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Waiting for Input

May 08, 1988

Charter review: Is it good old free-swinging, fist-pounding, American participatory democracy?

Or is it (yawn) Poli Sci 103?

The answer doesn't depend on us, the members of the Charter Review Commission. It depends on you.

You all seem to have opinions about how your city is governed. I hear them as I go about my daily business. I read about them in the news pages and the letters column of this newspaper.

Now, a commission has been appointed with the authority to recommend substantial changes--or none at all--in the document that is the City of San Diego's equivalent to the Constitution.

We are having public meetings every Monday and Thursday evenings. We know you have some opinions. We want to hear them. We meet, by the way, at 5 p.m. in the City Council Committee Room, 12th Floor, City Hall, 202 C St.

We hear frequent criticism of public officials, at all levels. We hear you criticize the people you have just judged to be the best, and elected to office, and then, after the criticism, we watch as you elect them again.

We see you vote for tax cuts because the government is wasting your tax money on programs you don't want or need, and then when the officials you elected try to cut back on those programs--whether recreation, library programs, sanitation, building safety or transportation--we hear you say they are cutting some essential service.

It seems as though you want more criminals held longer in fewer jail cells, more police officers paid higher salaries with fewer dollars, more sensitive urban planning with less-intrusive bureaucratic control of private development.

The mayor and City Council have assembled 15 of us from the community to undertake this assignment, the first charter review in 15 years. There are lawyers, a judge or two, business executives, community organization managers, entrepreneurs, people who have worked in elections and in government and in the community.

You may not know it, but San Diego city government enjoys an excellent reputation across the nation. Operating departments are considered trend-setters, and departmental management people are recruited (and lost).

But there are good reasons to take a look at the charter.

Some communities say they do not feel they are being adequately represented because their first-choice candidates are beaten citywide in the council runoffs.

Also, they say too many people are included in each district for anyone to be responsive to them.

There is criticism of the charter section that calls on the City Council to try to fill vacancies by appointment.

Some people are dissatisfied with the Police Department's handling of complaints about officers' conduct and want independent review written into the charter.

Others question whether San Diego's council-manager form of government is still appropriate for a city that has changed so markedly and grown so much larger than the city of 57 years ago, when that form was begun here.

To each of these petitions, there is a rebuttal of equal magnitude.

We know by now, and so do you, what the arguments are and what reasons have been put forth by proponents and opponents. We are all feeling the burden of being called upon to decide what will go on the ballot this year and next for your decision.

We are waiting.

What say you, Citizen of San Diego?

ED BUTLER

Chairman, City Charter Review Commission

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