July 16 2004


Mayor and Cronies Attempt End-Run on San Diego Residents

It is amazing that a lame-duck Mayor, who in all probabilities will not be reelected, and a seriously flawed City Council, which has three of its members under investigation for “conduct unbecoming” i.e. allegedly taking bribes from a Strip Club owner, are attempting to change how the City of San Diego is governed. San Diego is a charter city of the State of California. In order to change how the city is governed, an Amendment to change to the City Charter must be submitted to the voters in accordance with State law.

Mayor Dick Murphy, in consultation with his business and political cronies decided that they should abandon the City Manager-Council form of government that has served the City since 1931. In its place they would bring back what would be euphemistically called a “strong Mayor” form of government. In this scenario, the Mayor would be a “Chicago style Mayor with ultimate power over the City Council, the City Manager and all City appointments, the various departments and the budget.

The City, in its storied past, has experienced what were a series of “strong Mayor” forms of government since it’s founding in 1850. Perhaps a brief trip back into the San Diego City’s history would be enlightening.

- The State Government incorporated San Diego as a City on March 27, 1850. San Diego was the third city to be admitted to the Union. The government consisted of a Mayor, a 5 member Common Council, a City Attorney and Marshall, a City Clerk, Assessor and a Treasurer. The Common Council and the Mayor would appoint all other officials that they needed. Couple things went wrong with that form of government in that the Common Council and the Mayor were the only ones that were elected all others they hired and fired. Something went wrong with that “strong Mayor” form of government it only lasted two years and the City went bankrupt! .

-The State took over the City in 1852. The State appointed a three member Board of Trustees that could do very little without the approval of the State. This sorry state of affairs lasted until 1876 when the State increased the Board of Trustees to five and entrusted them with some of their previous powers.

-In 1887 the voters of San Diego adopted a new Charter replacing the Board of Trustees with a Mayor-Council form of government (strong Mayor).

-In 1889 the Charter was amended, once again, and the Strong Mayor was patterned along the same lines as the heads of the State and Federal governments. The Mayor could veto legislation passed by the Common Council.

-In 1909 the Charter was reworked again. Each Common Council member would now be responsible for the administration of a City Department (hiring, firing etc).

-In 1915 the Charter was revised to make room for a Manager of Operations a.k.a. City Manager who would be responsible for the administration of City Operations. The City Councilmen were out of the business of running and administering a City Department. The City had had enough of politicians running the different departments.

-In 1931 a new Charter was created in which the Manager-Council form government was created. A seven member City Council was created (now 9 members) nominated by District but elected Citywide; The Mayor was elected by citywide vote. The Mayor Chairs the Council meetings but has no veto powers. The City Manager is responsible for the Administration of most City Departments and is responsible for creating the City Budget, which must be approved by the City Council and for the hiring firing of the Department heads. This Charter is still in effect. Mayor Murphy and his Cronies are unhappy evidently they don’t have enough power to do what ever they want.

Democracy oftentimes is difficult. It requires accountability. Though the Mayor has made statements that the City should have a strong Mayor form of government, and by implication a subservient City Council, the history of San Diego from 1850- 2004 does not support the contention that we should now abandon the 1931 Charter. Modifications to the 1931 Charter have occurred in 1963,1974 and 1989. Numerous changes, such as increasing the number of Council Districts to ten, to give the Mayer Veto power with a 2/3 Council override possible. To date the City leaders have not seen fit to submit the recommendations of past Charter Review Commissions to the voter.

We are of the opinion that the Mayor and the Council should submit their proposal for a strong Mayor of government as well as the 1989 Charter Review Commission proposals to the 1931 Charter to the voters. The voters are part of the equation in changing the Charter. State Law requires it. Trying to amend the Charter by placing the change in this November’s election is a fraud..... The voters of San Diego have not been given an opportunity to vet the various proposals to change the City Charter.

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