A recent San Jose Inside story uncovered the hubris exhibited at the top levels of our city’s government. The piece shatters the mythology that “professional” governance is somehow better than elected leadership. But salacious details aside, the fact remains that San Jose will remain a second-class city until we adopt a strong-mayor form of government.
The major reason we do not already have a big city government is that the body politic is united in its mistrust of the process. Progressives don't want to grant this mayor more power, and voters who backed Mayor Sam Liccardo would likely oppose such a move had Dave Cortese won the election. The theory is that a strong-mayor system is somehow more dangerous than a city manager run amok. Ed Shikada demonstrated the absurdity of that argument, much to the chagrin of our elected leaders.
The simple fact is we’ve lived with a quasi-mayor form of government for years. Each mayor brings in their own brand of “yes-person” to do their bidding. Not since Dutch Hamann have we had a city manager who ruled with certainty. And his form of growth caused the sprawl that clogs our freeways and divides our neighborhoods.
Our current mayor should put a charter amendment on the 2018 ballot to change the way San Jose operates. The number of council members should be reduced from 10 to seven and the mayor would become the chief administrator of the city. In this structure, the council would remain a policy making body and the mayor would get veto power.
Each of the seven members would still represent a different region within the city, thus preserving the idea of district elections. They would elect a council president to lead the meetings. The number of committees would be reduced and three members would serve on each, thus streamlining the process.
Putting this idea to voters would help avoid the appearance of a power grab. He would have to be re-elected in order to serve in this new, stronger administrative role. The current position of city manager would become the chief operating officer, leading to a reduced salary and smaller staff. The city would also be wise to reduce the amount of department heads and increase the number of line-service providers.
There is no question that San Jose is in transition. Reordering chairs on the Titanic is not a prescription for success. We should build a new, bigger and better ship for the future, and finally act like a big city rather than the butt of a joke.