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Mayor Kevin Johnson’s strong mayor initiative may be dead, but charter reform is still on life support at City Hall after a 6-3 vote at a City Council meeting Tuesday to put a measure on the ballot that will let voters decide whether a new, elected charter commission should be formed.
The measure puts two questions on the November ballot: Do the voters want to form an elected charter commission? And if the answer to the first is yes, then who do the voters want to be on that commission?
The second question will be followed by a list of candidates, and voters will be asked to select 15 commissioners from among them.
If elected, the commission will have up to two years to study the city charter and recommend any changes, which would go to the voters for approval in the 2016 election.
“If Sacramento elects a charter commission, it can take its time to do this correctly and look closely at what Sacramento needs instead of sneaking through major charter revisions during the Christmas holidays,” Anna Molander, former chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, said Tuesday.
“It will give Sacramento the opportunity to transform itself through the work of its citizenry, as it has always done,” she added.
Council members against putting an elected charter commission on the November ballot included Johnson and fellow council members Angelique Ashby and Jay Schenirer – both of whom said the idea is fine, but the city’s economic concerns need to come first.
“When we are talking about money, people will be saying ‘that’s two police officers or one rescue boat’ or something else that has been on the chopping block,” Ashby said Tuesday. “We could make these choices – and they would definitely be spending choices. It’s just not the right time to push for this.”
McCarty said he understands the costs involved and believes they are valid.
“There is no free lunch, and democracy does cost something,” McCarty said.
Putting the measure on the ballot will cost the city roughly $305,000 in election costs, according to the city staff report. If a commission is elected, another estimated $316,500 will be spent to support the commission through its two-year term, including staff time, meeting support and supplies.
Council members also voted Tuesday to set contribution limits for commissioner campaigns at $500 for individuals and $1,500 for large political committees, and the council selected members Kevin McCarty, Steve Cohn and Angelique Ashby to write arguments for and against the proposal that will also appear on the ballot.
The idea of an elected charter commission has been floating about City Hall since early this year when the City Council rejected Johnson’s push for a strong mayor initiative to go to the ballot – which would have been the third incarnation of the proposal from the mayor’s camp since he was first elected in 2008.
Cohn said the issue has been discussed repeatedly at the City Council and needs to be finally resolved.
“We can’t keep running away from this,” Cohn said Tuesday. “At some point, the people of this great city need to have a say on it.”
If an elected charter commission gets the go-ahead from Sacramento voters, it will be only the third one created in state history after San Francisco’s elected commission in 1978 and another in Los Angeles in 1996.