Soapbox

Why ‘strong mayor’ is a bad idea, no matter who’s the mayor

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson leaves with his wife, Michelle Rhee, after speaking to supporters of the “strong mayor” measure that failed in November 2014.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson leaves with his wife, Michelle Rhee, after speaking to supporters of the “strong mayor” measure that failed in November 2014. Sacramento Bee file

Marcos Breton says the strong-mayor proposal failed because people didn’t like Kevin Johnson, and now is the time to bring it back (“Until Steinberg has the one key perk denied Johnson, city loses,” Dec. 14).

The League of Women Voters disagrees.

No doubt, there were those who voted against the strong-mayor measure because they opposed the taxpayer subsidy for the new arena or the mayor personally. But the league’s opposition had absolutely nothing to do with Johnson or the arena. Our position is not based on personalities, as mayors come and go.

Our opposition was based solely on our 2009 study of different forms of governance and our conclusion that “Sacramento, as a city of neighborhoods, is better suited for a collaborative council-manager form of government, where the mayor participates with the council as a citywide representative.”

Many successful council-manager cities larger than Sacramento, including San Jose and Phoenix, thrive with a unified system like ours. They have effective mayors who provide policy direction and vision; dedicated City Council members who work with the mayor to establish public policy; and competent, professional managers to carry out those decisions. The city manager may not be elected, but the elected council and mayor can fire him or her.

The League of Women Voters spent a year working to defeat the strong-mayor proposal, backed by $1.2 million from special interest donors. We were strongly opposed to this city charter change for many good-governance reasons. However, the key reason we support the current council-manager system is because it keeps the council accountable to voters. If Sacramento is a city of neighborhoods, the council is how neighborhoods have a voice at City Hall.

New Mayor Darrell Steinberg can be a great leader and accomplish great things for Sacramento as a “strong mayor” without changing our form of government.

Paula Lee is co-president of the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County. She can be contacted at paula.lee@comcast.net.

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