By Craig Gustafson
Staff Writer

January 6, 2006

Despite what could be a rough year ahead, San Diego Council President Scott Peters said he expects the city to turn the corner in 2006 under the new strong-mayor form of government.

At a news conference yesterday in Balboa Park, Peters announced a plan that calls for the city to refocus on improving and restoring the quality-of-life issues that have been overshadowed by federal investigations into the pension debacle.

Peters said he will tap each member of the council to head various initiatives to improve the city's park system, create a funding plan for street repairs, make city government more open and better serve older communities.

"Our great city has not lived up to its potential," he said. "We have been dragged down by mismanagement, secrecy and the politics of personal destruction. We have faced unprecedented challenges that require strong and focused leadership."

Federal prosecutors have been investigating the city's pension system and its financial disclosure practices for nearly two years. The pension fund's deficit – at least $1.4 billion – was not disclosed in bond measures dating to 1996.

Wall Street's rating agencies have cut or suspended the city's credit rating until three overdue audits for fiscal years 2003 to 2005 are completed. Until then, the city cannot use the municipal bond market to borrow money for capital projects, such as road and sewer repairs.

Peters also said voters sent a strong message to city leaders when they approved the switch to the strong-mayor form of government in November 2004.

"They told us they wanted a government that is responsive, accessible and transparent," he said.

Under the new governing structure, the city has separate executive and legislative branches. The mayor, no longer a member of the City Council, has the power to hire and fire employees and prepare the budget. The change took effect Sunday.

The council appointed Peters to a one-year term as the body's first president. He'll now lead council meetings, a role formerly performed by the mayor.

"This is the year we'll get past the lawyering and the finger-pointing and refocus our energy on the people's business," Peters said. "By changing the way we govern our city, we've given ourselves a fresh start and a clean slate onto which to map out San Diego's future."

Peters invited the city's elected officials to the news conference, but only Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Attorney Michael Aguirre and Councilman Brian Maienschein attended. Council members Toni Atkins and Tony Young were at previously scheduled meetings.

Councilman Jim Madaffer, whose father died Sunday, was making funeral arrangements, his spokeswoman said. Councilwoman Donna Frye was busy preparing her State of Clairemont address for last night.

Sanders said Peters touched on many of the same issues he plans to work on and appreciated his willingness to "solve problems as a team."

Aguirre, who has often clashed with Peters since taking office more than a year ago, said the new government structure places much of the decision-making power on Sanders and Peters.

"If Scott follows through and uses his portion of authority and makes the hard decisions" than the city will get back on sound financial footing, he said.

Aguirre has often roiled the waters in City Hall. On Wednesday, for instance, he said he would sue the entire City Council if members refuse to voluntarily give up the pension benefits he says were granted illegally over the past decade.

District 2 council candidates Kevin Faulconer and Lorena Gonzalez were also in attendance.

"I thought (Peters) set a great cooperative tone which is what we need in the city," Faulconer said.

Gonzalez said the role of the council has changed significantly, which will give the body more power to fix problems and work out details.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060106/news_7m6peters.html