Opinion - League of Women Voters Urges No on Sacramento's Measure L

By Paula Lee, President League of Women Voters Sacramento County | October 13, 2014 Measure L will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot as “The C...

By Paula Lee, President League of Women Voters Sacramento County | October 13, 2014

Measure L will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot as “The Checks and Balances Act of 2014.”
Nice title -- except Measure L actually erases the checks and balances that exist in our current system. While proponents use all the good government words, Measure L would remove important transparency safeguards from public decision-making, such as allowing a mayor to operate outside the Brown Act, which requires that public business be conducted in public. A mayor could fire the city manager without cause, shifting our city to political management and decision-making.
Proponents say the city is working well under the current system and Measure L will “just make it work better.” Better for whom?
 Measure L is not a healthy choice for democracy. It reduces accountability and transparency, taking us back to the days of politically-run cities, weakening the City Council and the voice of neighborhoods.
Many successful council-manager cities larger than Sacramento thrive with a unified system like ours; they have effective mayors who provide policy direction and vision; dedicated council members who work with the mayor to establish public policy; and competent, professionally trained managers to carry out those decisions. This can sometimes be a slower process; however, building consensus to achieve the overall best result for the entire city requires leadership, not more power.
In contrast, a divided “strong mayor” system is likely to result in policy decisions with winners and losers. Voters can follow the money in this campaign to see who the potential winners might be.
We are alarmed that very large contributors to Measure L from outside our city and state are investing in a potential bypass of a deliberative body to meet in private with a mayor who is no longer part of the council and our public process.
Unlike state government, decisions made at the local level, such as land use and public services, have direct impacts on our lives. It is important that our governing body – the mayor and council -- be deliberative, collaborative and represent the people who live in Sacramento.
Decisions about the use of public money should be debated in public. If an idea is good, it is likely to stand the test of council and public scrutiny.
A city manager who only takes direction from a mayor, who can fire him or her without cause, is essentially acting as a “chief of staff.” Therefore, city employees could also be subjected to the politics of the mayor’s office. Sacramento is better served by a trained professional city manager who works to implement policies of a mayor and council that represent us. He or she is held accountable every day or can be removed for poor performance. In contrast, removing a mayor from office would require a costly recall effort by voters.
Cities using a council-manager system are more efficient (reported in an IBM study “Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: An Operations Benchmarking Study of 100 Cities”) because the city manager is shielded from political influence.
Other transparency ideas in the Measure L proposal are good, such as “sunshine” and ethics ordinances. However, none require changing our form of governance and all can be enacted now.
Sacramento’s future is bright. We’re moving past the worst recession in 100 years and Mayor Kevin Johnson has been successful at implementing his vision in the current system. Many people who share this mayor’s vision agree that Measure L is wrong for Sacramento. You can like the mayor and vote against this misguided measure.
The League of Women Voters finds that no convincing evidence or arguments have been made to support this risky change. We recommend voters keep democracy working in our city. Vote “no” on Measure L.

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