A Slightly Stronger Mayor

The current form of government in San Jose is a city manager form of government. I have encountered many residents who find this confusing. Many residents believe that the mayor is the boss, which is not the case in San Jose.

The distinction in a city manager form of government is that a career administrator implements policy from the elected body. However, the specifics on implementation and overseeing the actions of employees sits with the city manager.

Dallas, Texas, is a city that has a city manager form of government, while many other iconic cities have a strong mayor form of government, like New York, Chicago, San Diego etc….

Some have talked about changing our government structure to a strong mayor, so that the mayor would hire and fire department heads. However, for some this may seem too bold, and in San Jose it seems we are used to incremental change. Any change to the power of a mayor would require amending the city charter, which requires voter approval from San Jose residents.

I would propose an incremental step where the city manager form of government stays intact but allows the mayor to be granted new authority. The new authority should be to hire and fire the director of the planning department. This discussion/proposal has zero to do with the current mayor, city manager or planning director and everything to do with accountability.

The way it works now is that the mayor, who is the only person elected by the entire city, is only one vote out of 11 on the City Council. That seems odd, and in many cases it does not allow for the best long-term interests of the city to be implemented. If a future mayor is not meeting expectations of the electorate when it comes to economic development—that may pertain to the rapid permitting of commercial development, for example—then that mayor could be held accountable since he/she oversees the planning department.

With the way things are now, it is hard to point a finger at anyone since there is no direct line of authority. And, again, the mayor is only one vote of eleven.

For some, this may not be bold enough and for others it may be moving too fast. However, I believe residents want San to be the best it can be and part of that is building a strong economic base. Outside of a major recession, residents should be able to evaluate their mayor on the success of growing the pie among other criteria. 

There is a cost to putting this on a future ballot. However, there is also a potential opportunity cost, because future development would get a direct answer instead of a splintered one. The result would be a likelihood of faster time periods to market for new commercial buildings.


  1. How about if the mayor and city council follow the example of the much more successful neighboring cities, that is, you serve as an elected volunteer and no bloated staff.

    • Pier, just as a follow up to my own comment, is there a reason we couldn’t combine a special election to ask the voters if they want to change our mayor and city council positions to strictly voluntary rather than being paid??? I am sure that a majority of the voters would go for this change in todays climate.

      • This is the worst idea I’ve heard all year.
        1. You get what you pay for.
        2. Ever live in a big city with underpaid staff? I have. Guess who they ended up being accountable to—the 20% of the people who bothered to vote, or the big developers who actually UNDERSTOOD point 1?
        3. If you’re feeling so poor and overtaxed, why don’t you go somewhere cheaper and quit trying to ruin what remains of our crumbling city services.
        4. Taxes across the board are at a low, why do all these Tea Party types keep complaining? What part of point 1 don’t you get?

        • You get what you pay for is one of the most ridiculous truisms around. The list of not getting what you pay for is much longer, and most politicians, including the ones you are in the tank for in San Jose are included. There are a few exceptions on the city council such as Ash Kalra, Mr. Rocha, Mr. Chu, and Mr. Campos, and Mrs. Pyle. I think these are very sincere people and they earn what they make. The rest are blowhards. If you think that paying a higher salary makes staff members immune from big developers, well that is plain dumb. Our city has been in bed for many years with developers of low income housing, thus the huge imbalance of jobs to citizens and low tax base. Surrounding cities with volunteer council and mayors have done just the opposite, so your theory is ridiculous. Lastly, I am a registered Democrat and not a Tea Party member so your conclusion was as flawed as the rest of your assertions.

        • Please check out Mayor Reed’s record as well. In his tenure including many years as a city council member, he voted for many affordable housing projects and also voted to ratify union contracts.

  2. I have a better idea. How about making the police chief and fire chief an elected official. This will allow them to speak out against the city council when they make decisions that jeopardize public safety. This will also allow their voices to be heard instead of being muted by the mayor and the city manager.

  3. How about we take more power away from city manager and reduce pay and pension.  Maybe then we can hire back a couple of officers.  This mayor does not need more power.  He if had more we would only get more threats and voter measures to all but eliminate public safety officers because no one would want to work here.  Why do we never here about pensions other city employees receive and how they effect the budget?  Pensions are not the problem, it is poor decisions made by those on the councils, past and present many of which Chuck sat on.

  4. PO

    Yo say: 

    “With the things are now, it is hard to point a finger at anyone since there is no direct line of authority. And, again, the mayor is only one vote of eleven.”

    Actually it is very easy to point a finger at you, the city manager, the mayor and the rest of the council for made some very poor decisions with our money.

  5. P.O.:

    Really?  Why do I have to read between the lines?  Just come out and say it.  You think the Director of Planning needs to be fired, but Figone is running the city and she won’t sign off on that.  Okay now that we have that out of the way let’s move on.

    I don’t think it is so much as who is running the City but more HOW it is being run.  It is a fiscal mess.  If we can’t replace the Manager, then replace the Mayor. If not the Mayor, then Council.  Something needs to change. 

    Elected Chief?? I think I like it.  One without a muzzle.

  6. You can bet Chief Figone won’t sign off on an elected Chief either! Imagine taking the muzzle off a law enforcement chief and giving him the authority to actually set staffing levels and deployment models?? God forbid a person with actual law enforcement management experience run the department and be held accountable by the citizens served.

  7. just what we need-yet ANOTHER ballot measure on the tax payer’s dime, plus, the mayor’s position does NOT need more power! This mayor already is power hungry, inflexible,insensitive and dishonest. This mayor may be one of “the best mayors” (per the newspaper)but he is the most hated mayor that has EVER been elected in the history of San Jose City, by his own city employees. He has pretty much destroyed this city-the moral of ALL the departments/employees, is at an all time low. Shame on all of you, sitting in your high chairs, deciding what to take away from us today and how to take away MORE tomorrow. I’m watching the best employees bailing ship and going to other departments/cities that offer a better life than what they have here. Open your eyes and look at what is happening-I can’t imagine how you can be proud of what you have been doing.

    • Great job PO

      another letter just to piss off dedicated retired city employees who have served for 30 years and yet you never respond to a single comment.  You make me sick!  Just keep sending my monthly check so I can almost make my mortgage payment.  What a great retirement.  You blame police and fire but what about the rest of us!

      Keep telling the public we are fat cats, with retirement homes.  Hope you will kick in the 16K check you asking for when we are forced into foreclosure.

  8. Reed things he has a mandate from the masses to destroy public safety in San Jose.  If the Chief of Police, and maybe Fire too were elected, then those positions wouldn’t be under the thumb of Figone.  You know she tells Chris Moore to keep his mouth shut all the time behind closed doors.  Even Davis, who finally grew a pair and proposed a massive increase in staffing before he left, was ignored and marginalized in the end.

    With an elected CoP, that person could tell things like it is.  They could educate the public on the real ramifications of their ballot decisions, support for Reed and Figone, and the price they would pay for castrating a once proud PD.  Not so now where Figone makes the PD and FD command staff suffer in silence.  I’m liking the idea a lot of electing these positions.  Make them directly answerable to the populace.

  9. “…but he[Reed] is the most hated mayor that has EVER been elected in the history of San Jose City..”

    How could the most hated mayor not be Ron Gonzales?  Oh, I forgot, Gonzo and his minions on the council, controlled like the puppets they are by the South Bay Labor Council, gave away the store 10 years ago to the unionistas who bought and paid for them; so he is the most loved mayor ever in S-Jay.

    And that’s why we are where we are today.

    • You must have forgotten that Reed was on the city council under Gonzales’ leadership and approved every single thing that was in support of unions. Did Reed ever speak out against unions and their benefit increases while on the council? No, he did not. He voted with everyone else and came across as a union supporter. The unions supported his run for mayor and then his true character came out. Mayor Reed is now fighting to take away everything the unions have worked for before Gonzales time as the mayor. Mayor Reed’s ballot proposal has started to receive national attention. If the measure passes a court battle will ensue between the city and the unions that will have far reaching effects to other cities.

      The current political climate is to strike down unions and their benefits. None union employees look at union employees and are disgusted by their benefits. However, everyone seems to forget that unions have paved the way for many labor laws that benefit none union employees.

    • I think the district thing helped a little and hurt a lot in terms of creating fiefdoms and mini-mayors who call the shots in their district.

      With all the talk of elected Police Chief, it reminds me that the only person elected by the entire city is the Mayor.

      My suggestion is to go to 5 council districts, N,S,E,W and Downtown, then add 5 at-large members elected by the entire city.  Also relax term limits to 12-16 years in various slots (2-3 terms in district seat plus 1-2 in city wide at-large council seat or mayor slot.

      You might even add an executive committee with the mayor and four council members on it that has delegated authority for stuff like hiring and firing department heads (all) as well as actually approving emergency ordninances, etc.  I’d take two of the at-large and two of the district council members for the Executive committee, with peer elections annually to this.  I’d have the executive committee meet weekly, but the full council only once or twice a month.

  10. “I would propose an incremental step where the city manager form of government stays intact but allows the mayor to be granted new authority. The new authority should be to hire and fire the director of the planning department.”

    Why would you blow something like this out in a public forum”? A person in your position is suppose to have more scruples…a little more finess. I don’t know why I am so shocked. You have put your foot in it more than once and have truly shown yourself to be less than worthy of your position. It really shows the true side of YOU. What is opposite of high class?

  11. I like this idea Pierluigi.
    The way things stand now there is no accountability anywhere along the decision making chain.
    But I also believe that even under our current system the mayor could do a lot more to exert authority and influence even though it is mostly symbolic. But to do so he’d actually have to emerge from the cold edifice at 4th and Santa Clara every once in awhile and pay visits to the people and neighborhoods out here in Undowntownland and demonstrate that he’s actually the people’s mayor.
    Has Chuck Reed ever even been in District 9? Not as far as I can tell.

    • And what happens when a mayor is elected who is so rabidly pro-union that you are ready to throw yourself from a bridge in disgust?  Will you support an authoritarian mayor then?  Absolute power is great when you are a golden child.  When you are on the opposite side of the fence, it isn’t so pleasant.

      • Personally I would hope that the people wouldn’t be silly enough to elect such a candidate. 
        It’s ultimately up to the people to hold our elected representatives accountable but as long as we San Joseans continue to fail that responsibility we can expect more abuses of power whether it be from undue influence handed to labor unions as in past administrations, or as we now see, Mayor Reed who seems to be only accountable to developers, corporations, and billionaire ballclub owners. In either case the general public interest has been given short shrift.

        Pierluigi’s proposal would make it more difficult for a mayor to ‘pass the buck’ and might just encourage the people to become a little more involved. Ultimately though, if the people don’t uphold our side of the bargain, it probably wouldn’t be any more effective than the current system.

        • “Personally I would hope that the people wouldn’t be silly enough to elect such a candidate.”

          Change your name to Pollyanna.

          The people elected Gonzales, twice, C. Chavez, twice; Forrest Williams for chrissake, and the list goes on.  Then there’s Obama, also elected by the people.  Cheees!

        • For chrissake yourself. You really need to develop a better ear for nuance and irony Johnmichael. I didn’t say I would EXPECT the idiots of San Jose to vote wisely- only that I would HOPE that they would vote wisely. And that’s really my point. As long as the people here continue to hold such misguided ideas about the correct role of the government then it doesn’t really matter what system we have—The people will get the government they deserve.

          And apropos of the topic of this thread, explain to me how the current weak mayor system has protected us against the shenanigans of the Gonzalezes, Chavezes, and Williamses of the world. Or the Reeds, Hammers, or McEnerys for that matter?

  12. We have all seen this movie before….Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader run the Republic into the ground and blame the Jedi for all of the Republics problems. May the Force be with you……..

    • If you push the button hard enough, one of the greasy councilwhores will wake up and tell you that the law requires that all but the general fund be spent on capital and special projects.  Whadda’ joke, not one of them will suggest that the city charter or municipal laws be changed to permit spending those funds elsewhere.

  13. How about a council system where council members serve their constituents instead of writing stupid blogs that no one reads.  Pier, you have too much time on your hands.

    Why is that?

    Tapered sweatpants?

  14. I have an idea every time your post is censored make a phone call to the sponsors.  Let them know you will not support them if they support this one way media with a pro reed bias.
      PO … Your the worst you have time to write on here but if your emailed or called all do do is play games and dodge questions. Call him ask him a serious question see what you get.

  15. Old Man Reed has has plenty of opportunities to “get stronger.”

    Don’t City Exec’s still have a taxpayer funded open membership to the San Jose Athletic Club? 

    We know all about the Gym the council funded inside City Hall…

    If Old Man Reed doesn’t take advantage of his access to the fitness/wellness benefits he essentially grants himself then shame on him. 

    Is the mayor (reed or any other) willing to provide wellness benefits equal to his own for public safety workers so that they MIGHT be physically functional in their jobs at his proposed 60yr retirement age?  I mean if we are going to play “have vs have nots” with the private sector
    then lets start with city /taxpayer funded gyms and work out time.

  16. Look, just what the hell is wrong with you people, I signed up with the city 16.5 years ago, we had an agreement, 2.5% acrual for retirement, up to 30 years or age 55, it was a contract, a legal contract….San Jose does not participate in social security, so even though I earned my required 40 quarters for social security before I worked for San Jose, I will not recieve 85% of it because of my fabulous city pension of about $27K per year for 20 years of service, cuz’ the law voids my SS benifits, with the pension being only slighty better than the SS I would have gotten had I the forsight to not dedicate 20 years of my life for a city that couldnt give a flyin’ F***k about its employees after all is said and done.
      On another note, God bless Jethro Pedigrew, San Jose Hells angels president, he was 3-4 years away from being abel to retire as a heavy equipment operator for the city of san jose, he was a well respected charismatic leader that puts the mayor and his administration to shame. people claim that there’s supposed to be an apostrophy in “hells”, but as the 81 says, in reality there is isn’t just one hell, there are many, the city of san jose is one of them.
        They say theres a silver lining in every cloud, at least he doesnt have to put up with this bull crap anymore….R.I.P Jethro.

    • If you are trying to get the public behind your point of view, the worst thing you could have done was to sing the praises of a local leader of a criminal organization like the hells angels. Seriously…..they have killed more people than the mafia.

    • The local leader of a notorious violent drug dealing recognized criminal organization dies in a shoot out with another criminal gang and you hold him up as a shining example of a city employee?  I’m sure most City of San Jose employees are thinking “with friends like you, who needs enemies”.  Reed and Figone must be chuckling with glee that a city worker has characterized themselves as belonging to a group that would praise a Hells Angels president. 

      Talk about a vote against city workers and free advertising for city leaders.  You can’t even spell his name right, let alone make the case for him being some kind of saint.  My only solace is thinking that perhaps you are a Reed mole who posted content so ignorant and poorly written that it was intentionally designed to smear city workers.

  17. In my opinion, the city manager form of government is working fine for San Jose.  I certainly wouldn’t hold up the historically corrupt city government of Chicago as a sterling example of the merits of changing to a strong-mayor form of government.  Sounds like a better proposal would be instead to make some members of the city council “at-large” representatives, as opposed to ward based.  That way, you would have better city-wide representation and accountability.

  18. first of all, the post regarding pot clubs….STFU, YOU IGNORANT DWEEB.

    second of all, my buddy that also works for CSJ just got in a bad motorcycle accident last night, said he had blood around his heart, and his legs hurt like smackin’ em into a trailor hitch x10, and he sez’ to me “well, the good part is I don’t have to go back to work for a while”……Sigh, that’s how bad working for CSJ is right now.

  19. lets have more pot clubs so they can harbor more parolee murderers. At least we can get more tax dollars.  Our council an PO are out of control.

  20. I guess I am not clear as to what problem would be solved by this recommendation?  Mayor Bloomberg of New York gets things done because he a good leader above all else. The form of government we have is just fine. In a best case scenario we’d have a highly competent mayor plus 10 highly competent councilmembers and a highly competent city manager to whom everyone else reports to. The appointees (city manager and others) are tasked to do their jobs, left to do their jobs while being held accountable vis-a-vis objective, transparent metrics. 

    In sum the City of San Jose will be better, perform at higher degrees of effectiveness when the people choose (elect) highly competent representatives.  Yes, elections have consequences as well as all hiring decisions from the highest ranking appointee (City Manager) to the janitor.

  21. Hey Craig are you high?? there is nothing about this city that is better because of this Mayor, City Manager, or City Council.  the ratio of homes to jobs is completely one sided.(and more Affordable housing being built,but NO JOBS BEING ADDED)our public safety has become a shell of its former self. the national average for firefighters is 1 f.f. per 1000 residents , even before the layoffs the san jose firefighters HAVE NEVER MET that standard. I believe at best they were at 3/4 of a F.F. per 1000 residents.I read somewhere that right now the average is 1/2 F.F. per 1000 residents……its an even worse ratio for P.D……….how safe do you feel now? this Mayor has brought up this pension reform tsunami, but he never tells you about his pension , I believe its a full pension with lifetime medical, he will get a sickleave payout , as will The City Manager( who will more than likely get the biggest payout of them all). bigger and more than employees who actually worked 25-30 years for this city. you are kidding yourself if you think that this Mayor,City Manager,or Council will ever be held accountable…………….if they were , they would all be in jail

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