Yes on Measure A
City needs accountable leader
By Chet Hewitt and Cassandra Jennings
This summer, in response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, almost 2,000 activists held a “die-in” in front of Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s home. This was a powerful and moving expression of hurt and concern about racial injustice and desire for real change. Yet many of these activists were likely unaware that under our current system of governance, the buck stops with the city manager, who is not elected by the voters, rather than the mayor.
That is not the demonstrators’ fault. The current system of Sacramento city governance runs counter to the tradition of checks and balances to which Americans are accustomed.
As we all learned in high school civics class, government has three main branches: legislative, executive and judicial (the last of which is not applicable at a city level).
The legislative branch (City Council at a local level) sets policy and approves budgets. The executive branch is charged with implementing policies within the approved budget. An example of executive branch leadership would be the governor, who is elected to serve the entire state of California, not only one legislative district.
Voters rightly expect their elected executive leader to act in times of crisis. They expect to hold him or her accountable for keeping their commitments. Sacramento runs contrary to this commonly accepted tradition of roles and responsibilities. Our city manager is an unelected official, appointed by City Council.
We are well aware that many promises made by elected leaders have not been kept. This is not simply because individual leaders lacked the commitment to stand by their word. It is because we have a system of local government that is not structured to allow effective leadership or accountability. By approving Measure A, we can make real reforms. Measure A will align responsibility with accountability in Sacramento.
Measure A will give our city a true executive branch that citizens may petition, that citizens can hold responsible and that has the power to respond to crises. It would give our city leader the authority and responsibility to ensure justice in policing and equity in economic decisions, moving us past the status quo.
Sacramento’s Thousand Strong initiative is an example of the disconnect Measure A will address. The mission of Thousand Strong is to boost Sacramento’s economic prosperity by working with local businesses to create a pool of skilled, experienced young talent, while giving Sacramento youth valuable career experience that develops their professional skills and resume. This plan was championed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, but the program so far has had limited participation. This is because no one in the non-elected city government was accountable for Thousand Strong’s success.
Measure A will ensure that decisions made about Sacramento are guided by an inclusive and comprehensive vision grounded in equity and championed by a mayor who is the only elected official accountable to every single city resident.
Measure A charges the mayor with proposing a vision for our entire city. Moreover, the updated City Charter will spell out how community input will be reflected in our city budget. Based upon this participatory budget process and impact analysis, the mayor will bring to City Council an actionable vision and budget.
Community participation will be valued as a resource in building up communities, and neighborhood capacity will grow. Measure A will provide youth from every neighborhood enriching opportunities that are pathways to 21st century jobs.
Our elected citywide leader should be both empowered and accountable for making this vision a reality. This is why Sacramento voters should pass Measure A.
Cassandra Jennings is president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League. Her husband is City Councilmember Rick Jennings. Chet Hewett is co-founder of Build. Black.