At 9:00 a.m., Saturday morning, under the steady hum from the air conditioner inside Salvation Army’s Fellowship Hall, District Six councilmember Donna Frye and councilmember-elect from District Five Carl DeMaio conversed with a sparse crowd of concerned residents on ways of empowering San Diego’s “girly-man” style of city council.
The “town hall dialogue” is part of a larger, six-month commitment from Frye and DeMaio to bring change to the ineffectual city council.
DeMaio and Frye concentrated on four issues needed for reform: streamlining the budget and legislative processes, enhancing the council’s oversight responsibilities, encouraging public participation, and redefining the structure of the council, specifically, the role of the council president.
The two appeared adamant in bulking up the current “weak” city council structure to work in conjunction with San Diego’s strong mayor form of governance. “Right now we have a strong mayor style of government with an advisory board,” said Frye.
“We have allocated too much authority to the executive branch -- [the council passes] a budget, only to find out the mayor can cut a program later on down the road or bend the implementation of it,” said DeMaio. “We need a new culture on the city council. We need a second to Ms. Frye’s motion.”
DeMaio and Frye also pledged their commitment to bringing more transparency to city government. Frye complained about several instances when items have been placed on the agenda without proper notification instead of tabling the issue and not taking the risk of rushing anything through.
Another problem with the council was linked to the role of council president. “Council president should not mean empowering the individual. It should be used to draw attention to each district’s constituents,” said Frye.
The two voiced their opposition to Councilmember Scott Peters’s recent recommendation for the outgoing councilmembers to pick the incoming council president, something that DeMaio views as blatantly “unprincipled and undemocratic.”
Halfway into the two-hour dialogue, District Three candidate Stephen Whitburn and District 7 candidate Marti Emerald trickled in to show their support and commitment if elected.
Whitburn told the group that one of the reasons he is running for city council is to bring change, along the line of the change that DeMaio and Frye were proposing. "It's going to take major reform and major commitment. This is exactly what we need."
“We need to open the process and make sure our government is doing what it’s supposed to, and I hope to join them,” added Emerald.
As for the attendees, many seemed frustrated at the way city hall has been managed, though they were pleased with Frye and DeMaio’s efforts.
To contact Councilmember Frye’s office, go to sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd6/. For more information on the efforts to bulk up the city council’s muscles, go to cleanupcityhall.com.