Sacramento City Council deflects grand jury recommendations

City Hall doesn’t like criticism.


Think of it as “jury snooty.”

Not everyone handles criticism well. Addressing the Sacramento Grand Jury’s findings that the city council failed to adequately educate voters about three local ballot measures last fall, officials struck a tetchy tone in a response approved Sept. 24.

In June, the grand jury said Mayor Kevin Johnson and his staff missed the deadline to file a ballot argument in opposition to a half-cent sales tax hike called Measure U, depriving voters of the opportunity to weigh both sides of the argument. Sixty-four percent of voters adopted the initiative last November. An initiative to review the city’s charter got walloped by an even wider margin.

The city says it’s implemented time-line reminders to prevent future one-sided ballot arguments, but was less receptive to the investigative body’s other recommendations.

The jury also found that some council members farmed out their ballot argument-writing duties and that the city clerk’s office suggested submitting certain arguments just before deadline to delay access by the media and opponents. “Not sure if this matters. Let me know,” the staffer’s email read.

Making sure council members who are tasked with authoring ballot arguments actually do so “requires further analysis,” the city says in its response. So, too, does a recommendation that elected officials don’t write arguments for and against measures they supported placing on the ballot in the first place.

“There is nothing in state law that disallows this practice,” says the written response prepared by Johnson’s office, city attorney James C. Sanchez and city clerk Shirley Concolino.

That may be true for now, but a state legislator’s office is looking into possibly changing that. In its report, the grand jury warned that the practice comes close to being a conflict of interest.

A council committee was supposed to author the response to the jury, but a staff report says council members Darrell Fong and Kevin McCarty declined the mayor’s appointments to it.

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