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Attorney defends strong mayor initiative before judge

A lawyer defending the “strong mayor” initiative made arguments Friday in an effort to convince a judge to throw out a draft ruling against the initiative. Judge Loren McMaster heard arguments from lawyers representing the plaintiff and defendants at Sacramento County Superior Court but did not issue a final ruling Friday.

McMaster did not announce when he would release his final decision. He issued a tentative ruling Thursday that said the initiative should not be placed on the June ballot.

Bill Camp is the plaintiff who is challenging the initiative through a lawsuit. Camp, the executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, filed the lawsuit as an individual. 

The defendants in the case are the city of Sacramento, the Sacramento City Council and Thomas Hiltachk, the attorney who wrote the strong mayor initiative.

In the strong mayor government defined in the initiative, Mayor Kevin Johnson would gain the city manager’s powers and create the city’s budget.

Hiltachk did not attend Friday’s hearing. He was represented by attorney James Harrison of San Leandro law firm Remcho, Johansen and Purcell LLP.

Camp argues in the lawsuit that the initiative bypasses state law because it would create changes to the city’s charter. While an initiative can be used to amend a city charter, it can’t be used to make sweeping changes, Camp argues.

That point was debated at Friday’s hearing. “If the voters have particular changes in mind, amendment is the way by which they make them,” Harrison said. “And that’s precisely what they’re trying to accomplish here.”

But McMaster responded that voters also have the ability to vote on changes to a government structure if a charter commission, made up of local citizens, is used in the process. “So this argument that I’m somehow depriving people of a vote is hogwash,” he said.

Harrison said that the initiative “does not amount to a revision.” 

Addressing McMaster, Lance Olson, Camp’s attorney, said: “We obviously agree with the court’s conclusions and its reasoning.”

Harrison said after the hearing that the case involves voters’ rights. “We’re pleased that (McMaster) took the matter under submission and that he’s going to give serious consideration to the right of the voters to propose amendments to their own charter and to provide for how they want their government to run,” Harrison said.

Olson had an opposing view. “(McMaster) understands very clearly that this has nothing to do with taking rights away from the voters,” Olson said.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.


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