Strong Mayor, Weak Council

On March 29, San Diego city council showed its budgetary muscle by laying out a number of cost-saving proposals for the mayor to consider when he presents the fiscal year 2012 budget in mid-April.

While the council believes that they should have some authority in identifying budget priorities, they will continue to have essentially no power to initiate changes to the budget after it has been approved.

That was the word from deputy city attorney Brant Will during the March 30 meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee.

"The city attorney's office is fully aware that this is not really the conclusion that some individuals were looking for," said Will. "It is clearly stated in the city charter and there is no ambiguity there."

The deputy city attorney went on to explain that unless changes are made to the city charter, then only the mayor has the power to bring forward midyear budget revisions.

Independent budget analyst Andrea Tevlin expressed some frustration at the lack of progress and the lack of authority for council to make midyear changes.

"We've been working on this for six months now, and we seem to have gotten nowhere," said Tevlin during the meeting. Tevlin stated that the council once had access to an appropriations reserve fund until a recent city attorney ruling said otherwise.

"This is not some wild-haired idea to set up a mechanism for council to be able to access a limited amount of reserves. If we can't find a way to get that authority back then I think we do need a charter amendment."

Councilwoman Marti Emerald agreed. "This is a strong-mayor/strong-council form of government and we need to have that authority to make budget changes when necessary. The issue is brewing. And, this is just a way to level the playing field."

The committee later directed staff to work with the independent budget analyst's office, and the city attorney to return with a draft of the charter amendment.

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