San Diego mayor embraces voter nullification

March 1, 2013

By Chris Reed

In 2006, San Diego voters gave a landslide win to a ballot measure that would force groups of city workers to compete against private firms for the right to provide city services in a process known as “managed competition.”

For four years, union supporters on the City Council stymied the adoption of the innovative reform. One of those supporting this undemocratic delay game, Councilman David Alvarez, told me flat-out that he didn’t care what the voters wanted when he was a first-time candidate in spring 2010.

Finally, later that year, when a moderate Democrat, Tony Young, took over as council president, managed comp was implemented. And just as expected, it produced millions in savings in a series of bid processes in which city workers — who knew how much waste there was and how to root it out — won every one of the competitions.

Filner: First lies, now obstruction

Sideshow.Bob.FilnerNow, however, Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders is gone. His replacement, Democrat Bob Filner, has made clear he doesn’t care what the voters want. First, the former congressman was caught fragrantly lying about what managed comp had wrought in San Diego.

“To illustrate the pitfalls of managed competition, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has repeatedly cited the devastating effects the competitive bidding process has had on fleet services, the city division in charge of maintaining 4,000 vehicles including fire engines, garbage trucks and patrol cars.

“On at least three occasions, Filner has described a Nov. 27 visit he made to see the mechanics in fleet services. Each time he said the division had its workforce slashed through managed competition and that long lines of broken-down vehicles have resulted, forcing employees to arrive to work early to do the repairs on their own time. He’s touted it as an example of how ‘we have cut the level of service so drastically as to cause us problems.’

“The basic premise of his story — that cuts made through managed competition have decimated fleet services — is untrue. The city has yet to implement the proposed changes, according to internal memos and public testimony from two members of the mayor’s staff.”

Now he’s taking steps to kill it with the old tactic of bureaucratic delay — which he pretends is actually a period to examine the process and make it better.

San Diego’s other dramatic reform of recent years — the June 2012 vote by city residents to end defined-benefit pensions for most new city workers — is under assault by an obscure state agency, as CalWatchdog has been detailing. In an interview Wednesday, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told me that he doesn’t think Filner can impede that reform, since it’s now part of the City Charter, the equivalent of San Diego’s constitution.

A true believer, not just a stooge

But don’t underestimate Filner’s readiness to go the extra mile for organized labor. With some elected Democrats — such as as San Diego state lawmakers Ben Hueso, Toni Atkins and Marty Block — their devotion to unions seems transactional. They’re doing what they have to do to get elected and re-elected.

However, Filner, a child of the 1960s, appears to truly believe that whatever unions want is automatically the equivalent of social justice. And if that means undercutting the will of the voters of the city he leads, he won’t hesitate.

Hip-hip hooray.








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