To the surprise and chagrin of some San Diego City Council members, Mayor Maureen O’Connor is quietly planning to open nine offices around the city to handle the kinds of constituent complaints that are the bread and butter of council members’ lives.
The offices, spread evenly about the city, will be staffed on a part-time basis by four mayoral aides to receive requests for new traffic lights or crosswalks and other suggestions from citizens who now must mail in their misgivings or vent them at community forums, said Lynn Sharpe-Underwood, an O’Connor aide in charge of the project.
“The reason is that the mayor cannot be in every community every week,” said Paul Downey, the mayor’s press secretary. “She tries to get out to as many communities as possible every week. . . . The staff person (will be) in every community to be the mayor’s eyes and ears.”
But O’Connor already has ruffled some council members’ feathers by failing to consult them during the project’s planning and by organizing an effort that some fear will undercut the constituent service that is a major part of their responsibilities.
District 5 Councilman Ed Struiksma, a longtime O’Connor antagonist, said the move is an attempt by the mayor “to set up some political operations in the different districts to undercut what the different council members are doing, if she doesn’t like what they’re doing.”
The program is “subversion in the district,” Struiksma said.
Asked if he was consulted on O’Connor’s plan to open offices in Mira Mesa and Linda Vista--both neighborhoods in his district--Struiksma responded: “Are you kidding? We can’t even get our phone calls returned.”
Paul Grasso, aide to O’Connor ally Ron Roberts, said the District 2 councilman was not notified about a plan to open an office in the Mission Hills section of his district.
“We’re surprised,” Grasso said. “We’re disappointed that they didn’t have the courtesy to let us know it’s going on. . . . I don’t understand the need for it.”
Jennifer Adams-Brooks, aide to District 4 Councilman Wes Pratt, also said she was surprised to learn that “they were putting a district office in the 4th.” She said she would want to put a Pratt staff member in any 4th District office staffed by an O’Connor aide.
But District 8 Councilman Bob Filner, who has operated a South Bay branch office within his district for seven months, had strong praise for O’Connor’s idea.
‘So Much the Better’
“Anytime the government shows an interest in people, people benefit,” Filner said. “If it will allow the mayor to get to know all our neighborhoods, so much the better for my constituents.”
Filner’s office was consulted on the program when mayoral aides solicited his staff’s opinions on whether the South Bay branch office was successful. Sharpe-Underwood said she had also informed an aide in Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer’s office of the plan for a Rancho Bernardo office, and had unsuccessfully attempted to reach a council representative in Struiksma’s office. The aides could not be reached for comment.
Filner said he envisions cooperation instead of turf wars between his staff and mayoral aides, a concept that Downey strongly emphasized.
“We’re going to be complementary to the council, to the community councils and to the community planning groups,” Downey said. “We’re not going to compete with them.”
Asked whether the service provided by mayoral aides would not duplicate that already provided by council representatives, Downey said that “people go to their council member, but they also go to the mayor.”
Although specific office sites have not yet been selected, the program envisions placing mayoral staffers in Rancho Bernardo, Mira Mesa, Oak Park, Tierrasanta, Encanto, San Ysidro, Linda Vista, Pacific Beach and Mission Hills-North Park, Sharpe-Underwood said.
That arrangement would put one office in seven of the eight council districts, and two in the eighth--Struiksma’s 5th Council District, which is the city’s most populous. But O’Connor aides stressed that the offices were selected by region and not by council district.
Mayoral aides Sharpe-Underwood, Willie Blair and Leesie Van Roon will each staff three offices on a rotating basis, spending time at each site every week to make themselves visible in the community and to become acquainted with neighborhoods, Sharpe-Underwood said. Aide Chris Cameron will work throughout the city, she said.
The offices will be housed in city facilities or in donated office space at no expense to the city, Downey said. Deputy City Manager Maureen Stapleton is seeking office space throughout the city for the project, Sharpe-Underwood said.
With formal start-up of the program still weeks away, mayoral aides have in the past three weeks been meeting with community leaders in Rancho Bernardo and Tierrasanta to become acquainted with them and their communities’ problems, Sharpe-Underwood said.