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Sanders Vows to Shake Up City Hall

The former police chief says he will fire officials, seek pay cuts and privatize government functions to address ongoing fiscal woes.

November 10, 2005|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders promised Wednesday to "clean house at City Hall," starting with firing 100 or more mid-level bureaucrats and ordering a 10% cut in rank-and-file employees if their labor unions refuse to negotiate reductions in salaries and pensions.

Sanders also said he would seek voter approval for changes in the City Charter to allow for hiring private firms to perform services now done by city employees.

"I am here to tell the people of San Diego: You can demand, and get, accountable government," the 55-year-old former police chief said at a morning news conference.

After a campaign that centered on the city's financial problems, Sanders, a Republican with strong backing from his party and the city's business establishment, defeated City Councilwoman Donna Frye in Tuesday's balloting 54% to 46%. He will be sworn in Dec. 5.

Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego's Mesa College, said Sanders represented "safe change" to voters, compared to Frye, who proposed more sweeping measures, including a half-cent sales tax boost.

Frye, 53, a Democrat and surf-shop owner, was endorsed by environmentalists and labor unions.

In her concession speech, she pledged to work with Sanders. San Diego's combative city attorney, Michael Aguirre, a Frye ally whose public fights with City Council members have increased the sense of turmoil at City Hall, made a similar promise.

Although Sanders faces the biggest fiscal and legal problems in city history, he will also have more power than any previous San Diego mayor has had.

Voters last year adopted a "strong-mayor" system that will give the mayor, starting in January, the power to hire and fire department managers, veto City Council actions and develop the city's annual budget.

Sanders has promised to solve the fiscal problems, including a $2-billion pension deficit, without raising taxes. At the heart of his plan is a rollback of pension benefits granted in 1996 and 2002 that the city attorney asserts were illegally given because of conflicts of interest on the pension board.

The controversy over the pension deficit has shown that as public employee unions have gained in political strength in recent years, the salaries and benefits of their members have increased.

Voters last year endorsed a plan to decrease the number of employees on the pension board. At his news conference, Sanders said he would seek voter approval of a measure that would require that pension benefit increases be approved by voters.

Mild-mannered and cordial, Sanders was a first-time candidate. Frye, elected to the council in 2001, was a write-in candidate for mayor last year.

After Mayor Dick Murphy's resignation in July, Frye placed first in a primary with 43%. Sanders trailed at 27% and Republican businessman Steve Francis at 24%. Francis endorsed Sanders.

Sanders was a street cop for 20 years, including a stint as head of the SWAT squad, before becoming chief in 1993. He retired in 1999 to head the local United Way and later joined the board of the American Red Cross.

"Nobody should be misled by the fact that Jerry is a nice guy," said attorney Michael McDade, former chief of staff to then-Mayor Roger Hedgecock. "Underneath that exterior is a very strong man."

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