Sacramento charter commission could be distraction

Should Sacramento voters approve the formation of a commission to review the city’s charter? Would the election of its 15-member advisory panel actually help our city become better able to govern itself and solve its myriad problems?

There’s no way of telling at this point.

We’re glad, of course, that the city council decided to put the matter on the ballot in November. And we’re aware that the costs for doing so have been exaggerated—by Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Sacramento Police Officers Association—with lots of false information flying around.

And we’re also cognizant that charter commissions can actually work. In 1999, a Los Angeles charter commission ultimately prevailed in improving its city by creating an executive mayor, neighborhood councils and an ethics commission.

But could L.A.’s experience and outcome of a decade ago be repeated in the contentious political environment that we now occupy in Sacramento?

We’re finding it hard to imagine.

It’s easy, however, to imagine all this becoming another discomforting Sacramento muddle. There may be as many as 100 candidates vying for 15 spots on the board, so the process will begin in a tumble with the mayor, council members, unions, and business interests backing various slates and individuals who serve their agenda. Indeed, the commission could easily become a kind of larger, messier doppelgänger of the city council itself. And it’s a no-brainer that many of the 15 who seek a commission seat will do so with the intent of using it as a springboard to higher office.

In the absence of real leadership, is more always better? We believe in inclusive government and would love to think a charter commission could help Sacramento better face its future. But we haven’t yet been convinced. And we worry that it might serve as yet another municipal distraction at a time when we really don’t need one.