City Beat

A helping hand departs City Hall

Steve Cohn
Steve Cohn

A remarkable streak comes to an end at City Hall this week. After 20 years, Steve Cohn’s run as a member of the City Council is over.

It’s probably the longest term for a council member in city history. Cohn has served with four mayors and 21 council members. The city’s population has grown by nearly 100,000 since his first day on the job. Despite periods of political upheaval, no one really came close to knocking Cohn out of office.

And none of it would have been possible without the help of Sue Brown.

Chances are you have probably never heard of Sue Brown. That is, unless you happened to live in East Sacramento or midtown or South Natomas over the past two decades and really needed something from City Hall. In that case, Brown likely had a hand in helping you out.

Brown has worked for Cohn since he took office in 1994, mostly as his district director. Before that, she worked with Josh Pane, Cohn’s predecessor.

About two years ago, Brown decided that 2014 would be her last year on the job. Cohn joked he couldn’t make it without her, so he made a run for a seat in the state Assembly instead of seeking a sixth term on the council.

Brown is part of a group of people who make this city tick. Council members are technically part-time, although most work long hours. But much of their time is spent out of the office or sitting on boards and commissions.

That leaves staffers like Brown to make sure streetlights get fixed and parks are cleaned. They answer hundreds of phone calls and attend neighborhood meetings at night.

Brown has meant a little bit more to the neighborhoods. East Sac residents plan their summer vacations around the annual Pops in the Park concert schedule. Brown sacrificed her own summer plans for two decades to make sure the events went smoothly.

After the playground at McKinley Park was torched by an arsonist in 2012, the community rallied to rebuild. It wouldn’t have happened without Brown, who organized the volunteers and contractors. She was a polite public servant operating in a line of work that can easily become political.

“I think people were grateful that somebody listened to them and took the time to try to understand their problems and tried to help them,” Cohn said. “That’s something people often feel they don’t get out of government.”

Brown was sitting in Cohn’s empty office Wednesday, probably the last full day she’ll spend at City Hall. Outside, a city employee started carrying boxes filled with files and memories into the hall. The only art left on the walls was some old posters from Pops in the Park concerts.

“I guess I’ll be watching everything from afar,” Brown said. “I’m just happy to have been a small part of this.”

A bigger part than most people knew.

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