(OPINION) – The strong mayor proposal by Mayor Darrell Steinberg would make Sacramento’s government less efficient, weaken the public’s influence on the City Council and diminish the voices of our neighborhoods. It’s bad politics, bad governance and bad for our city.
Amending the City Charter is serious business and should only be done with thought, consideration and public debate. The strong mayor proposal lacks all three. It was rushed onto the Nov. 3 ballot. With the pandemic, there were no opportunities for town halls or community forums.
Yes, Steinberg is a popular mayor. He’s a competent City Council leader and citywide representative. But strong mayor is not necessary. It would strip away council authority and accountability, make neighborhood oversight more difficult and establish a special interest power center in the mayor’s office.
Our current system, where the city manager answers to the City Council, is more efficient than strong mayor. That’s why California cities overwhelmingly avoid strong mayor formats. Of the state’s 482 cities, only five use strong mayor systems.
What’s the big problem with strong mayor? Politicians are rarely good managers. City management requires a vastly different skill set than political popularity. Under the strong mayor proposal, Steinberg and his successors would automatically pull $40 million from the general fund for unknown programs — a plan he admits is only “aspirational.” That’s no way to manage our city.
Prior to the Steinberg’s decision to place the initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot, there was no public call for strong mayor. Indeed, it was voted down in 2014 and resurfaced only when Steinberg decided he didn’t like his job description. If strong mayor passes, it will create the most radical changes our City Charter has seen in 99 years.
Council member Harris asked Steinberg for a list of issues he wished to address. Harris wanted the mayor to explain how strong mayor would help achieve those goals. Steinberg agreed to provide a list, but has yet to produce it.
The strong mayor campaign is running an advertising blitz that makes our excellent city manager Howard Chan seem like a dark force, operating in the shadows without accountability. As anyone who has attended a City Council meeting knows, Chan does not hide in the shadows. He sits next to us at the dais.
Chan is directly accountable to the City Council, which guides his decisions through policy votes. Councilmembers are directly accountable to voters in our neighborhoods and districts. The power is where it belongs: with the people.
If strong mayor passes, the mayor will be able to install his own city manager, beholden to the mayor, not the City Council. The mayor could fire the city manager without cause. This is unacceptable.
The strong mayor campaign promotes a new form of “ballot box” budgeting, where large chunks of money are automatically stripped away from basic, essential services such as parks, fire and police. Where will the money go? It will be arbitrarily handed to special interest groups, under the mayor’s discretion. Voters wisely rejected a similar scheme in March, when Measure G was soundly defeated.
Finally, the strong mayor campaign wants to convince voters that only Steinberg has the compassion to care for our most neglected residents and communities. As strong mayor, he will somehow redirect resources that are currently (and for the foreseeable future) nonexistent.
Yet Steinberg admits the City Council already has authority to create ordinances that provide special assistance to historically underserved neighborhoods. The process is currently underway, undercutting any need for strong mayor.
Our current system, which has served Sacramento for 99 years, must be maintained so we can balance the city’s immediate and long-term interests without the vagaries of political whims.
Vote NO on Measure A.
By Larry Carr and Jeff Harris
Jeff Harris represents District 3 on the Sacramento City Council. Larry Carr represents District 8 on the Sacramento City Council.