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Town hall suspicious of strong mayor proposal

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Participants in a town hall meeting on Thursday held at Caleb Greenwood Elementary School expressed skepticism and suspicion about the "strong mayor" proposal endorsed by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

"I suspect that it [the strong mayor initiative] is a power grab, but I suspect that something will come out of [the town hall meeting] and I’ll be able to make a rational decision," said resident Mike Montgomery.

The town hall meeting, which attracted about 50 people, included a thorough presentation of the strong mayor proposal that has been placed on the June 2010 ballot.  The presentation was by members of the Charter Review Committee, a group created by the City Council to research and draft an alternative to the strong mayor proposal.

Chester Newland, professor of public policy at the Sacramento branch of the University of Southern California, is a member of the committee who is opposed to the strong mayor proposal.

"A mayor with talent and community organization has the ability to inspire cooperation and communitywide participation," Newland said.  "The [strong mayor] initiative will reduce the council members to cyphers … the mayor will divide them into factions."

Newland is a dissenting voice on the committee, which has recommended that the role of the mayor be strengthened.  A majority of the committee members suggested that the mayor be given the power to appoint the city manager, with the concurrence of the council.  The city manager, however, would remain the city’s chief executive officer.

The strong mayor initiative would make the mayor the city’s chief executive officer.  About 800 non-union city officials, such as the city manager, would serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

"The criticism [of the strong mayor proposal] is that is politicizes the staff," said committee member Alan G. LoFaso.

"A mayor needs a manager [who can] speak truth to power when the mayor makes a mistake," Newland said.

If the strong mayor proposal becomes law, the mayor would no longer sit on the City Council.  To fill this vacancy, the proposal calls for the creation of a ninth City Council district.  The proposal, however, does not specify how the district will be created.  The strong mayor initiative specifies that the mayor is to sit on the City Council as its ninth member and serve as mayor until the ninth district is created.

When asked when the ninth council member would be seated, LoFaso replied, "It is unclear."

The strong mayor initiative also requires that the mayor submit an annual budget to the City Council.  "If the council cannot agree to a budget, the mayor’s original proposed budget becomes law," said LaFaso.

Other U.S. cities have enacted elements of Sacramento’s proposed strong mayor initiative, but with a difference. "Most cities, when they went to strong mayor systems, created term limits," said committee member Cecily Hastings.  The proposed initiative does not contain such a provision.

Asked if the strong mayor initiative can be altered before the June 2010 election, Hastings replied, "The [strong mayor] proposal is set in stone. No one can change it."

The City Council has until March to place the Charter Review Committee’s proposal on the June ballot.  If it is placed on the ballot, it will be listed alongside the strong mayor proposal.  

The proposals would not directly compete on the ballot.  Instead, each initiative would be voted on separately.  If a majority of voters approve both proposals, the one with the most votes becomes law, said LaFaso.

The Charter Review Committee’s documents and communications are available at: cityofsacramento.org/charter.



To see an outline of the different proposals, click here.

To learn more about the strong mayor proposal, visit the Sacrament Press ‘strong mayor’ tag.

Photo credit: Anthony Bento

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