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Mayor blames Aguirre for decision against managed competition

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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said poor legal advice from City Attorney Michael Aguirre led to a recent judge's ruling that the city must stop moving forward with its outsourcing plan and go back to the bargaining table with city unions.

Sanders said the city was getting very close to implementing managed competition, a voter-approved program that would allow private companies to compete with the city over certain services. But Administrative Law Judge Thomas J. Allen ruled late last week that the city did not complete its labor negotiation duties.

Allen ruled that the city did not hold thorough negotiations in regards to the implementation of managed competition, and that the City Council should have been part of the impasse proceedings.

Sanders said Aguirre advised his office against these procedures.

“In 2006, as the managed competition process was being negotiated with the unions, we were forced to rely on the advice of Mike Aguirre on our procedural obligations during the negotiations,” Sanders said. “The city attorney advised the City Council and released opinions saying that we didn’t need to bargain on certain items.”

“As has happened many times before,” Sanders continued, “the city attorney’s advice turned out to be flat wrong.”

Aguirre said that the judge’s ruling is flawed because it's based on practices the city had in place before the strong mayor form of government. Before strong mayor, passed by the voters in 2005, the council was in charge of collective bargaining. Aguirre said it is the mayor’s responsibility now.

“(Sanders) gave a shoot-from-the-hip political response rather than a statesman’s response,” Aguirre said. He alleged that Sanders' response undermined the strong mayor form of government.

Aguirre suggested the city appeal the judge’s decision on those grounds, in part because it conflicts with previous legal findings. Sanders said he would not likely appeal the decision, as it will only put off managed competition even further.

Union representatives said the judge’s ruling proved what they have been saying for months: The city did not complete good faith bargaining.

“The city had arbitrarily cut off negations with our workers over the managed competition program,” said Joan Raymond, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 127, which represents the bulk of the city’s blue collar workers.

“Going forward, we hope that we will finally achieve what we set out to achieve,” Raymond added. “That is, that we have a very deliberate, thoughtful process; a conversation between the city and the San Diego workers that will give us all the details of how it should be decided how the services for the citizens of San Diego will be delivered in the future.”

AFSCME 127 initially brought the lawsuit against the city last year. Last summer, another city union, the Municipal Employees Association, joined the suit.

Sanders said this decision will not derail his plans for managed competition, but it will set them back. The plan, which was approved in 2006 by more than 60 percent of the vote, has already been delayed several times.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the mayor’s office is scheduled to brief the City Council about the ruling in closed session. Sanders said he has no plans to appeal the decision, as that would only further delay the process.

“Make no mistake, we’re going to deliver on our promise of reform,” Sanders said. “The reform that a vast majority of San Diego voters supported.”

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