April 23, 2004


Charter Review Commission Required to Change City Charter

City of San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy is not what you would call a strong mayor. Dick Murphy is a competent, successful person; however, his personality and his style of management do not lend itself to the strong Mayor type. To this point, he has been found lacking in the ability to provide leadership. He has been unable to forge coalitions with the city council members, who are sufficient enough to move projects and issues through that are vital to the everyday life of the city. The City of San Diego is going through rough times such as the employee pension fund, the recent fires, the economic demise of the state, which impacts the city, and the Chargers. Through all this and more, the mayor has been an ambiguous leader.

Surprisingly, Mayor Murphy is trying to change the city charter in order to change how the city is ruled. For a time, the city charter has had the city manager form of governance style and a supposedly weak mayor/city council. The mayor would like the city charter changed to a “strong mayor/strong council” form of government. The change in the city charter would remove the city manager from the power to run the city. The charter change would put unprecedented power into the hands of the mayor.

At present the City Manager runs the day-to-day operations of the city. He fires and hires all department heads, such as the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief and top management personnel. The City Manager is responsible for making and submitting the annual budget. The City Council, which includes the Mayor review and have final approval of the budget.

Dick Murphy’s “strong mayor” proposal changes are that the city manager, who is hired by the city council, would be hired by the mayor and be re-titled as the chief administrative officer. He would serve at the will and pleasure of the mayor, as would the chief of police and the chief of the fire department. The mayor would propose the annual budget, which would then have to be approved by the city council and the mayor, who would have the power of veto. The city council would have the power to override the veto.

The city council would operate as a legislative body without the mayor’s participation. They would add an extra seat; an at-large seat has been proposed to bring the council to an odd number in order to avoid deadlocks. The mayor would sit as an independent leader above the city council in terms of power. The mayor could veto council decisions.

This proposal put forth by Dick Murphy, is being diligently backed by the power structure to be put on the November ballot. A majority vote of approval by the city council is needed to put this proposal on the ballot; right now they are one vote short.

Changing the city charter for San Diego is a highly charged political issue that should not be put forth by a politician, in particular, one who is running for re-election as mayor. Realizing the glaring shortcomings in his performance as mayor/leader, Dick Murphy is trying to bolster his chances by fashioning a strong mayor suit that he can slip into once he is re-elected, thus eliminating his shortcomings. Unfortunately, having a strong mayor form of government necessitates that the elected mayor must be a strong leader capable of running the city. Mayor Murphy is not a strong leader.

With all power residing in the mayor, the power brokers, interest groups, corporations, the wealthy, political strongmen and the unions would now only have one person to co-op to raid the city coffers. San Diego would turn into a mini “Chicago,” where anything goes.  

If their is sufficient interest in the present city council for a strong mayor/ weak city council, then we suggest that a Charter Review Commission be appointed that will receive input from the citizens of San Diego. The Charter Review Commission will prepare recommendations, approved by majority vote of the commission members, for the voters to say yea or nay in a vote. To leave this plan in the hands of politicians for politicians, you are going to get a highly skewered plan that will not necessarily be in the best interest of the city, but more than likely be in the best interest of the politicians.

For Hispanics, having a strong mayor form of government does not necessarily bode well for this community. Putting so much power into one person’s hands allows the control of the city to be controlled by a small group, controlled by a few, which in San Diego translates to control by the Republican right-wing. Regardless of the changing demographics, i.e. the continued growth of the Hispanic, Asian, Filipino, black communities, political representation in the City of San Diego will be held by a diminishing number of white, Republican citizens. Having representation will be out of our grasp. District elections translate, for the Hispanic community, to limiting the Hispanic voice into one council district, one vote on the city council. The strong mayor form of governance will place the entire minority population at the tail end of the begging line!

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