Should Sacramento’s city attorney take over a responsibility currently held by Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully?

That question generated political disputes among City Council members Tuesday night.

Debates over the Sacramento City Council’s budget priorities and Mayor Kevin Johnson’s new strong mayor proposal entered into a discussion of whether City Attorney Eileen Teichert should take on misdemeanors of state laws that happen in the city.

Councilman Kevin McCarty brought the issue to the City Council Tuesday in the context of the county’s budget cuts. He is raising concerns about possible cuts the county Board of Supervisors may make to Scully’s office this week. The Board of Supervisors may approve the county’s budget today, Thursday or Friday.

While City Council members Kevin McCarty and Sandy Sheedy support the idea of adding this duty to Teichert’s responsibilities, Council members Robbie Waters and Bonnie Pannell found flaws with it.

Three separate methods could be used to give Teichert the power to handle misdemeanors of state laws, according to June 15 report written by Teichert.

Sacramento’s city attorney could gain this right if Scully decides to cede it.

In a second method, voters could grant the ability to Teichert by approving a ballot measure, the report said. Because Sacramento’s city government is based on a charter, or constitution, voters can give the city attorney this capacity by passing a charter amendment, according to Teichert’s report.

Teichert could also assume this power through a new state law, though the report said that method is uncommon.

“While no city has been identified that has made such a request, and no city has received such authorizing state legislation, that does not mean such legislation is not possible,” Teichert wrote.

Budget politics came into play during the council’s discussion. The city attorney’s office thinks it could cost $2 million if Teichert eventually handles these misdemeanors. But Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell pointed out the city is struggling with a $43 million budget gap that includes major cuts to Parks and Recreation.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get $2 million at this time,” Pannell said. “If I had $2 million, I’d give it Parks and Recreation for our kids on the streets.”

Meanwhile, Waters compared the strong mayor issue to the discussion of Teichert’s powers. He expressed opposition to the idea of putting a charter amendment on the November ballot. Waters pointed out that the City Council would have to make a decision on the charter amendment by July in order to place an amendment before voters in the fall.

In Waters’ view, that timeframe is too short.

He accused Teichert and others of being inconsistent with similar timeframe issues involved with placing the strong mayor proposal on the November ballot.

“When the strong mayor was discussed, you and others said that it should be vetted,” Waters said.

Teichert disagreed with Waters’ comments. “First of all, Councilman Waters, I’d like to clarify that I’ve never taken any position on vetting of the strong mayor initiative.”

She said she was not taking an advocacy position on the issue of whether the misdemeanors issue should go on the ballot.

Council members will continue to discuss the idea at its June 22 meeting. The council asked Teichert to talk to Scully about the district attorney’s revenues.

Read Teichert’s report on the issue. 

Photo by Anthony Bento.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.