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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Auditor Gary Blackmer Pulls Charter Amendment Proposal

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Tue, Aug 19, 2008 at 2:51 PM

I was fully prepared this morning to write what was clearly going to be the most boring Hall Monitor column EVER. (More boring, even, than anything that Scott Moore ever wrote. Kidding! Miss ya, Scott.)

I mean, check this out: I was going to write about Auditor Gary Blackmer's move to enshrine the city ombudsman's office into the city charter. YAWN.

But it's August. City hall is slow. Charter amendments are kinda sexy, right?

Well, this one sure got sexy. Or depressing. I'm not sure.

I spoke with Ombudsman Michael Mills this morning, and got quite an education on his role at the city. It's obvious he cares a great deal about what he does, and fully believes that the job is "an important service in accountable governance," as Blackmer wrote in a resolution supporting the charter amendment. Mills told me about the time his office discovered an issue with the Bureau of Development Services, "where people were being fined thousands of dollars for minor infractions," apparently to generate revenue for the bureau. The Commissioner in charge of the bureau at the time--Charlie Hales--didn't find out about the issue until it hit the media, after the bureau director essentially ignored Mills' recommendations to fix things.

Of course, Mills was excited about a public vote to put the ombudsman role into the charter, which "provides some permanence and stature" to the job he and deputy ombudsman Kristen Erbes do. "This is sort of the final chapter in the way that best practices dictate that an ombudsman should be set up." Man, this guy bleeds good government.

As our conversation wrapped up, I asked Mills if there was council support for putting the charter amendment on the ballot. Who could possibly object to something so innocuous?

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, that's who. Mills told me Saltzman had his concerns, and Blackmer was going to try and meet with him this afternoon to talk about it.

Mills called me back an hour later. Blackmer and Saltzman had met. And Saltzman "didn't see the need to amend the charter," says Mills.

"It wasn't supposed to be controversial," Mills added. "This is a surprise and a disappointment."

"If we're asking voters to change our what's essentially our constitution, he'd like to have a little more discussion about it," says Saltzman's policy advisor Matt Grumm. The charter amendment "kind of came out of nowhere. We just saw it Monday."

From what I learned in speaking with Mills, however, this isn't a new idea. It was originally on a list for the Charter Review Commission to consider in 2006. Since the commission was dealing with much bigger issues--like changing the city's form of government--"they never got to it," Mills explains.

Now, it might not come back up until May 2010, leaving Mills and Erbes as just another city code. (But hey! The council has a history of totally respecting the city code.) I told you this story was depressing.

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