Magazine article Public Management

Preserving Professional Management: Lessons Learned in Sacramento, California

Magazine article Public Management

Preserving Professional Management: Lessons Learned in Sacramento, California

Article excerpt

The future of local government professional management in Sacramento, California, did not look good last summer. The city's well-known mayor, Kevin Johnson, rode positive public opinion for his efforts to preserve Sacramento's professional basketball team--he being a former NBA player himself--and made a full-court press to change the form of government from council-manager to mayor-council or "strong mayor."

Mayor Johnson had raised several hundred thousand dollars to fund this campaign and had secured a variety of influential endorsements, including one from the dominant daily newspaper in Sacramento. The opposition had just begun to get organized, but had challenges initially raising enough seed funding to determine whether an opposition campaign had any chance of success and would be worth mounting.

Since he had first been elected in 2008, Mayor Johnson had made four attempts to change the city's form of government. The first three had failed to make it on the ballot for a variety of reasons, including the opposition of a majority of the city council.

The November 2012 election changed the composition of the council, however, and provided the mayor with a majority willing to place the proposed charter change on the ballot. The Sacramento City Council voted in late 2013 to place Measure L, the strong-mayor charter change, on the ballot for the November 2014 election. The stage was set for a showdown over the city's form of government.

Time for a New Strategy

In an attempt to reduce opposition to the proposal from a community that had been well served by the council-manager form of government, the proposed new charter under Measure L would have retained a position with the title of city manager. The fundamental authority and responsibilities of the city's day-to-day executive management, however, would have been transferred to the mayor.

A number of local supporters of professional local government management had worked diligently since the initial proposal in 2008 to retain the council-manager form.

These included local government professionals, many of whom are ICMA members; former council-members and mayors; neighborhood associations; academics; and labor organizations.

Convincing previous city councils not to place strong-mayor proposals on the ballot had been quite a different task than countering a well-funded and well-organized campaign once a majority of the new city council placed the matter on the ballot. The proponents of the change used the long pre-election lead time to aggressively fundraise and seek endorsements. They generated more than $800,000 and obtained a wide range of endorsements in support of Measure L.

In light of this new and different type of challenge, supporters of the council-manager retention had to develop a new strategy. Early on, it became clear that it was essential to have representation from the local political leadership as part of the opposition effort.

Some former mayors and council-members were active in the opposition campaign, but it was current council-member Steve Hansen who became the face of the campaign.

While having served only two years on the Sacramento City Council, Hansen decided to join the challenge to Measure L, even though the proposed change was endorsed by a majority of his colleagues. He was also willing to take the political risk of alienating the mayor, who soon could have substantially greater power.

ICMA Renders Assistance

Over the past several years, ICMA had monitored the efforts to abandon the council-manager form in Sacramento, and during the Measure L campaign, members in and around the area were instrumental in keeping the organization informed of developments regarding the issue.

Once the proposal was placed on the ballot, ICMA communicated its ability to assist local supporters of the council-manager form with information and potential financial assistance. …

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