Honeymoon's Over: Council Rejects Johnson's Audit
KXJZ file photo/Ben Adler
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson lost his first major power struggle at City Hall yesterday. The city council rejected his proposal to bring in an outside auditing firm, saying it would bypass the public process.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
If Kevin Johnson had a honeymoon, it abruptly ended at yesterday’s council meeting. There, six of the eight other members voiced concerns over the mayor’s audit proposal – and the tension was palpable. Councilman Rob Fong:
Fong: “I don’t think anyone questions the dire nature of where we are with our budget. But I don’t think that’s a reason to forego having the public policy discussions in public about what we wanna do as a city.”
And that’s basically what the mayor was calling for. Johnson’s transition team found a New York auditing firm that specializes in turnarounds – in both the public and private sector. The firm would have worked for free if its recommendations weren’t taken, and for a significant discount otherwise. But it didn’t go through the city’s normal competitive bidding process. And council members raised questions about whether the audit’s true aim was to restructure the city. Councilman Ray Trethaway:
Trethaway: “I find a lot of this discussion awkward, that we’re negotiating the contract and we’re not having a public policy discussion on this whole issue. It’s been replaced by what’s in the contract and what’s not in the contract. Very awkward.”
But Johnson defended bypassing the public process, saying the city’s financial crisis was urgent enough to warrant it. And he said the council was nitpicking the audit proposal and pulling it apart.
Johnson: “We have an opportunity here to inform that process to make some very difficult choices during midyear. And we are about to squander that opportunity in my opinion. Because of what? Because this ‘I’ wasn’t dotted properly or this ‘T’ wasn’t crossed.”
The mayor spoke for nearly four minutes. When he was done, you could hear the frustration in his voice.
Johnson: “I have nothing else to say. Take a vote here?”
Johnson’s proposal never even came to a vote. Instead, the council voted to ask the city manager’s office to come back with a better proposal – one that could eventually be put out for competitive bidding. Johnson did not take the defeat well.
Johnson: “All I can say is just, shame on us.”
Soon after he got to City Hall, Johnson moved the mayor’s office to a more open space, on a different floor from the rest of the council. Yesterday, that distance was even more evident – even though the mayor and council sat side by side.