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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

GOVERNMENT–City Urged To Change Form of Government

The way the city of San Diego is governed and run is outdated, doesn’t work and needs changes, said the chairman of a citizens committee attempting to amend the city’s charter.

“The city was a village in 1931 when the current city charter was adopted. Today, it’s a major city,” said George Mitrovich, who is also chairman of the Committee of 2000, a group supporting the Padres ballpark.

The committee, which recently completed 14 months of meetings on the proposed changes, will soon present its findings to the City Council for review.

From there, the council could suggest changes of its own, hold public hearings on the proposal, and finally, put the issue to a public vote, Mitrovich said.

The major change found in the 102-page charter document would make the mayor’s office much stronger and dilute the power of the city manager.

Mitrovich has nothing against current City Manager Michael Uberuaga, whom he says is doing a good job. But people don’t elect city managers, he said.

The city manager is selected by the City Council, and all that person must do is keep a majority of the council , or five of the nine members , happy.

“All he needs is a majority of the council to keep his job, and if he can use little pork barrel projects to cobble together a five-vote majority, it’s like an employment policy,” said

Steve Erie, a UCSD political science professor who also is a charter committee member.

Changes Sought

Included as part of the committee’s proposed changes are:

– Separating the council and the mayor, designating the mayor as the head of the executive branch, and making the eight-person council the legislative branch.

– The mayor would have greater powers, including the authority to hire and fire the chief administrative officer (the new name for city manager), the police chief, fire chief, and planning director.

– The mayor would have veto power over the budget, including line-item veto power.

– The council would set its own rules committee and set its agenda. It would also have an independent budget analyst to provide it with information on proposed legislation.

The committee’s proposed charter changes can be found on the committee’s Web site at (www.charterchange.com).

While amending the charter to create a strong mayoral form of government has the support of current Mayor Susan Golding, Mitrovich freely admits he doesn’t have five votes to pass the changes.

Scott Tilson, chief of staff for Councilman Harry Mathis, said his boss remains concerned about some of the committee’s changes.

Mathis questions whether the current government form is broken and needs an overhaul, Tilson said.

“He is still concerned that what it does is severely emasculate the ability of individual council members to respond to their constituents,” Tilson said.

Right now any council member can contact the city manager and get a problem resolved, but under the proposed change, the city manager would be only responsible to the mayor.

“It could come down to who’s in with the mayor,” he said.

Possible Inequality

Councilman Juan Vargas also had doubts that a poorer district such as his would fare well under the proposed charter, especially if a mayor wasn’t sympathetic to his district’s projects.

But Eire argued the changes would interject a good deal more democratic participation into a process that’s currently weighted to making major decisions behind closed doors.

“The way things are done now, it’s all pro-forma. It’s done more for cable (television),” he said. “There are no hardball questions by the council to staff, only softball ones.”

Mitrovich bristles at criticism that the committee of some 30 people was self-appointed, and its meetings weren’t open to the public.

“First of all, every one of our meetings were open,” he said, adding they were not publicized. “And in a democracy you’re allowed to this. If a group of people want to come together and work their butts off for 14 months to produce a document that will save the city thousands of dollars, then let them complain in their astonishing ignorance.”

Most people don’t want to be bothered if asked to participate in a project such as this, he said.

“We’re doing this because we think it’s in the long-term best interests of the city of San Diego, period.”


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