Rick Kirkwood, a retired City Manager and regular contributor to PublicCEO, weighs in on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s Strong Mayor initiative.

I take no issue with anyone who wants “action, results and accountability.”

However, I do take issue when someone, by virtue of being elected to their first public office, declares a public mandate to give him more power. 

California Charter Cities have been proven and tested time and time again.  When a novice politician declares a public mandate to give him more power, one should step back and ask why and to what end?

Under the current Sacramento Charter the Mayor and City Council serve jointly to set policy and the professional staff, under the direction of City Managers, carry out those policies. 

The elected legislators, including the Mayor, best serve the public when they work together.  If there is a need to make charter amendments they should place the items on the open public agenda and discuss all proposed changes in public open meetings.

By setting the Mayors responsibilities apart, especially in setting the agenda and proposing the annual budget, it places the Mayor in a “boss politician” role that essential reduces the city council’s role and authority. 

Budgets in all cities are growing more complex and contentious.  Creating a “boss Mayor” position will create political divide, unions will court the Mayor and intensive lobbying and special access will be given for political reasons.

The Mayor and the City Council are expected to work and act together to provide policy guidance and vote on issues in the public that makes for better public policy. 

City Managers remain apolitical, and are hired for their knowledge, experience and ability to fulfill the public agenda, within the given resources.  Boss Mayor’s with the sweeping authority with these charter amendments are dangerous and should be resisted by the city council. 

If charter amendments are to be made, make them after the changes are completely vetted in the public process.

To rush such sweeping charter amendments in the first year of office of a novice Mayor is ill advised and frankly suspect.

Richard Kirkwood
Retired City Manager