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Proposal would let council start recall process for unfit officeholders

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council could initiate a recall of an elected official and schedule a special election, for dereliction of duty or violating the law, under a proposal presented to the panel’s Charter Review Committee Wednesday.

City staff provided an update and asked for committee member feedback on its proposal to codify procedures for removing officeholders when necessary. Also proposed was automatic removal of officeholders who are convicted of a felony, move out of the city or their council district, or are judicially declared incompetent.

The suggestions stem from events nearly three years ago that led then- Mayor Bob Filner to resign in disgrace after being accused of sexual harassment by around 20 women.

“We got caught flat-footed” by not having an easy way of getting rid of a wayward elected official at the time,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said.

While some concerns were expressed about vague language in the staff proposal, no major objections were raised by the committee members.

Councilman Mark Kersey suggested that action to start a recall effort should require approval by seven of the nine council members, which would lend “some amount of consensus” to such a move, and make it less political.

The committee was formed a year and a half ago to comb through the 85- year-old City Charter, San Diego’s primary governing document, in part because it didn’t contain a mechanism for removing an unfit mayor, council member or city attorney.

In assessing the condition of the charter, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith called it “ambiguous, outdated and incomplete.” His office identified 48 sections that needed updating.

The Charter Review Committee held its first meeting in January last year. It has since developed seven charter amendments that will go before voters in June in an effort to consolidate various sections and clarify language. Revisions to the charter require a public vote.

Staff will return with a detailed report next month. The effort could lead to another ballot measure for the November general election.

In a separate action, the committee forwarded to the full City Council a charter amendment to bring reforms to the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, which handles complaints against the San Diego Police Department.

The proposal would add a line to the charter that says the review board should look into all cases of in-custody deaths and officer-involved shootings, rename the panel to the Community Review Board on Police Practices, and replace references to “city manager” with “mayor” and “City Council.”

The City Council could place those changes before voters, as well.