Kevin Johnson proposes 2012 Sacramento ballot measure including 'strong mayor' plan

Published: Friday, Dec. 16, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 2B

After weeks of debate among his top aides, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has proposed a June 2012 ballot measure to overhaul the city constitution – a plan that will include his twice-failed "strong-mayor" plan.

Johnson will ask the City Council at its Jan. 17 meeting to place the measure on the ballot.

In doing so, the mayor could avoid a signature drive to place the proposal before the voters. His advisers had also considered waiting for the November ballot.

"I think there are a lot of people who have been talking about this topic," the mayor said at the end of Tuesday night's council meeting, when he asked for the January discussion. That request was made just before 11 p.m., in front of a nearly empty City Council chambers.

Details of the plan are still being finalized, but it is expected to include both the strong-mayor plan to increase the mayor's authority, as well as a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission.

The mayor said his supporters have drafted the language for the plan and will ask City Attorney Eileen Teichert to analyze the proposal.

The actual language of the measure is expected to be released next week, during a public event that Johnson's aides said will include a broad coalition of supporters, including business and public safety groups.

The strong-mayor portion of the new plan will resemble a proposal made last year by Johnson. The mayor would propose the city budget, appoint and fire the city manager and department heads, and have some veto authority over City Council actions. Budget and appointment powers now mostly reside with an unelected city manager.

In return, the council would approve the budget, confirm mayoral appointments and have authority to hire and fire the city treasurer, attorney, clerk and auditor. A ninth council seat and a council president would also be created.

The plan also includes a sunset period, meaning voters would have a chance to repeal – or confirm – the measure at a later date.

"We hear about this topic all the time from people ready to see Sacramento truly take off as a city," Kunal Merchant, the mayor's chief of staff, said in an email. "We've collected that feedback, and worked hard to resolve past concerns and incorporate additional ideas into a newer, broader and more balanced reform package."

A previous strong-mayor initiative was placed on the June 2010 ballot by the City Council following a signature drive led by Johnson. But a judge tossed the measure off the ballot, ruling it was a full-scale revision of the city charter – and that such revisions could be proposed only by an elected body such as a City Council or charter review commission.

The plan being considered now is a watered-down version of the original measure. Yet even in a diluted form, it's unclear that Johnson will get the four votes from his colleagues that he needs to put the measure on the ballot.

Councilman Steve Cohn, who supported placing the original strong-mayor initiative on the ballot more than two years ago, said he was skeptical Johnson will be successful this time.

"I'll look at it and consider it, but frankly, we have a lot on our plate right now and that's not really at the top of my agenda in terms of priorities," Cohn said.

Among the mayor's biggest supporters in this push is the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Chamber vice chair Stan Van Vleck said the changes proposed by Johnson would make city government more efficient and accountable.

"When you have the executive of the city actually elected by the people, they know they're going to have to be very responsive to the community in the decisions that they make," he said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ryan Lillis

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