Question: Is there or isn’t there a real desire on behalf of the everyday citizens of Sacramento to see a broad overhaul of the current city charter? One that favors placing most of the power into the hands of the mayor, bypassing the need to find compromises or the coalition-building it normally takes to enact new polices that in the end affect the ordinary people who live in this town? Well, it all depends on who you ask, and who you want to believe.
About a month ago, Kevin Johnson started telling various local media outlets that “many people (are) interested in changing the way things are happening here in Sacramento.” It seemed, at the time, that he was testing the waters to see if the voters would be receptive to another Strong Mayor Initiative, or SMI, a proposal that was somewhat controversial when it was first debated back in 2010. Sure enough, a group of business leaders, a pastor, the head of the city’s police union, and other Johnson supporters held a press conference earlier this month without K.J. in attendance to announce their endorsement of a new plan to change the way the city does business, this time calling it the “Checks and Balances Act of 2012”.
Fast-forward to this week, and Kevin Johnson’s office announces that a poll which was paid for with his own re-election funds shows that 63% of respondents favor the new proposed charter amendments. According to the summary released to the media by the polling firm FM3, a telephone survey was conducted over the course of four days, from October 29th till November 1st, before it was public knowledge that K.J. was planning to try to revamp the city charter yet again. Now, it’s been extremely difficult to fully understand how the polling firm came to this finding, because no one involved with FM3, the mayor’s office, or the group of citizens who believe that passage of the Checks and Balances Act is critical are willing to release the complete study to the press. I sent this email to every person who works at FM3, and copied Kevin Johnson’s press secretary as well:
To the staff of FM3,
I apologize if you have received this email in error, but as I am unfamiliar with your firm and do not know who the best person to ask in regards for the information I am looking for, I do not know what other route to take.
I am a Sacramento resident and a writer who has covered local government issues and many more topics throughout the region on several digital platforms. I am producing an article about the Sacramento Checks and Balances Poll that was conducted by your firm. After viewing the summary that was posted on the Sacramento Bee website, I would now very much like to review a copy of the entire report. Who can I speak to about accomplishing this in a timely fashion?
For example, I would like to see the exact wording of the questions, and the way those questions were presented, similar in fashion to the poll you can find on this site:
One of Mayor Johnson stated priorities has been to create a local government that is transparent and accessible. I’m sure that providing the information that I have requested would go a long way towards accomplishing this admirable goal.
Thank you for your time, and I await your reply.
After a little more back-and-forth between a researcher from FM3 and a lawyer working on behalf of the mayor, this was the final answer I received:
I checked with some of the folks close to the campaign and it was relayed to me that they are unable to satisfy your request.
Jeffrey K. Dorso
Pioneer Law Group, LLP
I then sent one final message to Joaquin McPeek at the mayor’s office for clarification:
Would the “folks close to the campaign” like to give our readers a reason why they are unable to satisfy this straightforward request? How does this mesh with the Mayor’s goal of accountability and transparency? Since the reelection campaign paid for the poll, I can only imagine that if the Mayor wanted to, he could release the entire text of the study.
After waiting all day, I have yet to receive a reply.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Business Journal conducted their own non-scientific poll over a period on eight days via their website, and it came up with nearly the exact opposite findings of the FM3 study. Between December 21st and December 28th, 65% of online survey participants said that the new “Checks and Balances Act” is not an idea they want to see enacted in Sacramento, with the vast majority of “no” votes coming from people who also believe that the new executive mayor initiative is just a power grab by Kevin Johnson.
In my opinion, both of these polls should be taken with generous grains of salt. The latter because it is impossible to verify the validity of on-line participants; are they likely voters?, do they live in Sacramento?, did they vote more than once?, etc. And the former because the exact wording of the questions and the full findings of the study are not being made available to the public, an act which in itself causes this author to conclude that the producers of the poll are worried about how it would be scrutinized if it were exposed for all to see.
But we do know this much; the Checks and Balances Act is being touted as the way to make Sacramento’s local government “one of the most accountable, ethical, transparent, and citizen-friendly in the state.” Its goals include “establishing higher standards for ethical and transparent behavior.” Those statements were taken directly from the first three pages of the proposal, as they are posted on the mayor’s city website. It doesn’t require any act of legislation to behave in an accountable and transparent manner. Perhaps if the mayor did a better job of practicing what he preaches, we would all have an easier time taking him for his word.