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U-T gets an F for Prop. D math

May 17, 2010 - 10:39 am

The Union-Tribune appears a tad math-challenged when it comes to analyzing the pros and cons of Proposition D, the June 8 ballot measure that would lock in San Diego’s experimental strong-mayor form of government while boosting the number of City Council offices from eight to nine.

In the wrap-up of a two-part series on the ballot measure that appeared in today’s U-T, a front-page summary of the cost breakdowns of an average council office suggests that the average number of employees per council office is 10. Strange, considering the only office with 10 employees — including the councilmember — belongs to Council President Ben Hueso.

A simple review of each councilmember’s website staff listings indicate that the employee counts — including each councilmember — range from a high of Hueso’s 10 to a low of seven each for councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Tony Young. Averaging all eight council offices, the number is actually 8.25 employees per council office.

Contacted this morning, DeMaio — a vocal proponent of Prop. D — said he had yet to read the U-T story but acknowledged that the average number cited by the conservative daily “seems a little high.”

Councilmember Donna Frye, an equally vocal opponent of Prop. D, told CityBeat that she didn’t know how the newspaper arrived at that number although she thought the two-part series was “fairly balanced” otherwise.

“But I think what people are not understanding is what’s going to happen to a simple majority vote,” she said, referring to the ballot measure’s six-vote requirement to overturn a mayoral veto. “I don’t think they understand that the process would allow a minority to essentially block the majority.”

Perhaps, Frye added amusingly, the U-T was including the mayor’s staff in its calculations, since if Prop. D goes down to defeat, the mayor, as the U-T correctly noted, “would once again … become the ninth council member.”

Although noting that “it is much more difficult now, than in the past, to determine the number of mayoral staff simply by looking at the budget — it’s much more opaque,” her analysis indicates that for fiscal year 2011, the mayor is proposing a staff of approximately 27 at a cost of $4.5 million (more than four times the cost of a council office, which the U-T estimated to be a shade less than $959,000.)

With the mayor’s staff lumped into the mix, that would bring the average office staff to 10.3.

Either way, the U-T — a big Prop. D supporter — would be well-served to explain its math.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2010 - 10:50 am 10:50 am

    John, I was not involved in that story, but I Googled and found this: … Did you contact anyone here?

  2. John R. Lamb permalink
    May 17, 2010 - 11:20 am 11:20 am

    Hi Ricky,

    Might have been helpful to include the paper’s sourcing for that information. Budgeting for 10 employees is one thing, but the reality — even as DeMaio pointed out — is another. The numbers speak for themselves, but appreciate your input.

  3. May 17, 2010 - 11:27 am 11:27 am

    The header on the breakout list was: “Cost breakdown for average council office” so it was pretty obvious to me that the budget was the source.

    I think just calling Craig and asking would have been preferable to posting speculation that maybe we included the mayor’s office.

  4. May 17, 2010 - 11:46 am 11:46 am

    Here’s the 2011 budget

    So even on a going-forward basis, they’ve still got budget for 10 positions each… Three offices increased their staffing.

  5. John R. Lamb permalink
    May 17, 2010 - 12:21 pm 12:21 pm

    I guess “pretty obvious” is in the eye of the beholder. But Craig — who’s neglected to credit CityBeat for stories past (does Lorie Zapf ring a bell?) — is certainly welcome to respond. To me, what’s obvious here is Craig, whose beat is City Hall and who presumably knows actual staff numbers, reached for a number that clearly isn’t true today. Why? Oh gosh, I’d hate to speculate….

    Perhaps all the info you’re now presenting should have appeared somewhere in today’s story, which makes no reference to staffing numbers, save for the front-page summary. Frankly, it seems less and less “obvious” to me as you try to explain it — after all, the header you reference didn’t say “Cost breakdown for an average council office IN THE FUTURE.” Far be it from me to speculate that numbers-boosting was the U-T’s intent, given your paper’s gushing, council-bashing endorsement of Prop. D.

  6. May 17, 2010 - 12:25 pm 12:25 pm

    The 10 positions is a cost breakdown now (2010 budget) and in the future (2011 budget). I’m sure Craig could have explained this had you extended him the courtesy of contacting him before posting this.

  7. John R. Lamb permalink
    May 17, 2010 - 1:30 pm 1:30 pm

    I’m getting dizzy now with this circular discussion. My advice: Do an actual head count, divide by eight, then tell me if you get to 10. You won’t. Craig has no obligation to explain anything to me, but to his readers. Do you not see a difference between “budgeted” and “actual”? I do, DeMaio did, but apparently you don’t.

    As for courtesy to a guy who’s shown little to this publication in the past, I’ll simply leave you with a proverb: “Courtesy on one side can never last long.”

    Again, appreciate your input. It’s been fun!

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