Sacramento voters want to create the city they envision – one with strong democratic values, and dedicated to solving problems together.
By Heather Fargo, Sacramento
Heather Fargo is chair of Neighborhoods Against Strong Mayor (No on A) and former mayor of Sacramento.
Re “Sacramento again refuses to grow up”; Commentary, Dan Walters, Nov. 9, 2020
The defeat of Measure A, the “strong mayor” ballot initiative, was not about Sacramento refusing to mature, as declared by Dan Walters. It was about the intended loss of transparency and accountability, and giving one person too much power without the checks and balances we currently have. And it was about the love Sacramentans have for their neighborhoods and city, and their desire to be involved in the decisions that affect their quality of life.
There is no “big city governance structure” that all cities must adopt once they reach a certain size. Many cities throughout America share our approach to providing municipal leadership, policy direction and provision of city services. It’s called a Council-Manager form of governance and is widely regarded as more effective, and less political, with more checks and balances and less corruption than “strong mayor” led cities. To be effective it requires competent management and clear policy direction. Significant changes to a city charter requires thought, discussion and compromise, which there was no time for here.
The concept that the mayor needs “real authority” to deal with our big city problems is simply not true. The authority is found in the majority of the council with the support of the citizenry. Even with the “real authority” that a strong mayor would have, state contracting laws and city bidding requirements would still have to be followed, unless real patronage and corruption takes over.
According to Walters, the measure was “caught between council members not willing to cede power and leftist activists.” This is partially true. Three council members opposed the measure, along with most neighborhood associations that took positions. Neither wanted to lose the power to influence city policy or to achieve their goals. None wanted to be sidelined by this charter change. All knew that a city manager who is hired and fired by just one person, won’t work with the remaining council members.
As for “leftist activists,” the No campaign had some. We also had conservative activists like Eye on Sacramento. All major political parties – Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians – opposed this hastily written measure. The League of Women Voters can hardly be called leftist, but fortunately are informed activists.
Walters says the city will just “limp along with an unfocused and unimaginative city manager.” Really? When did we settle for that? Sacramento is a professionally run city, with competent managers. If there is a lack of focus, the council needs to give clear direction or find another city manager. As for imagination, the city made real progress in creating a vibrant downtown adding thousands of housing units and hundreds of new businesses. Plans to make similar progress in other areas were derailed by COVID-19.
In a column in The Sacramento Bee by Marcos Bretón, the No on A folks were criticized for wasting time on opposing Measure A instead of working on other campaigns. We agree! We didn’t want to work on this again, in addition to the other campaigns. But the city council placed this measure on the ballot at the last minute.
The voters don’t care if they “muffed chances to become the American City Steinberg envisions,” as Walters says. They didn’t want to empower a distant mayor. They want to create the city they envision – one with strong democratic values, respectful of all residents and neighborhoods, and dedicated to solving problems together. Maybe the council can start listening now, with a series of Zoom meetings, with more than two minutes each, to address the equity issues facing our city.