As a native citizen of San Diego, I am most saddened by the forced resignation of our city manager, Sylvester Murray. It saddens me because here, in America's Finest City, the eighth largest city in the nation, we had begun a shift. A shift from exclusionary politics to participatory politics, that was largely ushered in by the former mayor.
With the employment of the city's first black city manager and the election of the city's first woman mayor, surely the future of our progressive city was bright. Now, with the recent action of the council, our future is unclear.
Murray is regarded as one of the best and brightest city managers in the country, regardless of race. Yet "our" City Council did not like his "style." But what is the rest of the story? Is it that Murray offended the council by asserting his full rights under the charter as city manager? Is it that Murray was not the choice of the current City Council and therefore had to be fired? When we change elected officials, does that mean we automatically change city managers, because the council is not used to the style of a professional manager? Worse still, is it, even today, that this intelligent articulate, strong-willed, individual was unduly burdened by his race?
I suggest that all of the above had varying degrees of influence on the City Council's decision to seek Murray's resignation. But his discharge is symptomatic of a larger problem in our city's political structure.
The fact of the matter is that no strong city manager can survive in San Diego as long as the City Council continues to violate the City Charter, which they were elected to uphold.
This City Council has circumvented the authority of the city manager. It has held budget deliberations in violation of the Brown Act and tampered with the operations of the Housing Commission. It has cast a shadow of doubt in each citizen's mind about public expenditures, all of which exemplify the need for a more accountable City Council.
The time has come for the City Council to make a choice: either abide by the tenets of the City Charter, or amend the charter to legally reflect the defacto role it currently enjoys.
I urge the City Council to either reaffirm the charter by returning the usurped powers to the city manager and reducing the council's role to part-time, or seek an amendment to the City Charter calling for a strong mayor form of government with a City Council elected by district elections.
The City Council can no longer have it both ways. Given the turmoil of the past three years within the city's political structure, I hope the mayor and the council will take the initiative to put credibility back into City Hall by righting what is clearly wrong. Then, and only then, will our city's future be one for which we can all have hope.
One final comment. It is important in life to win, and to believe that you can win, if you stay in the game long enough, if you follow the rules, and if you prepare yourself for life's challenges ahead. Murray had prepared himself for the challenges inherent in running the seventh largest city in America. But now he is gone. And that saddens me.
In the end, Murray is a winner and a role model. We should never forget that.
REESE A. JARRETT
Black Leadership Council