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That'll be all, thank you Carlos R. Davalos | Fri, Aug 06 2010 04:00 PM

Sometimes a man's got to be smacked upside the head if there's going to be any hope of his ever learning his lesson.

Call it tough love for the tonto, but after the Chula Vista City Council's performance Tuesday, I'm ready to take my lumps for thinking this city could change.

Before the council, neatly wrapped in an easy-to-carry action item, were four proposed charter-altering initiatives that would have gone before voters in November.

One measure would have stipulated that a council person or mayor could serve a total of only eight years.

As the law stands now, if, for example, termed-out councilman John McCann wants to serve on the council again he must sit out for a very brief time before he can come back for a third four-year stint and draw a taxpayer-funded paycheck.

A second measure would have placed term limits on the city attorney's office, which this year became an elected position.

Ballot proposal number three would have done away with primary elections in June, leaving voters to contend with an unlimited number of candidates to choose from in November.

And initiative number four would have divided the city into council districts, replacing the current citywide election process.

But Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan brought a smashing end to any sort of reform that might have actually had lasting impact on city government and the people that live in Chula Vista.

"I would like to move to table this item without further discussion," she said.

Not since God allegedly said "Let there be light" has such a simple sentence had such a dramatic affect on so many people.

I'm not disappointed because I wanted a particular measure to pass or fail at the hands of voters. I'm bummed because the whole conversation was brought to an abrupt, inexplicable end.

"Without further discussion," Bensoussan said.

Not since I was a kid at Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt and Shame, when Sister Eunice Rottebreath would bellow "Because I said so" have I heard such a curt dismissal of an idea.

For those who have been following the proposed charter ammendments ever since the ideas were floated in early summer, the absence of a discussion before they were scuttled was surprising, unsettling and offputting.

For weeks the council appeared to be genuinely interested in putting four important issues before the voters this fall.

The process started in earnest with accelerated meetings and directives to city staff to conduct thorough research in a small window of time.

There was an urgency to the process that made some people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that urgency wasn't widely regarded as an attempt to include voters in crafting and amending their city charter as soon as possible.

"What's the rush?" was an underlying attitude that was increasingly pervasive at City Hall.

Perhaps another way of framing the issue would have been asking "Why drag our feet on letting voters decide?"

Like everything else in life, the charter issues came down to a matter of perspective.

And dollars and cents.

But you wouldn't have known that in watching Tuesday's council meeting and listening to Bensoussan's motion to table the items and effectively kill any progress that was forthcoming.

"Without further discussion."

An explanation from the elceted representative, although obviously not required by law, would have been a courtesy that constituents and observers would have appreciated. But for whatever reason none was given.

It wasn't until later that the public was offered at least a hint of a reason why voters won't get a chance to change their charter later this year.

Chula Vista City Clerk Donna Norris on July 28 issued a memo that essentially told the council they don't have the money to put four initiatives on the ballot this fall.

It's hard to argue with that. Everyone knows if you don't have the money you can't buy a pony and ride it to the circus.

But to dismiss the whole notion of changing the face of politics in Chula Vista without further discussion is a reminder of an argument against district elections in this city of almost 250,000 people.

Opponents of that idea will often tell you Chula Vista is too small.

I'm starting to understand what they mean. More often than not, decisions are made without the public being offered a full explanation or chance to weigh in. You don't get much more small town than that.


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