Which District 6 Sacramento city council candidate is the best bet for good government?

Bites weighs Eric Guerra and Bruce Pomer.

Some of the biggest themes of this column are political ethics and government transparency. And that seems like a pretty good framework for considering the candidacies of Bruce Pomer and Eric Guerra, both vying for election to Sacramento City Council on April 7.

It’s a special election to fill the District 6 seat vacated by Kevin McCarty. The district includes Tahoe Park, Elmhurst and Tallac Village.

Issues of honesty and transparency seem to crop up in just about every big decision at City Hall these days. Even the debate over Jeff Koons’ $8 million Shrinky Dink was largely over concerns that big donors are calling all the shots.

So if good government is your thing, who should you vote for?

Pomer applauded the work of Eye on Sacramento and League of Women Voters in promoting ethics reform. Before that, Pomer said, “all the discussion was taking place behind closed doors and without public input.” He’s in favor of the creation of an ethics commission with enforcement powers.

Guerra said he’d like to see an ethics commission that could draft new ethics rules for the city. He said he’s “open to the idea” of giving the commission enforcement powers (like subpoena power or power to levy fines). But he said he’s concerned that such a commission could become politicized or be used in political “witch hunts.” (Echoing concerns of Peter Scheer, with the California First Amendment Coalition; see “Secret Committees and Cheerleaders” by Cosmo Garvin, SN&R Bites, February 26.)

Bites asked about the millions in charitable “behests” raised by the mayor and some council members. Mayor Kevin Johnson in particular has solicited huge sums from developers and others who have businesses before the council, in order to fund nonprofit organizations under his control.

“The public has to wonder what these large donors expect in return for their sizable contributions,” said Pomer. He added there should be a discussion on the council about what size and kind of contribution are appropriate, and whether behests should be capped.

Guerra didn’t go that far. He did say he was “surprised by how much money they have been able to raise.”

Sacramento’s election rules heavily favor candidates who get in tight with big donors, like developers and unions. The city used to help grassroots candidates, with matching funds to qualifying candidates who agree to spending limits and fair campaign practices.

But even though this public-financing program is relatively cheap—$300,000—the city council suspended it to save money. The budget is back in the black now, but for some reason the council hasn’t moved to refund the election kitty.

Guerra said he’d like to revisit public financing, and he believes it has been helpful in other cities, like Los Angeles. But he also said it can’t come at the expense of “bread and butter” spending priorities. Pomer likewise said that the city ought to fund the basics first, but added, “As we get closer to full restoration of these essential services, I would make funding of campaigns one of my priorities.”

Regular readers know Bites is worried about the city’s decision to start deleting city emails more than two years old, instead of archiving them.

Pomer said he disagrees with the email-deletion policy. He mentioned Joe Rubin’s investigation in SN&R into the city’s water-meter program, which would have been impossible if the city had deleted the emails he uncovered.

“The city should strive to be the most transparent in the country and keep the emails for as long as possible,” Pomer said.

Guerra also said he was concerned about the policy. “If you are using a city email, it’s city business. I don’t understand why we’d be deleting vital government documents.”

Bites asked both candidates for other ideas about increasing government transparency and promoting more meaningful public participation in the process.

As a neighborhood activist, Guerra said he would bring “a grassroots perspective” to the job. He is interested in improving voter registration and engaging youth in the political process. He also suggested that council members should hold office hours in the district.

Pomer wants to make city council meetings more citizen-friendly. Currently, members of the public who want to comment on items not on the agenda have to wait until the end of the meeting. Sometimes that means staying late at night, when it’s too late to catch public transit home. And citizens are limited to comments of two minutes. Pomer would put the comment section at the beginning of the meeting, and give citizens three to five minutes to testify. He also said the council needs to look at eliminating “ad hoc” committees that aren’t open to the public.

Pomer also opposed the city clerk’s plan to hold a vote-by-mail only election for District 6, which he said would have discouraged some voters.

So please, if you live in District 6, vote.