City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

May 17, 2011
Mayor, two councilmembers absent as city debates police cuts

Of all the budget hearings to take place at City Hall over the next six weeks, none may be as intense as tonight's, when proposed cuts to the police department are rolled out in detail.

The police and fire unions will be there in force, scheduling a press conference before the 6 p.m. hearing to criticize proposals to lay off 80 police officers and shut down fire rigs. Cops, firefighters and neighborhood activists will also be there, as will the media.

But three key people won't be there.

Mayor Kevin Johnson is missing tonight's council hearing to act as the Sacramento Kings' representative at the NBA draft lottery outside New York, where the team's pick in the draft is determined. Johnson was asked to represent the Kings last week by the Maloofs during an impassioned fan rally downtown.

Councilman Rob Fong and Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell are also expected to miss the hearing. Fong is out of town on business and Pannell is mourning the recent death of her mother. They were absent during an earlier budget session, leaving six members of the City Council to debate how to fill a $39 million citywide deficit.

Now, the council is not taking a vote tonight on the proposed cuts to the police department. But council members can - and most certainly will - provide direction to the city manager's office on the plan.

The situation left me wondering: When it comes to Johnson, where do Sacramento residents want their mayor tonight? He has been widely praised for his work to help keep the Kings here another season, but the cuts to the police department being proposed are probably the most severe the city has ever seen.

It's the fourth council meeting Johnson has missed this year. While council members and the mayor can't be absent for five meetings in a row, there's nothing in the City Charter regulating how many sessions they can miss in total.

The mayor's office said Johnson will be in constant communication with Police Chief Rick Braziel, Interim City Manager Bill Edgar and members of the police union throughout the night. And, the mayor's office pointed out, no final decision on the budget will be made until next month.

"The mayor would not miss a vote (on the budget)," said Johnson's special assistant, R.E. Graswich. "He has difficult choices to make as mayor and it's important for him to represent the city on the national stage (at the NBA draft lottery)."

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at rlillis@sacbee.com

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