San Diego City Council chambers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

After a lengthy debate, the San Diego City Council Monday narrowly rejected a proposal to fill the council president position on a rotating basis rather than by a vote of its members.

The 5-4 vote broke down along party lines, with David Alvarez, Barbara Bry, Council President Myrtle Cole, Georgette Gomez and Chris Ward, all Democrats, casting no votes.

Voting in favor were Republicans Chris Cate, Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf.

Sherman, who presented the proposal to the council, said a rotating position based on seniority would ensure experience with leadership, and remove “horse-trading” among council members, as well as relieve pressure from outside groups or political parties. It would also increase cohesiveness and council unity, according to Sherman, who represents District 7.

“It institutionalizes a non-partisan process,” he said.

Sherman said to show that he didn’t have selfish motives, he would decline serving as council president when it was his turn.

“This isn’t about me, this is about having a good, effective government,” he said.

In early January, the four Republicans on the council proposed changing how the president is appointed in response to three of them being stripped of key leadership posts by Cole last month. The council’s leader is currently chosen by a vote of its members.

Cole, of District 4, was re-elected council president in December by an 8-1 vote, with Sherman opposed.

After she was re-elected, Cole rearranged council leadership — removing three Republicans from key posts and replacing them with Democrats.

The City Council is technically nonpartisan and while its members are in general agreement on many issues, partisanship does raise its head from time to time.

Numerous members of the audience spoke in favor of a rotating president position, including a former City Council member.

Judy McCarty, who served four terms, said a rotating council presidency would make “this a friendlier place” and protect San Diego from the same type of dysfunction that affects Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Two audience members spoke against the proposal.

Cole said she did not support changing how the council leader was chosen, arguing that the majority-rule system works well.

Ward, of District 3, said the proposal would remove the council’s decision-making ability. Ward also maintained that just because a council member may have served longer, it doesn’t mean he or she is the best person to lead the council, adding such a change would de-emphasize leadership opportunities, which come through the council president.

“If our only job was to figure out how to get to 9-0 votes, we’d be a different kind of body,” Ward said.

Zapf, of District 2, characterized Ward’s comments as “angry.”

“I’m just kind of floored by that,” she said.

Zapf said the worst time for the council involves members choosing a president and added she wasn’t for changing the rules because she has a great desire for the job. “All I want is fairness,” Zapf said.

The council has become too divisive, Zapf said, telling her colleagues that the community doesn’t really care about party affiliation.

Sherman told City News Service he was both disappointed and realistic about the council’s vote, and added the outcome proved his point about party line divisions.

In a statement, Ward said he was pleased the council “will not be undermining the will of the majority going forward.”

–City News Service

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