Mayor Kevin Johnson’s latest moves and mishaps prove more than worrisome

To be accused by so many women, so many times, it boggles the mind

Good for Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, calling out Mayor Kevin Johnson’s backdoor budget buster—a proposed 70 percent increase in personnel for K.J.’s office.

Johnson has been obsessed with expansion of the office since he first got elected, and realized his staff just didn’t measure up to those of other big-city mayors. Indeed, the whole interminable strong-mayor thing seemed mainly driven by K.J.’s size envy.

At a May 12 city council meeting, Hansen pointed out that voters had already rejected the Johnson’s strong-mayor ambitions, when they voted down Measure L last fall. That’s when Vice Mayor Allen Warren tried to stop Hansen from talking and warned him to “be mindful of what you’re saying.”

Hansen wasn’t having it. And called on the city attorney to explain that, no, Hansen did not have to shut up. Warren was left looking like a bully, or maybe vice-bully.

Johnson still has plenty of yes-folk on the council—he may yet get to supersize his staff. But if he doesn’t, if he learns that in this case no really does mean no, here’s a suggestion for the mayor: Redirect the people who work for you now to do actual city business.

A large portion of the mayor’s current staff is dedicated to supporting the mayor’s various nonprofit organizations and running initiatives that have nothing to do with the job of mayor of the city of Sacramento.

For example, Cassandra Jennings—K.J.’s special assistant and wife of Councilman Rick Jennings—is there to coordinate with the mayor’s various nonprofit initiatives.

It’s not clear why that job is allowed on the city payroll. Certainly moving that job out of City Hall and off the taxpayer dime would free up resources.

Starting in 2012, the mayor’s staff also included a Director of Governmental Affairs and Education. Why would this job exist in City Hall? The mayor does not set policy in the Sacramento City schools.

And what does a Director of Governmental Affairs and Education do? Well, one project was convincing other mayors, like Christopher Cabaldon in West Sacramento, to sign on in support of the controversial Vergara lawsuit, aimed at removing some of the union protections currently enjoyed by California teachers. Why are city taxpayers footing the bill for this activity?

In fact, documents show the mayor has an entire “OMKJ Ed team,” comprised of city employees and employees of his private-education nonprofit, called Stand Up. Emails obtained by SN&R show the OMKJ Ed team held meetings at the offices of Students First, the education-reform lobbying group founded by Johnson’s wife, Michelle Rhee.

Johnson could probably stretch his payroll dollars further by using less public money for his private business.

About those emails: SN&R has mentioned before that the mayor’s staff uses private emails for city business (see “Special delivery,” SN&R News, April 23). The mayor’s office has refused to answer questions about why these email accounts are used, and the emails are hard to get hold of.

Nevertheless, a good one comes through now and again. For example, there’s the March 2013 email from Kunal Merchant, then-head of the mayor’s nonprofit arena booster organization Think Big, to Johnson, his staff and attorney Jeff Dorso, summarizing a discussion with Kings minority owner John Kehriotis.

Merchant wrote: “Mayor absolutely refuses to consider locations other than downtown. He’s been promised $12-15 M from downtown interests for his run for governor.”

From the context of the email, it looks like Merchant is relaying a complaint from Kehriotis that Johnson wouldn’t listen to his plan for an arena in Natomas.

But when Bites asked Kehriotis, he said he knew nothing about the conversation, or any developer money. And when Bites emailed Merchant for clarification, there was no response.

Rumors of K.J.’s ambition for higher office have been around for many years. It’s not implausible that developers who have bankrolled Johnson would keep backing him.

But a run for governor does seem implausible—mostly owing to the other rumors that have followed Johnson the last 20 years. Those would be the rumors about his inappropriate behavior toward women.

Last week, we learned that a woman working in City Hall had recently come forth with a complaint that Johnson sexually harassed her. The allegations about Johnson’s behavior—the latest of many—are disturbing enough. Equally worrisome is the charge that, when the woman asked for help, the people in city government who were supposed to help her did not.

The Sacramento Bee hinted that a settlement may have been reached already. So we probably won’t find out if the allegations were true. If they are not, then surely Johnson is an unusually unlucky man. To be falsely accused by so many women, so many times, it boggles the mind.