Strong mayor, RIP

SN&R has published both news pieces and commentary about Mayor Kevin Johnson’s crusade for city charter reform to include a “strong mayor.” It was one of the issues he campaigned on. But there’s been much to consider on the subject in the 15 months since Johnson was elected.

First, there was Johnson’s quick move for an initiative to put the “strong mayor” plan on the ballot, with very little public discussion beforehand. He attempted, as we noted in these pages, to do an end run around the more reasoned (and, we might add, collaborative) approach that the other city leaders were willing to take.

Roughly a year ago, though, Johnson stopped the petition circulating for his strong-mayor initiative, citing it as a distraction from more pressing issues facing the city—specifically, the budget crisis and looming layoffs of city workers. We applauded the mayor for doing so. Next, the city council established the Sacramento Charter Review Committee, a body commissioned to examine the city charter and offer suggestions for its improvement, including a possible switch to a strong-mayor form.

Then, unfortunately, there was another turnaround in the mayor’s plan.

Before the Sacramento Charter Review Committee could complete its work, Johnson’s people were back to circulating petitions, this time with enough signatures to place the strong-mayor initiative on the ballot.

And despite the mayor’s team’s media blitz to discredit the city’s charter review committee, in meeting with some members of the group, SN&R’s editorial board found committee members to be reasonable and clear about their findings. We agreed with them that the strong-mayor form of government, as proposed, was not likely to solve any of the city’s current problems, and may in fact exacerbate some of them.

Fast-forward to now, with the very legality of the initiative in question, having been recently ordered removed from the ballot by a Sacramento Superior Court judge. Johnson’s backers have this ruling under appeal.

How unfortunate.

If Johnson decided to focus on being a strong leader instead of a so-called “strong mayor,” he would drop the appeal and abandon the giant distraction that it continues to represent. He would urge council members to quit the bickering and join him in setting up a new process to complete the work of the disbanded charter review committee. Mostly, he would get on with leading Sacramento into its future.

After all, our city has enormous problems. A dysfunctional, distracted City Hall is not going to help us face a deeply grim budget year, a myriad of legal problems that have arisen in the past year, the thorny arena choices ahead—including the “land swap” proposal—and the list goes on.

Mayor Johnson: We urge you to drop the appeal and forgo the strong-mayor distinction once and for all. What we could use right now is a strong leader.