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Sounding Board: Council Officer/Business Leaders

Daily Transcript Question: San Diego is moving to a strong mayor form of government. As a result the city council will soon be electing a presiding officer. What should be the top three priorities of the new council presiding officer?

San Diego continues to grow as a large urban center yet it will not be able to sustain such growth if the mass transit issue is not addressed. Businesses in San Diego must be able to attract employees, and while housing prices are indeed a drawback, the difficulty of getting to work using a bus, trolley or rail system is even more of a deterrent.

Current mass transit in our county if not tedious, is often non-existent, and is a far cry from our big city peers, even though our population may be equal or greater. Rising fuel costs and overcrowded freeways make it even more imperative that the priorities be:

Mass transit

Mass transit

Mass transit

-- Alexandra H. Robinson, M.Ed., CDPT

Director, Transportation Services Department, San Diego Unified School District

Come January, when San Diego undergoes a profound change in its structure of government -- from council manager to strong mayor, strong council -- the first priority of both the new council president and the new mayor should be organizing city government in a manner that brings effectiveness and accountability into clear and transparent view.

No other priority is greater because until there is a restoration of public confidence in the credibility of government, that the old corrupted way of doing things is over, the city will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis.

The task that lies ahead for both the council president and mayor, given the sorry state of affairs in our municipal government, is huge. That's H-U-G-E! Politics as usual won't cut it. Our circumstances require vision and bold leadership -- the kind of vision and leadership we haven't seen since Pete Wilson left -- and he left 22 years ago.

Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders, one or the other, and the new council president (probably Scott Peters), will assume the reigns of government at the most critical time in San Diego's history. The future is literally on the line. The mayor and council cannot afford a misstep, which means they must work together in an unprecedented fashion to advance the city's welfare.

But no matter how skilled and resourceful they are, it won't be enough. To save San Diego citizens and public officials must come together in ways not previously experienced. To achieve a new paradigm of leadership we must engage the best minds and the best hearts our city has to offer. The challenges ahead are too great for any one elected official.

In this game, the biggest San Diego has ever played; there can be no bench-sitters. We must all be in the game.

-- George Mitrovich

President of the City Club of San Diego

1. Solve underfunding of current defined benefits pension/medical system. Complete the audits, and see what direction the courts provide for the current system regarding the last two unfunded pension benefits increases.

2. For the future, promote the world's best-defined contributions pension/medical benefits system to permanently solve the problem. The input from the city's budget for the past and the future must be sustainable and consider other priorities.

All over the corporate and government world, the tide is going out on defined benefit systems because they are unsustainable. The Federal Pension Benefits Guarantee Corp. (PBGC), which only insures corporate defined benefits pensions, not state and local governments, has current reports of $357 billion in unfunded requirements. And, of course, the PBGC only pays a fraction of the benefits if a company goes bankrupt. Defined benefits systems have decreased dramatically in recent years; most California corporations have defined contribution systems.

3. Assist in every way possible the transition to the strong-mayor form of government; minimize organizational turbulence.

-- Phil Meinhardt

Candidate for San Diego City Council, District 2

1) Retain the best available legal talent that specializes in municipal BK (Shea comes to mind), to begin to build our case.

2) Mend the fences with the city attorney and the council/mayor, whilst recognizing that the public has a great deal of faith in the actions of the city attorney -- and begin the process of adding an additional "at large" seat to the council.

4) Re-define the role of redevelopment in San Diego, being careful to strengthen the oversight roles of the project area committees.

-- Greg Finley

Candidate for San Diego City Council, District 2

Daily Transcript Question: What specific role, if any, should the business community play in assisting elected leaders and city of San Diego's professional staff in dealing with the city's financial crisis?

I think it is imperative that the business community plays a role in helping our elected leaders solve the city's financial crisis. Past performance dictates that engagement with the private sector is absolutely crucial to calm the fears of Wall Street and give citizens a semblance of comfort that the right decisions are being made in their interest.

The private sector can help our elected leaders set goals and reorganize the inefficient bureaucracy that has been, and still is, making disastrous strategic and operational decisions. Moreover, the senior professional staff of the city has proven that the Peter principle has been realized and new oversight is needed immediately.

The business community can play a specific role as a key advisor on financial deal structure, metrics of financial performance and suggesting financial options that reflect best practices. It is clear that the level of financial and operational expertise in city staff is woefully inadequate to have any faith in any plan they espouse. A high-powered financial advisory panel should be charged to review any plans going forward.

-- Jessie J. Knight Jr.

President & Chief Executive Officer, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

New Section: Sounding Board

Have Your Voice Heard!

The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

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