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2011: The year at City Hall

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Sacramento City Council members had their hands full this year – from balancing the budget to redrawing district lines to a citizen uprising that found its way to the doors of City Hall.

Here’s the city government year in review.

The year started off with interim city manager Gus Vina not being promoted to the open city manager spot. Vina replaced previous city manager Ray Kerrige when Kerrige resigned in February 2010.

Vina resigned two months later – just a few weeks before the budget was due to the City Council. He later became the city manager of Encinitas.

The City Council was criticized for making decisions about the city manager position in closed sessions before voting not to promote Vina and instead open a national search.

City Council members stalled the search for City Manager saying they wanted to define the qualities they were looking for in the next person to fill the job. Two weeks later, they announced the qualities and the search continued.

The door was open for a new city manager, and while the nationwide search was ongoing, what Sacramento ended up with was not one but two interim city managers: Bill Edgar and Betty Masuoka.

Edgar and Masuoka followed through with the budget plan and presented it to the City Council on time.

As the city got closer to finding its next city manager, Mayor Kevin Johnson expressed disappointment about the search process, saying he felt “the pool of candidates wasn’t as deep” as he would have liked.

By August, Sacramento had a new city manager – John Shirey, former head of the California Redevelopment Association.

Shirey’s three-year contract included a $258,000 base salary – a 16 percent increase in salary over the previous city manager – making him the highest-paid in city history and the first to receive a labor contract.

The budget process was complete by the time Shirey took his seat at the dais alongside City Council members.

The 2011 budget brought more challenges to face, including a $39 million budget gap.

After months of discussions and negotiations with unions, advocacy groups, public comment and hours-long council meetings, a budget was finally passed.

The new budget included severe cuts to fire and police personnel and city employees – as well as the closure of community centers and public pools.

As if there wasn’t enough going on in City Hall with the annual budget process, 2011 brought redistricting – a redrawing of council districts that happens every 10 years.

This time, the mayor and City Council appointed a Citizens Advisory Redistricting Committee to do the heavy lifting of vetting a variety of proposed district maps.

After months of review and discussion, the committee presented a group of four maps for the council to consider. From there, the discussions and map revisions really took off.

One unexpected twist to the redistricting drama came when one map was revealed to have been anonymously submitted by advisory committee member Steve Hansen.

Discussions heated up further when two council members – Steve Cohn and Sandy Sheedy – submitted their own map for the council to consider.

A week later, Cohn submitted yet another map, a hybrid version of Cohn and Sheedy’s previous submissions, this time called “Neighborhoods 2.0.

A boundary dispute between council districts 5 and 6 over which district would contain the UC Davis Medical Center and Sacramento High School created a huge outcry from residents.

In the end, after six months and a grand total of 45 map versions, a final map was selected and approved by City Council, and new district lines went into effect on Oct. 6.

With the passing of the state budget in July came big changes for the way redevelopment agencies are allowed to work in California.

Cities throughout the state are given an option to “buy in” to a new redevelopment plan – which would require large annual payments to the state from local agencies. Sacramento decided to go along with the plan and keep the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency alive.

Other cities wouldn’t go down without a fight, and a lawsuit was filed against the state by the California Redevelopment Association. While the case was pending, the court issued a temporary reprieve so cities did not have to make the required “opt-in” payments until a decision was made.

Some redevelopment projects that were moved ahead in 2011 in Sacramento included a revamp of K Street, the La Valentina project and housing projects in the south area of the city.

What started on Wall Street in New York as a citizens’ uprising against corporate greed in America became a nationwide statement of discontent from coast to coast.

When the first Occupy Sacramento protesters stepped into Cesar Chavez Plaza on Oct. 6, it was unclear how long they would stay – or what their message was going to be.

Quickly, the calm protest of Sacramentans showing solidarity with other Occupy movements was stunted by a city park curfew ordinance that prevented protesters from remaining in the park overnight.

Protesters were arrested – more than 100 in October alone – and the uprising was strengthened by a common goal: get the city to make an exception to the rule.

Over the next 10 weeks, large numbers of Occupy protesters spoke at the public forum of City Council meetings to ask the city manager and City Council to allow the group to remain in the park to continue to exercise its First Amendment rights.

Protesters who had been arrested – including war veteran mom Cindy Sheehan – had their day in court, and charges were dropped against many.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the Occupy group filed suit in federal court against the city claiming First Amendment violations, and some Occupiers moved the protest to the lawns at City Hall.

As the year came to a close, the number of Occupiers dwindled at Cesar Chavez Plaza, but the movement was not disbanded completely. A lawsuit is still pending in federal court, according to attorney Mark Merin, one of the representing attorneys.

Despite the ups and downs at City Hall this year, more change and drama is expected in 2012. Between elections and yet another budget – and the ever-present discontent bubbling just under the surface from events in 2011 – the new year is bound to be worth watching.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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