A routine review of the proposed city budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year was punctured Tuesday night by a fiery exchange between two Sacramento
City Council members over five new positions that would bolster the mayor’s staff and increase his spending by 70 percent.
Mayor Kevin Johnson did not attend the City Council meeting. Daniel Conway, the mayor’s chief of staff, said he was out of town.
But the issue at the center of the night’s most heated exchange was a budget proposal that would afford the mayor’s office five new positions, at a cost of nearly $700,000. The positions were spread out in the budget document such that only two appeared under the mayor’s recommendation for his own office. The other three were listed in the city manager’s line item.
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City Councilman Steve Hansen took issue with the request, as well as the fact that one of those jobs, a legislative director, has already been filled – weeks ahead of the council’s debate Tuesday and more than a month before the spending plan is likely to be approved.
“I’m dismayed that since 2012 to 2013, the mayor’s office will have grown by over a million dollars while we have not restored park workers,” Hansen said. “This is not the time to feather our own nests. This is not the time to staff up at the top. This is the time to add line-level workers to accomplish the people’s business.”
At that point, Councilman Allen Warren, the vice mayor, interrupted Hansen to say it was unfair to attack the mayor’s budget without him in the room.
“I believe that if any of us has a request, we should at least be here to defend it,” Warren said.
“I have the microphone,” he said.
“Not if I take it from you,” Warren countered.
James Sanchez, the city’s attorney, finally stepped in, allowing Hansen to finish his thoughts.
“I will not be silenced when I think something is wrong,” Hansen said.
Warren later explained that he was trying to prevent what he thought could be a “dangerous” precedent of attacking council members when they were absent from the meeting.
“I don’t want people up here taking shots at (the mayor) just because he's not here,” Warren said to reporters after the meeting. “We’ve had a pretty efficient council and a pretty effective council, and I would like to try to maintain that as best I can.”
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Warren, who said he first learned of the mayor’s staffing proposal from a Sacramento Bee article on Sunday, said he was “shocked” by the amount Johnson’s office was requesting.
“But I at least want to give the proponent of it an opportunity to speak about it,” Warren said. “I don't believe the case has been made, but I still think the mayor deserves an opportunity to make his case.”
Hansen wasn’t the only council member to oppose the mayor’s proposal Tuesday.
Councilman Jeff Harris said it would “take a very powerful argument” to persuade him to support the mayor’s “huge increase in staff.”
“No other department will receive that kind of an increase,” Harris said, noting the addition would the mayor’s staff by nearly 70 percent.
Tuesday was the first chance the City Council had to debate or discuss the budget proposal. The spending plan will be subjected to several more meetings and recommendations before a final version is voted on by the council in June.
The budget was created this year with significant input from the mayor and some council members.
City Manager John Shirey on Tuesday highlighted several aspects of the $940 million budget, including allocations for improved amenities, parks, housing and public safety initiatives.
The spending plan includes nearly $19 million in new spending from a list of requests from elected officials that totaled more than $23 million.
On public safety, Shirey recommended spending $10 million to replace firehouses in downtown and South Natomas and $1 million on a police diversification strategy that would aim to channel more women and minorities into the Police Department. Money given to the Police Department would also be used to fund a pilot body-cameras program.
The parks system would receive $2 million for “significant repairs and improvements” that Shirey said Tuesday includes fixing bathrooms, water fountains, sprinkler systems, paths and other facilities in Sacramento’s park system. An additional $1.5 million was allocated for recreation programs.
The city’s housing-first plan to address homelessness was recommended to be funded at $1.1 million.
A proposed $326,000 would be used to hire an independent budget analyst that the mayor and council have sought, an aspect of the budget Shirey has said he does not approve.
The city’s economic reserve, which is receiving $5 million this fiscal year, would not increase in the 2015-16 budget. The reserve stands at $34.1 million, or 8.6 percent of the total general fund budget of $403 million.
Shirey said this, along with a lack of funding to capital improvements around the city, is concerning.
Of all the recommended staffing changes, police and parks workers would see the most hires – more than 25 new hires apiece, though Shirey said much of those would be making up for people who had been laid off during the recession.
Mayor Kevin Johnson’s staff expansion
city council budget
Source: City of Sacramento and Bee research*Proposed