In the months leading up to his December 8 inauguration to the San Diego City Council, Councilmember-elect Carl DeMaio was outspoken about the role of the city-council president. He believed the position — created in 2004 as part of the "strong mayor" form of government — gave the president too much power over the council and too much influence on the docket.
During several town-hall meetings, DeMaio rebuked outgoing council president Scott Peters for exercising those powers. He accused Peters of “manipulating” future agendas, thereby essentially silencing certain councilmembers from raising their concerns to the public.
To prevent further abuses of power, DeMaio, along with Councilmember Donna Frye, suggested ways to limit the president’s powers, which would provide equal access to the docket for all councilmembers. They proposed borrowing some methods from the County Board of Supervisors, mainly designating the city clerk as parliamentarian over council meetings, while simultaneously allowing each councilmember a chance to docket items on the agenda.
While changing the role of the president was something for the new council to deliberate on, DeMaio and Frye were successful in convincing outgoing-president Peters to let the incoming council vote for their next president. That vote happened on December 9, one day after DeMaio and his three fellow incoming councilmembers were sworn into office.
During the vote to elect a new council president, DeMaio had one more reform. Instead of deciding between District 8 representative Ben Hueso or District 6 councilmember Donna Frye, DeMaio proposed to elect both of them. Each would serve a one-year term. As for who would serve first, DeMaio proposed to adopt an age-old democratic procedure: the coin toss.
DeMaio jumped from his council seat with a coin in his left hand and outlined the reform measure. The winner of the flip would serve as president the first year and the loser would assume powers the following year.
Unfortunately, no other councilmembers wanted to play along, and DeMaio’s motion was not supported. The council opted for the old-fashioned way: majority vote.
Councilmembers Faulconer, Gloria, Emerald, Hueso, Young, and DeMaio voted in favor of Hueso serving as council president for the next year, while Frye and Lightner supported Frye.
For more of the unorthodox reforms that Councilmember DeMaio has in mind for city government, tune in to CityTV every Monday and Tuesday (Cox and Time Warner Cable channel 24, AT&T channel 99).