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During the debate on a “strong mayor” system of government, each side battled over which form of government allowed for the greatest accountability to the public, democratic ideals in decision making and open debate of policy.
After a fateful 5-4 vote not to promote Gus Vina to full-time city manager and his subsequent resignation, I know that the council system we currently have is seriously broken. Why? Not because of the vote itself or Vina’s decision. But because the debate and vote were conducted behind closed doors in a closed session.
I have no idea why the council decided not to promote Vina. Council members refuse to talk with our reporters about the decision. Wait, what? Yes, you and I and everyone else has no idea why we are without a city manager. We, the public, were not party to the decision, and we cannot easily hold the council accountable, because we do not know the reasoning.
The decision over who manages our entire city government may be the most fateful decision in a decade since that person is tough to both hire and fire under the current system. Yet the people were not a party to it. We were not allowed to speak one way or another in a pubic forum. Whatever the reason, we were not told what the council or individual council members were thinking. Here at The Sacramento Press, our reporters have no access to the real story. So the public will continue to go uninformed.
There are many theories about the value of representative democracy. My favorite is that it allows the people to be deeply involved in consensus-building, and that leads to policies more aligned with public opinion. Another is simply that the public has the ability to “throw the bum out” when we get fed up with a leader. As long as our council hides behind closed-door sessions and refuses to talk with the press about the most material of all decisions, we have neither form. We cannot easily throw them out, nor are we deeply involved in policy making.
Which brings me to the “strong mayor” structure of city government. It may be susceptible to corruption and place too much power in the hands of one official, but at least we could throw the bum out.