Sacramento should push ahead good government changes

Oak Park residents protest a plan moving UC Davis Medical Center out of their City Council district in 2011.
Oak Park residents protest a plan moving UC Davis Medical Center out of their City Council district in 2011. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento’s leaders need to work on their sense of irony.

The City Council is rightly considering an important set of good government reforms. Yet, just before hearing an update on those changes Tuesday night, council members proved how badly we need one of them – an independent commission to take drawing election districts out of their hands.

Mayor Kevin Johnson led the charge to move UC Davis Medical Center from District 6 back to District 5 – but also said right before the vote to do so that an independent redistricting panel is the “right thing” to do in the future.

So why wasn’t it the right thing to let that commission decide whether the fix was wise before the next redistricting after the 2020 census?

While the 2011 Med Center vote was wrong, correcting it now has its own problems. It set a bad precedent of the council messing around with district lines whenever there’s a majority in favor. Councilman Steve Hansen said it felt like political revenge.

Even worse, the council acted even though District 6 residents weren’t represented Tuesday night. That seat, vacated by Kevin McCarty who was elected to the Assembly, won’t be filled until an April special election.

There was no urgency since the shift is entirely symbolic. Only six voters will be moved, and Johnson said that the Med Center has committed to being a good neighbor to both districts.

An independent redistricting commission was one of the reforms included in the “strong mayor” measure that Sacramento voters overwhelmingly rejected in November. Whatever the merits of giving more power to the mayor, these provisions deserve to go forward on their own.

An ad hoc council committee appointed by the mayor is also looking at funding an independent budget analyst, establishing an ethics code and commission, passing a “sunshine” ordinance and creating a neighborhood advisory committee. A report on its work so far is to be available on the city’s website by Friday, and the council is scheduled to discuss it Jan. 6.

It won’t be easy for the council to punt. The League of Women Voters and Eye on Sacramento, a watchdog group, announced this week that they’re launching a joint effort to push these changes. They plan to issue a report in February on similar reforms in other cities, hold a series of public forums, draft proposals and hold more public meetings before submitting them to the council.

How about that – an open and inclusive process that leads to more transparent and responsive city government?

Now that’s something all Sacramentans can get behind – without a hint of irony.