Happy to help

Sometimes people ask why Bites is so darn mean to the mayor. Why keep pick-pick-picking at the man? Why not focus on the many, many, many initiatives he’s launched in the last year, one of which is bound to do some good?

In fact, if anyone’s keeping score, Bites hasn’t bitten the mayor quite as frequently this year. Besides, there are plenty of other people who are getting paid good money to scrutinize this powerful figure. The Sacramento Bee’s recent detailed account of the mayor’s exercise routine comes to mind.

And last week, Washington Post staff writer Wil Heygood had a glowing profile of the boss, titled “Kevin Johnson’s winning streak.” It was chock-full of the good stuff that the local cranks like Bites so often overlook. Like how K.J. and sweetheart Michelle Rhee met, and how they’re all bicoastal and stuff. And being a real pro, Heygood worked in plenty of clever sports metaphors. As in, “No charges were filed, but the school was forced to pay a settlement of more than $400,000. All along, Johnson raced the ball upcourt.”

See what he did there? Sadly, most of us just don’t get to play at the same level as Post staff writers.

It’s not a bad thing for the mayor, in a city the size of Sacramento, to have an enthusiastic critic or two. The strongmen Johnson admires, such as D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty and New York jefe Michael Bloomberg, certainly do. Sometimes those critics even work for the local daily papers.

Besides, it’s not just fun to pick on the mayor, it’s downright helpful.

For example, take the slick brochure that the mayor’s staff handed out at his State of the City address last month, titled “Year One: A Look Back at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s First Year in Office.”

It’s a nice piece, glossy, lots of photos of K.J. with President Barack Obama, K.J. with Bloomberg, K.J. with Stephen Colbert, K.J. with Jesse Jackson, K.J. eating a hamburger with a homeless guy. There are lists of accomplishments and lists of corporate sponsors. It fits right in your pocket. All in all, it’s a nicely done little booklet, and it makes the mayor look very accountable and strong. It cost $3,202.69 and was billed to the mayor’s discretionary account.

Being a little skeptical by nature, Bites thought maybe, just maybe, the mayor might be bending the rules by using city money to pay for his own political advertisement.

The mayor’s staff responded that the brochure was strictly informational, and that council members often use their public accounts to print “annual retrospectives.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from residents appreciative of the information,” said Johnson’s spokesman Joaquin McPeek.

Problem is this brochure includes a prominent link to Johnson’s campaign Web site, www.kevinjohnsonformayor.com, which he uses frequently to post his various manifestos about mayoral strength and accountability, etc. Plus, the thing just looks, feels and smells like a campaign piece. At best, using public money for this kind of material is pretty iffy, at worst, it’s illegal.

Well, a couple of days after Bites started asking questions about the booklet, McPeek called back to say that the mayor and his staff had done some thinking, and that Johnson has now decided to pay for the booklet out of his own pocket, “just to be on the safe side.”

Which pretty much sums up why Bites hassles the mayor and his staff: just to be on the safe side. The city saves $3,202.69, and Johnson stays out of legal trouble. You’re welcome, Mr. Mayor.