Mayor Kevin Johnson, shown speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in January, is pledging that a committee looking at a city ethics code will finish its work soon. Manuel Balce Ceneta Associated Press file
Mayor Kevin Johnson, shown speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in January, is pledging that a committee looking at a city ethics code will finish its work soon. Manuel Balce Ceneta Associated Press file

Editorials

Pick up the pace on Sacramento’s ethics reform

By the Editorial Board

August 10, 2015 05:00 PM

UPDATED August 11, 2015 11:15 AM

If good-government reforms get moving at Sacramento City Hall because of the sordid allegations of sexual harassment against two elected officials, one good thing will have emerged from that regrettable episode.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, the subject of one of those claims, declared Thursday night that he wants a City Council committee to wrap up its work on an ethics code soon. “That’s a hot topic for all of us, and we want to make sure we finish what we started,” he said.

He also said that Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby will “take the lead” during the “final stretch.” Johnson didn’t say why she’s taking over from the committee’s chairman, Vice Mayor Allen Warren. But Warren is facing the other harassment claim; it’s clear he’s compromised.

It should be noted that while the Democratic Party of Sacramento County cited these allegations to push for an ethics commission, sexual harassment wouldn’t necessarily fall under its enforcement powers. Such cases already fall under specific state and federal laws.

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But the party chairwoman, Kerri Asbury, also mentioned Johnson’s use of city-paid aides to take control of the National Conference of Black Mayors. That could have much more to do with an ethics code.

Eye on Sacramento, a local watchdog group, and the local League of Women Voters also complain that the city has been dragging its feet on an ethics code, sunshine ordinance and other reforms.

They’re right. After voters rejected the November ballot measure to make Sacramento a strong-mayor city, both sides agreed to proceed on the good-government provisions also in the measure.

However, the pace has been slow and the process flawed. To study the reforms, the mayor appointed the committee, but it’s an ad hoc panel, meeting behind closed doors – in obvious conflict with the whole idea of more transparency.

Reform advocates are seeking stricter standards than state law on conflict of interest, use of public resources, financial disclosure and registration of lobbyists. They’re also seeking an independent commission to draw council districts. They point out that Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and other larger California cities already have ethics commissions to hold government officials accountable.

These are all ideas worth pursuing. Council members need to get to it.