SACRAMENTO – A diverse coalition of local community, labor and business leaders has united for a broad range of structural reforms to Sacramento’s city charter that it believes will improve accountability, equity and transparency in the city.

The coalition held a virtual conference call by Zoom to announce the specifics of their progressive policy recommendations and the return of the “Strong Mayor” platform, which failed miserably on the ballot six years ago.

Some of the members of the coalition included Cassandra Jennings, Greater Sacramento Urban League; Chet P. Hewitt, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation; Yvonne Walker, SEIU Local 1000; Nicky Mohanna, Mohanna Development Company and Dr. Tecoy Porter, National Action Network and Genesis Church.

Rachel Rios, La Familia Counseling Center; Amanda Blackwood, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce; Barry Broome, Greater Sacramento Economic Council; Natalia Chavez, Local Government Consultant; Kevin Ferreira, Sacramento Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council; and Debra Oto-Kent, Measure U Advisory Committee are also members of the coalition.

“We are delighted to come together for something that we think is important not only for the city of Sacramento but for our entire region,” said Ms. Jennings, who served as the lead host for the conference call. “We have been working in collaboration with the mayor (Darrell Steinberg) on these proposals. We felt that it was important for the community to speak first. So we are here to speak on the behalf of the community.”

A change to the Sacramento Charter would need to be placed on the November ballot by majority vote of the City Council by Aug. 4. The coalition plans to advocate for the City Council to move quickly over the next few weeks to incorporate these proposals into a local ballot measure, which will be placed before voters in the General Election.

The strong mayor proposal, “Mayoral Accountability and Community Equity Act,” if passed by the majority of the voters, revises the Sacramento City Charter — the voter approved constitution that establishes the framework for city government.

Mayoral Accountability and Community Equity Act measure changes the city’s current “council-manager” form of government to a “mayor-council” form. A draft of the measure includes the following:

  • Mayor is no longer a councilmember, but may attend and be heard at council meetings
  • Nine-member council with president and Vice-president.
  • A ninth member added in the upcoming independent redistricting cycle.
  • Council has exclusive authority over land-use decisions, except ordinances, and the housing authority.
  • Mayor is chief executive officer City manager is chief administrative officer

In November 2014, a majority of Sacramento voters made it known during the General Election that City Hall works just fine when the “Strong Mayor” initiative was on the ballot and former NBA star Kevin Johnson was the mayor.

Measure L, the initiative known as the “Sacramento Checks and Balance Act of 2014,” was voted down and ended the discussion to give the mayor of Sacramento expanded powers. The city continued to operate as a council-manager government where the mayor has one vote on the city council — and the city manager acts as the city’s CEO.

The coalition understands that it will be the will of the voters to make the final decision on the expanded version of the 2020 Strong Mayor proposals. But this time around, the supporters are optimistic that it will cross the finish line.

Hewitt’s response to the difference of 2014 and 2020 is that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of how local governments operate to serve communities and businesses. The 2020 version is basically modeled after the 2014 proposal, but the new version fits the needs of reform, Hewitt said.

“Clearly, if we have learned nothing else during the past five months, is that a lack of an efficient government at any level is harmful to our ability to have a kind of city that Sacramentans believe that they actually want to live in,” Hewitt said. “Those recent lessons, which are still upon us, suggest that we are different times, smarter, more capable and more willing to take the dramatic steps that need to be taken. (The strong-mayor council) will create a more inclusive, equitable city that the one that we are living in currently.”

Howard Chan, the current City Manager, dealt with protesters at his home the day before the coalition made its announcement. Staged by Black Lives Matter Sacramento, the protestors rallied around his home and demanded that the Sacramento Police Department be defunded.

The organizers and protesters, who watched a delivery person bring a package to Chan’s front door during the “die-in,” also asked that several police officers be fired for officer-involved shootings and excessive force used against civilians.

Ms. Jennings said the coalition has studied and continues to research how other strong-mayor policies affect municipalities within the state and across the country. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Oakland, and San Diego operate under a strong-mayor council platform.

Before the coalition can move forward with educational workshops and outreach programs that would help voters understand the importance of the strong mayor council, it has to be passed by the city council in the upcoming weeks.

“In the world that I come from, the vote happens at the City Council meetings and that’s where we are hopeful to get a positive vote to put it on the ballot,”Ms. Jennings said.

By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer