City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

June 13, 2012
Sacramento City Council takes a bite out of Mayor Johnson's powers

Mayor Kevin Johnson may now be the weakest big city mayor in America.

In what the mayor's office considers "petty political game-playing," the City Council moved forward Tuesday with stripping the mayor of the power to appoint an office manager for the mayor and council wing of City Hall. Instead, after 25 years, the council wants the city clerk to take over that authority.

Appointing the mayor-council operations manager had been one of the very few citywide powers the mayor held. The office manager keeps track of council finances and other logistics.

Councilman Steve Cohn's request that a resolution be drafted to make the change was approved by the council 7-2, with Johnson and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby voting against the move. The resolution is scheduled to come back to the council next week, when it will likely pass.

Cohn said the mayor-council office manager position "has been a little bit of a football from year to year." Until this week, the job had been held by Lisa Serna, who Johnson appointed when he took office in 2008.

"Hopefully we can keep that from being anything personal in the future and a football among the different offices," Cohn said.

The push to wrestle the job away from the mayor was spearheaded by Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, who originally called for Tuesday's discussion. It's well known that Sheedy's office has tussled with Johnson, and that Serna has at times felt the brunt of that tension.

Johnson slammed the decision to make the change, arguing it was being rushed through and taking up staff time the same night the council adopted a budget for the city.

"It sends a wrong message to the public about our priorities," the mayor said, adding the chain of command had "worked well" for former Mayors Anne Rudin, Joe Serna, Jimmie Yee and Heather Fargo.

"To do it now," the mayor said, "just diminishes the limited authority or power or influence the mayor has in a way I just don't think is productive. And I don't think it's in the best interest of the city."

Said the mayor's chief of staff, Kunal Merchant: "This kind of needless, petty political game-playing diminishes our city and makes voters question our priorities - especially at a time when all attention should be on saving the police officers, firefighters and other hardworking public servants whose jobs hang in the balance."

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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


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