Mayoral sensitivities

Can you say ‘bad timing'?

That’s the phrase that leapt to our minds last week when Mayor Kevin Johnson announced his intention to raise money to add positions to his personal paid staff, a mere four days after the city’s mounting budget crisis brought revelations that at least eight existing staffers with the city’s Development Services Department were to be laid off.

“Probably not the most sensitive thing to do,” was the careful response from Councilwoman Lauren Hammond.

Yeah, right.

We don’t doubt that Johnson is capable of raising big sums of money, and we aren’t necessarily opposed to his outside-the-box thinking (as long as it’s legal) when it comes to building the staffing support he’ll need to enact the changes he has in mind. But we do worry that Johnson may be showing a tendency as a politician to act unilaterally—i.e., not incorporate others like council members, city staff, area residents—when it comes to setting priorities and making decisions.

Another case in point was when he introduced his goal to move the city to a “strong mayor” system. In Johnson’s scenario, the city charter would be amended by voters and basically turn the mayor’s job into an executive position with the power to hire department heads and propose a budget.

Honestly, we don’t mind that he launched this initiative straight out of the gates when he took office. (After all, to steal a metaphor from a post-election SN&R Q-and-A session with Johnson, it’s in the former NBA star’s very nature to “want the ball” in his own hands.) But we were concerned that nobody on the council or otherwise seemed to even have a clue that this sweeping proposal was coming.

Politics is not about surprise or dominance; it’s more the art of consensus building. The city of Sacramento would be better off if its energetic new leader found a way to combine his notable strengths with a bit of sensitivity to people, process and the power to (not the power over).