Incumbent Peters will seek 2nd one-year term

By Craig Gustafson
Staff Writer

November 13, 2006

For nearly a year, with federal probes continuing into San Diego's financial crisis, Scott Peters has been the face of a beleaguered City Council.

An independent investigative report has questioned the competence of council members. City Attorney Michael Aguirre continues to berate them publicly. And Mayor Jerry Sanders is sparring with them for control of certain budget decisions.

Council President Peters knew it would be a rough year, but 2007 also looks like a bumpy ride as a tight budget gets squeezed even further by a scheduled pay increase for city employees in July.

So who could blame him if he would want to pass the lightning rod to one of his seven council colleagues?

But Peters said he would seek a second one-year term as president when the council votes this afternoon.

The president has significant influence over how city government is run by docketing issues for council consideration, leading its meetings and appointing the chairperson of each council committee. Terms run from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

So far, no one has emerged as a likely – or willing – candidate to replace Peters.

Some council members said they had a deep appreciation for how Peters has handled the tribulations during the first year of the new “strong mayor” form of government. At least two said they would like to see Peters keep his leadership role.

“I may not agree with him on votes,” said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, “but in terms of process, he's tried to be fair to council members.”

Sanders said Peters had adjusted well to the changing government.

“Scott has gone through the same thing that I have and that's kind of feeling his way through,” Sanders said. “And I think he's done a good job, going through a lot of issues, and being tough when he needed to and working together when he needed to.”

Whoever the next council president is, there is a mountain of issues to tackle. The city needs to:

  • Get back in good favor with Wall Street. City officials still don't have audited financial statements from 2003 – a must if they want to restore the city's credit rating next year and regain the ability to borrow money at decent interest rates.
  • Find a way to keep the police force from withering away. Officers have been complaining for months about substandard pay, and several have left the department for better pay and benefits elsewhere.
  • Figure out who is running the show at City Hall. The council and Sanders have butted heads recently over Sanders' unilateral decision to ax a swim program for low-income children. Sanders has since backed off, delaying any final decision until January. But a big question remains: Does the mayor have the authority to make budget cuts without council approval? It is an issue that is likely to keep popping up again and again.
  • Implement changes to the city's financial practices. In September, the council approved, in concept, the mayor's recommendation to adopt all of an audit committee's 121 proposals to improve city government. Now comes the hard part: coming to a consensus on how to best enact each proposal.
  • Balance the budget without cutting deeply into core services, such as libraries and parks. This year's budget battle will be considered tame compared with the expected crunch next year. The Mayor's Office has estimated expenses will rise at least $34 million in fiscal 2008, in large part because of employee contracts that call for a 4 percent salary increase for two of the city unions.

Peters said it was clear that elected officials had their work cut out for them.

“There are enough problems in this city that those of us who are elected ought to be focusing on moving the city through them and not so much on whether I have power or he (Sanders) has power.”