, Cole rearranged council leadership — removing three Republicans from key posts and replacing them with Democrats.

The City Council is technically nonpartisan and while its members are in general agreement on many issues, partisanship does raise its head from time to time.

Numerous members of the audience spoke in favor of a rotating president position, including a former City Council member.

Judy McCarty, who served four terms, said a rotating council presidency would make "this a friendlier place" and protect San Diego from the same type of dysfunction that affects Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Two audience members spoke against the proposal.

Cole said she did not support changing how the council leader was chosen, arguing that the majority-rule system works well.

Ward, of District 3, said the proposal would remove the council's decision-making ability. Ward also maintained that just because a council member may have served longer, it doesn't mean he or she is the best person to lead the council, adding such a change would de-emphasize leadership opportunities, which come through the council president.

"If our only job was to figure out how to get to 9-0 votes, we'd be a different kind of body," Ward said.

Zapf, of District 2, characterized Ward's comments as "angry."

"I'm just kind of floored by that," she said.

Zapf said the worst time for the council involves members choosing a president and added she wasn't for changing the rules because she has a great desire for the job. "All I want is fairness," Zapf said.

The council has become too divisive, Zapf said, telling her colleagues that the community doesn't really care about party affiliation.

Sherman told City News Service he was both disappointed and realistic about the council's vote, and added the outcome proved his point about party line divisions.

In a statement, Ward said he was pleased the council "will not be undermining the will of the majority going forward."