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Procedures To Remove Elected Officials Could Go Before San Diego Voters

This undated photo shows former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.
Brad Racino
This undated photo shows former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Procedures for removing a wayward mayor, city attorney or council member from office moved a step closer Wednesday to being put before San Diego voters.

The City Council's Charter Review Committee — mindful of the 2013 saga in which city officials and residents tried to get rid of the scandal-plagued mayor at the time, Bob Filner — directed the City Attorney's Office to research and develop potential ballot language.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told the committee members that the action could result in a "safety valve" of sorts in the City Charter — the city's primary governing document.


"The experience that I had and the city had several years ago was that we didn't have such a safety valve," Goldsmith said.

"Our office acted with unanimous approval of the City Council — we took various steps that resulted in the mayor resigning," he said. "There was no process. We created a process, and that's not healthy."

Goldsmith's staff will delve further into the issue and report back at a future meeting. A process that results from their studies would amend the City Charter, so it would go to voters for final approval.

San Diego has wide latitude under the state constitution since it's a charter city, according to the city attorney, so staff presented several options that will undergo further research.

Among them are a council-initiated process in which seven of the nine members vote to schedule a recall election, or a judicial procedure in which a complaint could be filed in court.


The committee members signaled initial support to a suggestion by the League of Women Voters to include a clause in which an official could be suspended prior to removal, since the process would invariably take a long time.

The discussion centered on the somewhat vague concepts of officeholder malfeasance and willful misconduct of the sort Filner was accused of. Around 20 women alleged sexual harassment on the part of the former mayor and 10-term congressman, who resigned in August 2013 and pleaded guilty a few months later to three criminal charges.

Any charter amendment that would come before San Diego voters in the future would not impact residents' constitutional right to recall an elected official, Goldsmith said.

The City Charter already contains six provisions in which an elected official would automatically be removed, including conflict of interest in city contracts, favoritism in contracts, collusion in contracts, fraud in payments, payments for office and accepting payments for employment.

The committee members have suggested three more — conviction of a felony, judicial declaration of incompetence — which would be fined by statute, and moving out of the city, if mayor or city attorney, or the district, if a council member.

A future ballot measure would also include various post-removal procedures, generally housekeeping issues like what to call an interim officeholder. Among other things, committee members said they favored taking appointment authority away from a future interim mayor and bestowing the power on the City Council.