GUEST COLUMN: Let’s elect our leadership instead of pretending
Who really runs the city? Much of this debate has been presented to the City Council, but because they do not televise the public presentation portion of their agenda you don’t know about it. This censorship allows the council to control any new ideas that they do not want you to hear. By not recording, there is no detailed record of what is said or done.
The actual management of our city, under the classification and terms of a general law city, rests with the city manager and the day-to-day responsibilities carried out by city staff. Much happens or does not happen based on the availability, policies and priorities of staff. Under the current general law formula, elected representatives cannot deal directly with any city staff, who report to the city manager, not the elected officials. This is understandable and would be considered micro-management.
As your elected representatives, they are powerless as individuals to make any particular item or agenda happen. You must have three votes to move a matter forward and need the consensus of the council to even bring a matter to the agenda for discussion. In my opinion, this is not a climate or condition to bring forth controversial issue.
Imagine running a hard-fought campaign on a particular issue, sidewalks for example. You promise the voters that, if elected, you will work to have sidewalks built along Highway 50. Everyone loves the idea and votes for you. You win. Off you go to a council meeting, and you find out that there is only one other person who feels as you do. Too bad then, you can’t even get the matter on the agenda for discussion without three votes. You literally have to have won the day before you can start to win the day. There will not even be a debate to give the community a chance to be heard and speak on the issue. So much for campaign promises.
It seems to me it would be preferable for the elected official, and clearer to the voters, if you could run on a particular set of issues that you are committed to accomplishing. If the voters favor that direction and you are elected you would be able to address that agenda you ran on.
To do so requires a change from a general law city, which we now are, to a charter city. Becoming a charter city allows for a strong, directly elected mayor, who can actually carry out his agenda.
A close-to-home example is the strong-mayor initiative of Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, because of his frustration in enacting his agenda. The voters of Sacramento might have a chance to be heard at the ballot on this issue in November.
The actual cost of a directly elected mayor would no doubt be less than we are currently paying for the city manager, that office and staff. The current city manager’s budget is $501,613.
The mayor would be full-time, with an assistant or head of staff and all department heads would report directly to the full-time mayor. The mayor, as an elected official (who needs to be re-elected), would be out and available to the public – a much different dynamic than a hired and contracted city manager.
Our city is approaching an ideal opportunity to consider and debate this idea, because City Manager David Jenkins will be retiring soon. If we begin the debate now, we could offer the voters a choice coinciding with his retirement.
I am asking that we publicly consider the idea of a charter city and a directly elected mayor.
The council could instruct the city staff to do some research. It’s simple; the city of Sacramento has done most of it already and is willing to share it with us.
Schedule a public workshop on the idea, to fully wash out all the pros and cons. Then do the best thing for the community based on the facts, not rumors or fears or the “we have always done it that way” kind of thinking.
A directly elected mayor gives the community a real choice in our future, not just a gesture.
– Ted Long is a former councilmember, planning commissioner, and past president of the Sacramento Valley division of the League of California Cities
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