Johnson & Johnson

Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell last week pointed out one of the many problems with Mayor Kevin Johnson‘s strong mayor proposal. “I asked those kids who were gathering signatures what a ‘strong mayor’ was, and they didn’t know,” she explained during a city council meeting last week.

Indeed, signature gatherers are generally mercenaries, not activists. That’s a far cry from what Gov. Hiram Johnson had in mind when he fought to create the initiative process. In his 1911 inaugural address, he said that just about every problem in government arises “because some private interest has intervened or has sought for its own gain to exploit either the resources or the politics of the state.”

So what would Gov. Johnson make of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s shadow government of business “volunteers” cloistered together on the third floor of City Hall—far from the prying eyes (and oversight) of the city council? What would the progressive Johnson say about the other Johnson’s use of $100,000 to gather signatures for an initiative nobody asked for, every penny of it donated by real-estate developers?

Gov. Johnson might have supported a bill by Sen. Ellen Corbett that would make it illegal to pay signature gatherers by the signature.

Corbett told Bites via e-mail that her Senate Bill 34 is mainly intended to cut down on fraud. “Today, the signature gathering process often puts more value on the number of signatures instead of their legality. It’s important that we eliminate anything that might result in fraud so that the initiative process remains a valued tool for Californians who want their voices to be heard.”

And who knows? Maybe S.B. 34 will have other benefits. By taking away some of the financial incentive, perhaps the grassroots could compete with the special interests and armies of paid signature gatherers. Maybe then the kids would know what they’re gathering signatures for.

Last week, Bites reported on the departure of two talented and experienced reporters—Terri Hardy and Mary Lynne Vellinga—from The Sacramento Bee.

Their timing is either very good or very bad, depending on whether the next batch of reporters leaves 21st and Q streets with fat buyout checks or merely skinny pink slips. Because it sounds like more downsizing is coming, one way or the other.

On Tuesday, February 3, the Bee’s top editor, Melanie Sill, addressed the Bee newsroom and announced that “significant” cutbacks are coming. Sill didn’t spell whether that means layoffs or buyouts, but she reportedly told the group that “everything is on the table.”

Sill told Bites via e-mail that “I can’t say anything now,” and that she’d let Bites know “if and when we have any announcements.”

Then on Friday, February 6, news came out in the Bee’s own business section that The McClatchy Co. had another terrible quarter and would be looking to slash $100 million across the company.

Bee union rep and county-government reporter Ed Fletcher told Bites, “We’re not sure what shape the cuts will take, but we expect they’ll be seeking layoffs.”

Then, as Bites was trying to suss out what’s happening at the Bee, a quiet tap on the shoulder let Bites know that layoffs had hit the cubicle next door.

SN&R’s Sena Christian, a.k.a. Sena: Eco Warrior Princess, is the latest staffer to exit the paper because of budget cuts. Sena is crazy smart and already sorely missed around here. She was named last year as one of Sacramento Magazine‘s Power & Influence 100. So, if anybody’s looking to add an influential, hardworking Eco Warrior Princess to their team, Bites knows just the one.