The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

October 27, 2008
US Attorney should resolve St. Hope and Johnson questions

Some labor unions  that want to re-elect Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and defeat challenger Kevin Johnson are airing a bunch of misleading  ads that say federal funds for school lunch  and reading programs have been cut off at two charter schools run by Johnson's St. Hope organization . The ads appear to be flat out lies. According to the principal of St. Hope's Public Schools, federal funds continue to flow to both schools. A spokesperson for the Sacramento Unified School District says the district has received no confirmation of any cut off of federal funds to either. 

Rumors of a cutoff began flying after Inspector General Gerald Walpin sent out a press release last month  announcing the government was suspending all federal grants to Johnson's St. Hope organization because Johnson may have committed "potential criminal violations," But that investigation targeted only St. Hope Academy's Hood Corps (a domestic urban Peace Corps-type program), not its charter schools. The folks who put out the false ad must know that.

Walpin's report was refered to the U.S. Attorney's office for possible federal prosecution. When I asked him about the report last month, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott  told me that "he was"sensitive to the bigger picture," and promised to move "as expeditiously as we can in a professional manner to make the decisions required of us in a timely manner. " By timely, I had hoped Scott meant before the election. That's just nine days away now.  It's been almost a month since IG Walpin made his highly sensational allegations public. Johnson says the charges are bogus. Nonetheless, Fargo supporters are exaggerating them to try to defeat Johnson. Parents and students are being alarmed needlessly

 The U.S. Attorney could resolve this issue once and for all. In fairness to Johnson, Fargo, and the voters he should.

October 14, 2008
Kevin Johnson's troubling pledge to union firefighters

Back in early September, we asked mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson for a copy of the pledge he signed at the behest of  Local 522, the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Union, which had endorsed him. He wouldn't give it to us. So we asked the union for it. They refused as well.

Two weeks ago when Johnson came to the editorial board for an endorsement interview, we again asked for the paper he'd signed.. He refused to give it to us and told us to get if from the union. We tried. They refused as well. So we appealed to Johnson's campaign manager, Steve Maviglio. After several days he persuaded union officials to send us a copy. Here it is. Read it and you'll understand why Johnson and the union wanted to keep it under wraps.

In it Johnson promises to support an as yet unwritten union initiative. "I support the Neighborhood Firehouse Protection Act which guarantees Sacramento City spend necessary resources to keep every fire company in the city open, fully equipped and staffed at a minimum of four firefighters." The promise to maintain four-person staffing is the most troubling part of Johnson's pledge. Many urban fire departments, including the Sacramento Metro Fire Department, use three-person crews. Because the city of Sacramento's contract with city fire fighters requires four crew members, the city has had to shut down fire engines because they cannot all be staffed to that level. If the city had three-person crews it could afford to keep those engines running. It also could afford to open a badly needed new fire station in Natomas. Johnson's pledge, if enacted via an initiative, would lock the city's current, expensive staffing policy in place so that no future city council could change it.

 Johnson is apparently willing to jettison other city budget priorities to give union firefighters what they demand. The pledge he signed goes on to say, "This measure does not include a funding source and I understand possible cuts could be incurred by parks and recreation, youth programs, libraries and other city departments."

Firefighter union leaders sent a cover letter along with Johnson's pledge that obviously seeks to soften its full meaning. They point out that the initiative has not yet been written and that the union has "not decided to go forward with this effort." They also say that Johnson "made it clear to us that every department of city govenment, including the fire department, would be reviewed in light of budgetary constraints."

But if the initiative Johnson has pledged to support does go forward, it would tie the hands of all future mayors and city councils. It would prevent the city from making sensible fire staffing changes  to protect other vital city services -- police, for example.

Because of budget problems, the city council has cut the police budget 8 percent. They cut the fire department only 4 percent. To save money police have been forced to double up in patrol cars. Fire fighters still get to maintain four person crews. Where does Johnson stand on police versus fire? The pledge he signed suggests that fire takes precedence over police. Does it? It's a question that needs answering as the campaign enters the home stretch.

October 9, 2008
Bride is back
Listen up folks. Every Friday I do a commentary on something important or not so important. This week it's about bride and groom - words recently deleted from California's marriage license. The words are being restored,  thanks in part to a Roseville couple who refused to be called Party A and Party B. I say good for them.  You can hear me say it right here
October 6, 2008
No knock outs but Kevin wins on points.

You can't win a debate when you're playing defense at all times.

 Mayor Heather Fargo played defense with challenger Kevin Johnson all night tonight. He was aggressive and he was passionate, especially about education. He offered some new ideas. For example: He suggested that Sac State open a satellite campus downtown. Interesting. He pointed to some real achievements in Oak Park, his attempt to revitalize a forgotten corner of the city.

 Fargo's best moment came when she asked Johnson how he was going to pay for all the new police he wants to hire. What will you cut to pay for them, Kevin, she wanted to know. Good question. He bobbed and weaved - an audit to feret out "waste, fraud and abuse" was the best he could come up with.

In terms of substance - Sac State students asked very good questions. So did the moderators. As for atmospherics - I found the electronic stars and stripes waving behind the two candidates distracting. I also saw very little levity. You get the impression these two really don't like each other. 

  

October 2, 2008
Second thoughts on Palin and Biden
When compared to McCain and Obama, both Biden and Palin won the "Who would you like to have a beer with after work?" contest . They looked at each other during the debate. They smiled and even laughed occassionally.  After the debate they were relaxed and seemed genuinely friendly in their exchange.  Their families seemed to enjoy meeting. What's up with McCain? He seems to have a hard time even looking at Obama.    
October 2, 2008
Ginger's take on the Palin-Biden throw down

Palin proved she could string together coherent sentences, an attribute many Americans had come to doubt in recent weeks. She re-assured her base, and thus did what she needed to do. Biden was great, better than Obama last week, intelligent, articulate and passionate. He treated Palin with respect. He didn't patronize her but he didn't let her get away with distorting McCain's record or Obama's. At one point when he talked about his first wife who died in a car crash and his sons who nearly died he reminded me that sometimes fathers can be mothers too. That was powerful.  I think both Palin and Biden exceeded expectations.



About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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