City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

June 7, 2012
Shake-up at Mayor Johnson's office: Top two aides leaving

Mayor Kevin Johnson's top two staffers are leaving to head the mayor's Think Big arena task force.

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Chief of Staff Kunal Merchant (pictured with Johnson, right) and Special Assistant R.E. Graswich are leaving to focus on the mayor's "Plan B" for an arena. That plan is exploring whether the city could build a downtown arena without the involvement of the Sacramento Kings.

It seems unlikely an arena would be built without the Kings, given that a $67 million loan the team has with the city would apparently be forgiven if the city built an NBA-quality facility that competes with Power Balance Pavilion.

That leaves Think Big to look at other ventures, including projects that might take advantage of a proposal to generate revenue out of downtown parking operations. Possibilities include other large civic projects, such as a baseball stadium.

Merchant will serve as Think Big's executive director, replacing outgoing director Chris Lehane. Graswich will be the task force's director of public affairs.

Johnson is hiring former Assistant City Managers Cassandra Jennings and Patti Bisharat as his senior advisors, effective June 18.

Jennings will work on the mayor's initiatives on the arts, public safety, homelessness and green technology. Bisharat will serve as the mayor's chief advisor on issues before the City Council.

Johnson said the moves would let him "hit the ground running" in his second term. Jennings and Bisharat have a combined 56 years in city and regional government agencies - including several years working alongside some current council members - and the mayor will likely lean on them as he tries to create allies on the council.

AP file photo

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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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