Essay: “Strong mayor” plan makes false promises on accountability and equity and will reduce people power
By Jeff Harris and Katie Valenzuela
We have a lot of work to do as a city. We want to build a more responsive government that will actively work to achieve equity in communities that have been left behind for far too long. We need to make a strategy to rebuild after the pandemic that makes our economy better than it was before.
But we cannot let our desire for change lead us to false solutions.
Measure A would change our City Charter to give the mayor more power while making false promises about accountability and equity. It will reduce the influence of City Council members—and thereby the influence of the people—on the city’s direction.
That’s why the voters rejected “strong mayor” in 2014, and why a broad coalition of unions, community organizations and neighborhood leaders have now joined together to say No Way to Measure A.
The proponents of the measure say that the city manager is appointed, not elected (which is true) and therefore is not accountable to the people (which is untrue). Our city manager works for the council. Their actions are guided by the council, and the council can remove the manager at any time for non-performance. That’s accountability!
On the other hand, if you don’t like the decisions of a “strong mayor,” you are stuck with that leader until the next election, or face a costly recall process. Concentrating most of the power in a single person who can’t be fired is a loss of accountability and invites cronyism as well as big-money investment in mayoral campaigns.
You can already see this happening, as wealthy individuals and business organizations in Sacramento line up to support Measure A, while neighborhood organizations and community leaders have formed a grassroots campaign in opposition.
Will “strong mayor” solve homelessness or make the city more resilient in a crisis? No. The council moved very swiftly in aiding the community with federal CARES Act money and buying hotels for homeless housing. All Measure A will achieve is to allow the mayor to make decisions without having to consult council members—a dangerous amount of authority for any one politician.
Our council will soon have two new progressive members, making this the most diverse council ever. As our city grows, we need more voices at the table to ensure that all people’s needs are met equitably. Council members are able to be more available to constituents and more attuned to the community’s needs. If Measure A passes, the mayor will no longer be required to attend council meetings to hear public comment, but can still veto decisions of the council.
Our current council-manager governance model works well. Of 482 cities in California, only five have adopted strong mayor. Why? Because citizens want to have a say in their government, and according to studies, our current system is 10% more efficient than a strong mayor form of governance.
Measure A promises $40 million annually for “inclusive economic development” and our youth, but is written so broadly it can become meaningless. Measure A will not keep the promise of Measure U, and this set-aside of money will reduce essential city services in a recession. Our city already has a sunshine ordinance and Ethics Commission, and all of the equity “sweeteners” in this proposal can be achieved without giving the mayor more power.
We have a lot of work to do, but changing our governance structure in a pandemic is a fool’s errand.
Vote no way on Measure A.
Joe Serna did not need a charter amendment to be a strong mayor.