Council Committee System Assailed : Grand Jury Report Calls Panels Unsound and Redundant
The San Diego City Council’s standing committee system, created by former Mayor Pete Wilson, should be disbanded because it is costly and “organizationally unsound in that it adds an additional and unnecessary layer to city government,” a San Diego County Grand Jury report says.
The advisory report, dated May 6 but released Wednesday, is the latest attack on the committee system, which many contend wastes public money and has become a way for council members to enhance their political profiles. In November, the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors accepted a report, later made public, from an internal committee that also criticized the system as a cause of the growing cost of local government.
Grand jurors concluded that, 13 years after Wilson set up the system, which has four committees, “there has been no demonstrable improvement in the way city business is conducted. On the contrary, the cost of the committee system has steadily increased, and the system has worked a burden on the citizens of the city attempting to seek a hearing before the council.”
Matters coming before a council committee must also be repeated later to the full council.
“The citizens of the city are required to go to committee hearings and then to the council meetings,” the report says. “This takes time away from work and favors large employers who can afford to keep employees at these meetings.”
The report also criticizes the money spent for council committee staff members, which are included in the $398,529 set aside for council “administrative services” proposed for the 1987 city budget. The cost in 1985 for staff committee jobs was about $285,745, the report says.
“A detailed breakdown of expenditures to justify the abolition of the committee system is not necessary. If the system is organizationally unsound, any money spent on such a system is too much,” the report says.
A justification for the committee system, the report says, is that council members must be able to collect information on city issues independent of the data given them by the city manager.
Grand jurors rejected this argument. “If the council feels that the manager is improperly filtering information or giving poor advice, he should be replaced,” they wrote.
Councilman Bill Cleator, chairman of the council’s Public Facilities and Recreation Committee, said he agrees with the grand jury’s observations. “It almost sounds like I’d written it,” said Cleator, who added that he was interviewed by the panel about the committee system.
In the past, much of the political wrangling among council members has been over who will be named committee chairmen, yearly appointments that must be approved by a majority of the council. Asked if committee chairmanships are considered political plums, Cleator said, “Absolutely.”
Councilman Mike Gotch also said he agreed with the grand jury report and said he will invite its foreman to make a pitch to dismantle the system during council deliberations beginning next month. He said he hopes to convince his colleagues that breaking up the system could translate into money for police salaries and park land.
Gotch said the grand jury report underestimated the savings of dismantling the system. An “informal” study by his aides five years ago estimated the cost of the committee system to be $500,000, including the time that city employees spend in committee meetings waiting to give reports.
“It doesn’t serve the public well,” Gotch said about the committee system.
The four standing committees are the Rules Committee, which is chaired by the mayor; Public Facilities and Recreation; Public Services and Safety, and Transportation and Land Use.