Business as usual

Michelle Smira, one of the mayor’s top volunteer advisers, is leaving to run Kevin Johnson’s “strong mayor” campaign and to work as a consultant for Nestlé—and it’s business as usual at City Hall.

On October 22, Smira sent her resignation letter to the mayor, in which she explains that she’s leaving the city post to boost Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative.

“We need to change our antiquated structure and I will be there to help educate our community on the issue,” Smira wrote in her letter. (You can read the whole letter on SN&R’s news blog, Snog.)

Smira told Bites she doesn’t believe there’s any legal issue with keeping both jobs, but said that if she didn’t quit the City Hall gig, then she wouldn’t have time to run her public-relations business, MMS Strategies.

Well, it just so happens that MMS Strategies was hired, within three days of Smira’s exit from City Hall, by Nestlé Waters. There, she’ll help conduct Nestlé’s public-relations offensive for a controversial water-bottling plant in south Sacramento.

Smira has worked previously on campaigns for U.S. Rep Doug Ose and for presidential candidate John McCain, and has served as the chairwoman for the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce political action committee, Metro PAC.

Smira was a key part of Johnson’s post-election transition team, and continued on as an official volunteer consultant after.

She told Bites that she didn’t do any work for the mayor on the Nestlé issue during her time in City Hall. Still, when Smira decided to take the Nestlé gig, she sent an e-mail off to her chamber of commerce buddies blasting City Councilman Kevin McCarty, who has been critical of the way the Nestlé project has gone forward, apparently in violation of the city’s rules for issuing building permits.

In the e-mail, which has been forwarded all over town, Smira wrote that McCarty had “lost his mind” regarding the Nestlé deal. McCarty’s concerns led to a brief work stoppage on the project while the permit issues were sorted out—or glossed over, depending on who you ask.

Obviously, Smira is an important part of Johnson’s team, whether it’s inside City Hall or outside City Hall, whether she is representing the mayor in the community or using her political connections to help a favored business get what it wants. And apparently, it’s all perfectly legal.

In fact, Smira signed off her resignation letter, “It has been a wonderful experience working with you at City Hall and I look forward to again helping in this capacity at a later date.”

Bites ran that scenario by Jessica Levinson, with the government watchdog group Center for Governmental Studies.

“It certainly makes it sound like Smira is in a revolving door, moving in and out of public service.”

And there are anti-revolving door laws, prohibiting government officials from leaving public office and then coming back as lobbyists. Of course, the Smira case is not so clear-cut. Levinson says volunteerism is generally a good thing, but that “We want to make sure that people are serving only the public interest, and that no one organization gains undue influence or access to public officials.”

Hopefully, the city’s revolving-door rules work better than its rules on handing out building permits.