City Beat

Sacramento council members line up behind strong-mayor measure

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s push for Measure L, which would put significantly more power in the mayor’s office, received support today from several key leaders.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s push for Measure L, which would put significantly more power in the mayor’s office, received support today from several key leaders. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The campaign to strengthen the authority of the Sacramento mayor’s office picked up key political support Tuesday with the announcement that four current members of the Sacramento City Council and a council member set to take office later this year are supporting Measure L.

Council members Jay Schenirer, Angelique Ashby and Steve Cohn all attended a morning press conference outside City Hall to announce their endorsement of the November ballot measure that is proposing a strong-mayor form of government for the city. Councilman Allen Warren was out of town but was represented by a staff aide at the event and is supporting the measure.

Mayor Kevin Johnson is the lead proponent of the measure, meaning a majority of the sitting City Council supports the change.

Rick Jennings, who won a seat in the June primary to represent the Pocket, Greenhaven and Valley Hi neighborhoods and had previously announced his support for the measure, also attended the press conference. Former Mayors Phil Isenberg and Jimmie Yee also endorsed the measure, as did former council member Josh Pane.

Ashby and Schenirer criticized the campaign trying to defeat the measure for what they described as “scare tactics.” Stop the Power Grab, led by Councilman Steve Hansen, charges that the measure would place too much power in the hands of the mayor and would take influence away from neighborhoods that rely upon council members to get things done. Opponents also argue that the current form of government is functioning well.

“While there is one very vocal member of the council (Hansen) who’s opposing this, we are all in favor,” Ashby said. “An empowered mayor does not mean a weak council. This isn’t a zero sum game.”

The key change proposed by Measure L would allow the mayor to appoint and fire the city manager. A city manager appointed by the City Council – but not chosen directly by voters – currently makes most of the day-to-day decisions at City Hall. The change would transfer those powers to the mayor.

Hansen stood behind a line of television cameras watching as his colleagues addressed the media. He later said his group is “working as hard as we can to run a campaign that is honest and direct; Measure L is a broken policy.” He noted that four members of the City Council, including himself, voted against placing Measure L on the ballot last year.

Current Council members Kevin McCarty and Darrell Fong oppose the measure, as do former Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell and former Mayors Heather Fargo and Anne Rudin.

“Their campaign is getting so desperate that they’re using their own scare tactics to convince people to go along,” Hansen said. “That’s just not right.”

Hansen again knocked the Measure L campaign for amassing a large bank account.

In addition to Sacramento Tomorrow, the lead campaign committee behind Measure L, the city firefighters union recently opened a second campaign account to promote the measure. Johnson donated $49,000 to the firefighters committee, and the most recent filings with the City Clerk’s Office show the Measure L campaign has raised nearly $750,000 combined between the two committees. Stop the Power Grab has raised $172,475, records show.

“This is a big money sport,” Hansen said.

Schenirer said, “(The opposition campaign is not having) a conversation about governance in Sacramento, it’s not a conversation about what the authority of the mayor should be to move the city forward. It’s more a conversation about how can we scare you to vote against this.”

Ashby and Schenirer said the measure would empower the City Council, led by a council president, to act as counterbalance to the mayor. They drew comparisons to the legislative branches at the state and federal levels.

“I think a council working together with a president of the council negotiating with the mayor about what’s best for Sacramento is the right way to go,” Schenirer said.

The measure would allow the council to pass ordinances, have final say over the mayor’s appointment for city manager and approve the budget. The mayor would be able to veto ordinance votes and budget line items approved by the council, but the council could override those vetoes.

However, critics have noted that the council would need a supermajority vote of six of eight members to override a mayoral veto. That is a higher threshold than other cities with strong-mayor systems, and also higher than the required veto override votes in the legislative bodies of the state and federal governments.

Larry Reid, a longtime council member in Oakland, also attended today’s event to voice his support of the measure. He was in office when Oakland switched to a strong-mayor system in 1998. That measure was championed by Gov. Jerry Brown when he was Oakland mayor and was approved by the voters by a 3-to-1 margin.

“No one has said it takes away power of the council members as it relates to the neighborhoods,” Reid said. “As president of the City Council, I had an enormous amount of authority while we held the mayor accountable and while the voters of my district held me accountable.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

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