Does city need a ‘strong mayor’?

If passed by a majority of voters, MEASURE A would revise City Charter from ‘council-manager’ form of government to ‘mayor-council’ form.


City leaders would be more accountable

By Jay Schenirer

Sacramento voters have a chance to vote for change and progress this November, of course with the choice for president, but also much further down on the ballot, with a choice for change to Sacramento’s city governance system.

Measure A would shift how our city is governed, making the elected city leader directly accountable for implementing policies that advance equity and economic progress in Sacramento.

In Sacramento’s current structure, an unelected city manager is the executive head of government who is in charge of all operations. Under the Brown Act, a City Council member may talk with only three colleagues about a specific issue prior to a public hearing; the city manager can speak with all council members.

Neither the mayor nor any council member may require an action of the city manager or city staff. This means no one elected by the people has the authority to direct action by city government. We can simply encourage city staff to get things done. This makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to respond appropriately to constituent concerns.

When there is no accountability, and no elected leader has the authority to get city government to act, the result is painfully incremental progress on anything in our city. As I wrote in my

last Viewpoint column, it took more than three years to get a new crosswalk installed in front of the Children’s Home on Sutterville Road. While I am proud this was accomplished, it shouldn’t take that long to make progress.

Our mayor is elected citywide, based on a vision for Sacramento and commitments to improve our collective future. The mayor should have the authority to get that vision accomplished and should be accountable for implementing policies that advance equity and economic progress in Sacramento.

And, while we need our city leader to be accountable for more efficiency in the routine government operations, this need is even greater in times of crisis.

But, since Measure A would shift accountability to the mayor, does that mean that perspectives of neighborhoods represented by City Council members would carry less weight?

Actually the opposite is true.

Measure A would give neighborhoods a bigger voice and would strengthen City Council. It would give City Council exclusive authority over land-use and planning decisions, ensuring that neighborhood perspectives would be taken into account.

With Measure A, the mayor would no longer lead or serve on City Council, and a ninth seat would be added to City Council, which would improve diversity among our elected leadership.

The strengthened City Council would have the power to override the mayor’s executive authority with a two-thirds vote. Measure A also would establish term limits for the mayor to no more than two terms.

Measure A also would establish in our City Charter a process that would increase citizen participation in establishing budget priorities and elevate input from our neighborhoods.

Many of these changes can happen without a change in the charter, but there is no guarantee that future councils will be supportive.

As we face the pandemic and related economic crisis, homelessness, climate change and racial justice reckoning, Sacramento has big challenges. We need an accountable leader and City Council that can take action and leverage opportunities to address these pressing issues and move Sacramento forward.

Under Measure A, we the people could fairly hold city leaders accountable for making progress.

Jay Schenirer is the District 5 member of City Council.


Residents would lose their voice in city decisions

By Rosanna Herber

Measure A would concentrate

political power with the mayor, while simultaneously relinquishing the policy-making ability of City Council.

This loss of power would diminish the voices of neighbors, neighborhood associations and city residents.

How? Under Measure A, the mayor would be separated from the council and no longer required to attend council meetings to hear directly from neighborhood leaders and community advocates. The mayor could veto any council ordinance he or she didn’t like and fire the city manager without cause.

Councilmembers could overturn a mayor’s veto with six out of nine votes, but that’s a higher bar than now, where a neighborhood association can win a decision at council with five votes.

Who would benefit if you split power in a community? Not neighborhood associations that would lose weekly access to the mayor. Not marginalized communities that feel heard by the mayor and council now.

If this measure passes, special interests funding this campaign (developers, chambers, labor unions) will only need to influence ONE elected official to have their way at City Hall. Now, they must lobby all eight councilmembers and the mayor, just like our neighborhood association does. This shift of power to the mayor would weaken our ability as neighbors to be heard.

I worked for a strong mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana’s second-largest city. I saw what happens when political forces run city government instead of professional expertise. Honestly, it was great working for my strong mayor because we did get things done faster, but not better. When my “strong mayor” ran for governor, he ordered me to reallocate dollars only to Democratic neighborhoods. He didn’t care if a public process had decided differently; people could vote him out in three years. Three years? That’s accountability?

I resigned and moved to California, where I worked as chief of staff to Sacramento City Councilmember Kim Mueller. Here, I saw how the professional city manager-council form of government makes for less political havoc and better government outcomes. But it requires the electeds to work cooperatively.

Wouldn’t Measure A address inequities for communities of color, fund economic development and youth services in low-income neighborhoods, and require city government to analyze the racial, ethnic, LGBTQ and gender impacts of its decisions? Yes, but all those excellent ideas can be done right now, without taking the radical step of changing the City Charter.

According to Councilmember Larry Carr, every neighborhood president in District 8 (South Sacramento/ Meadowview) is against Measure A. In North Sacramento, both the Gardenland/ Northgate and Del Paso Heights community associations are against it.

These are the poorest neighborhoods in our city. They understand this measure would diminish their voices.

You can love Mayor Darrell Steinberg, feel his genuine compassion to fix Sacramento’s problems, and still vote against Measure A. We need his leadership to help the council work better together, not give up the professional form of city governance for a political one.

Sacramento is at a crossroads. Special interests have decided that gifting ONE person with more power would be better than having everyone work out issues in an open, public setting. It’s true this would make things easier for the mayor and for the council, but not for the residents and neighborhoods they are elected to serve.

Measure A is a power grab for the mayor’s office. Please vote No.

Rosanna Herber is the Ward 4 member of the SMUD board.


Prepared by Susana Alcala Wood, City Attorney

The Sacramento City Council has placed Measure A, the “Sacramento Mayoral Accountability and Community Equity Act of 2020,” on the ballot.

Measure A, if passed by a majority of the voters, would revise the Sacramento City Charter, the voter-approved “constitution” that established the framework for city government.

The chart below summarizes the comparison of the features of Measure A to the current system.

Current CharterMeasure A
Mayor is one of nine councilmembersMayor no longer a councilmember, but may attend and be heard at council meetings

Nine-member council with president and vice-president (eight members until 2022)
City manager is cityʼs chief executive officerMayor is chief executive officer City manager is chief administrative officer
Council appoints city managerMayor appoints city manager with council concurrence
Vote of six councilmembers required to remove city managerMayor removes city manager; council has six-vote override if removal is without cause
No mayoral veto Mayor can veto ordinances, with exceptions, subject to six-vote council override

Mayor can veto councilʼs approved budget (includes line-item veto), subject to six-vote council override
No term limits Mayor has two-term limit
City manager presents proposed budget to councilMayor presents proposed budget to council
Mayor appoints persons to boards and commissions, subject to council concurrenceCouncil-adopted ordinance may set method of appointment; mayor may appoint representatives to outside agencies, subject to council concurrence

Measure A forum on video

Former SCNA President Patrick Soluri moderated a Sept. 12 forum on Measure A for SCNA board members, with City Councilmember Jay Schenirer speaking in favor of the measure, and SMUD board member Rosanna Herber in opposition.

A video recording of the forum may be seen at

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