Bonnie Pannell deserves credit for recognizing that her health prevents her from being an effective member of the Sacramento City Council. Too many politicians hang on too long.
She was elected in 1998 to replace her late husband, Sam, who served six years before her. She stood up for her working-class constituents. She championed a long list of projects that boosted her south Sacramento district, including the Valley Hi-North Laguna Library and the transformation of the notorious Franklin Villa public housing complex into Phoenix Park. She is humble, a rare and welcome trait among politicians.
Still, her resignation does put the council in a pickle.
When Pannell steps down June 23, her district will be without official representation for nearly six months. The council will call a special election to fill the seat, but that won’t happen until the November general election, and whoever is elected to serve until 2016 won’t take office until December.
That’s unfortunate. It will put more responsibility on Mayor Kevin Johnson and the other council members to make sure District 8 residents are heard and their concerns and priorities addressed.
The vacant seat will also complicate the mechanics of how the council works. With eight potential votes, it will still take five to approve any ordinance or resolution. At some meetings, there will be only seven council members present once Johnson becomes president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors this month.
While the shrunken council won’t make a difference on non-controversial matters, it could on more contentious issues. Before leaving, Pannell plans to be part of major upcoming votes on the proposed downtown arena and the 2014-15 city budget.
It’s somewhat ironic that while Pannell opposed Johnson’s “strong mayor” measure, her decision will give Sacramentans a preview of how the council would operate if voters approve it in November. Under the proposed city charter changes, the mayor would be the city’s chief executive but would not have a vote on the council, which would have eight members. It would still require five votes to pass anything and six to overturn vetoes by the mayor.
Another point that should not go unnoticed is that Pannell’s departure continues the remarkable turnover on the council. Traditionally, incumbents stayed for multiple terms, often going unopposed. Starting in 2010, however, council members have retired, been ousted by challengers or sought another office. If Councilman Kevin McCarty wins his state Assembly race this year, the new council would not have a single member elected before 2010, other than Johnson.
There will be time to sort out the politics and logistics. For now, the focus should be on recognizing Pannell’s contributions to her city and her district. When she ran for re-election in 2012, Pannell, 65, made clear that this would be her last term and that she wanted to see the launch of Delta Shores, a massive mixed-use development stalled by the recession. It’s a deep disappointment for her – and a loss for the city – that she won’t be able to go out the way she wanted.