Mayor Johnson at Thursday's meeting (CPR photo/Ben Adler)
The measure would make the mayor the city’s chief executive, rather than the city manager, and responsible for proposing the budget and hiring and firing hundreds of city employees. The vote at Thursday night’s tense council meeting was 5-to-4.
The pros and cons of the initiative weren’t at stake last night. And for Johnson, that was probably just as well. Not a single council member supports his measure – at least publicly. Most feel it would give the mayor too much unchecked power. But the debate was over which election to place it on the ballot. North Natomas resident Keith Sharward told the council to respect the initiative process and send the measure to voters right away.
Sharward: “You’ve all heard the saying, if I wanted it tomorrow, I would’ve asked for it tomorrow? Well, 50,000 people have asked for it. If they’d’a wanted it three years from now, they’d’a asked for it three years from now. And I really believe you must resist any temptations to delay Democracy.”
But Midtown resident George Raya called for giving a city council-appointed charter review commission the chance to weigh in with an alternate measure.
Raya: “I believe in participation of the citizens in how the city’s governed. I feel like I’m being railroaded – that I have to vote up or down something that nobody had any input on besides a couple of attorneys. That’s not how we do things in Sacramento.”
Several council members agreed.
Fong: “There is a – at least, my sense that there’s a thing that’s being foisted upon us.”
Councilman Rob Fong, along with members Sandy Sheedy, Bonnie Pannell and Kevin McCarty, pushed for delaying Johnson’s measure until November of 2012.
Fong: “This is very far-reaching and fundamental, and I don’t think the citizens of the city of Sacramento have had, really, a sufficient chance to weigh in.”
But the other four council members said the initiative should go before voters at the first regularly scheduled election, June of 2010. Here’s Councilman Ray Trethaway, speaking after the meeting:
Trethaway: “I have lots of questions about the measure, including term limits, sunset, number of potential direct employees that would be appointed by the mayor. But tonight, that was not before us at all.”
And that’s exactly the point Johnson made afterwards, outside City Hall.
Johnson: “Clearly, the majority of the council was able to separate two issues: one, the merits of an initiative, and the timing of when the people who signed that initiative get a chance to vote. And they chose to do the right thing, which was honor and respect the will of the voters and their intent.”
Johnson says he’s looking forward to a “healthy debate” over the next 10 months. Several council members hope that debate will include a second initiative – one that comes from the city’s charter review commission. That commission is currently scheduled to make its recommendations next January – but its work schedule will now likely be sped up.