In the middle of a City Council meeting about budgets and numbers, money allocations and hiring, a spirited spat between two city councilmen broke out over the right to speak.
On its face, the exchange between Steve Hansen and Allen Warren late Tuesday was a question of order – the rules of which were quickly explained by the city attorney.
But some Sacramento political strategists said Wednesday that the posturing may point to Hansen cementing a role for himself at City Council: the anti-mayor.
Hansen, a first-term councilman, successfully led the charge against Mayor Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor effort last year and, this week, became a vocal critic of the mayor’s attempt to fortify his office with five new positions and nearly $700,000 in the proposed 2015-16 city budget.
Things came to a head Tuesday as Hansen and Warren argued over Hansen’s right to lambaste the mayor’s budget proposal while Johnson was absent. The mayor was traveling, his staff said, and could not attend the meeting.
“The mayor, I don’t know where he was, but if he wanted to be there for that discussion, he should have been there,” Hansen said Wednesday in an interview. “And if he couldn’t be there, we should have moved the discussion for when he could be. ... This was the best chance, and the only chance for the whole council, to have a public discussion about it.”
Warren, who is the vice mayor and led Tuesday’s meeting, said it was less an issue of policy than courtesy.
“I thought (Hansen) seemed to be excessive, and I understand that he was passionate about it, but what I explained to him was if he’s not here and he has something that’s important to him, I don’t want people up here taking shots at him just because he’s not here,” Warren said after the meeting. “We’ve had a pretty efficient council and a pretty effective council and I’d like to maintain that as best I can.”
Hansen was undeterred.
“I will not be silenced when I think something is wrong,” Hansen said Tuesday.
Political consultant Phil Giarrizzo, who ran Johnson’s strong-mayor campaign, said there could be several reasons for Hansen to take on Johnson.
“The first is he is going to lead the anti-mayor charge; he has picked up the mantle to try to build an anti-Kevin Johnson coalition,” Giarrizzo said. “Or it could be that he feels that his statement is really how he feels – that these added positions should be in the city manager’s purview or not in the mayor’s budget at all. The third is that he’s positioning himself for mayor.”
The strong-mayor loss was a major defeat for Johnson, who had long sought to gain greater control over day-to-day city operations. The measure was soundly defeated in November by Hansen’s countercampaign, dubbed Stop the Power Grab.
As Johnson now seeks to boost his professional staff from seven to 12 employees in one year and has become heavily involved in crafting the city budget, Hansen is pushing back again.
“When Measure L failed, the mayor pledged to respect the voters and move on,” Hansen said Wednesday. “This effort to increase his office by 70 percent is maybe a sign that he needs to go back and think about whether he did respect what happened.”
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Steve Maviglio, one of Johnson’s closest political advisers, questioned Hansen’s long-term strategy.
“Taking the mayor on over .01 percent of the budget? I’d say it remains to be seen whether that’s a smart move, politically,” he said. “If (Hansen) has an agenda that he wants to accomplish, he’s going to need the support of the council.”
But Hansen downplayed perceptions that he has emerged as Mayor Kevin Johnson’s foil.
“I don’t relish that (role), and I’ve worked very hard to work with the mayor,” Hansen said. “I’m with the mayor 95 percent of the time. The idea that people find intrigue here is amusing to me because I’m just who I am and I haven’t changed. If something’s not right, I’m going to say it. My job isn’t to go along to get along.”
Hansen was not alone Tuesday.
Councilman Jeff Harris was the first to speak out against the mayor’s bid for five new staffers. Councilman Larry Carr later said it may be better to create the positions outside the mayor’s office, so they could “outlast” Johnson’s tenure. Despite challenging Hansen during the meeting, Warren said afterward he was “shocked” and that he, personally, has “not seen justification” for the mayor’s requests.
Several council members said they were surprised to learn of the mayor’s nearly $700,000 request for new staff and didn’t realize it would be that much until they read an article about it in The Sacramento Bee.
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.
Ben Sosenko, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said Wednesday that Johnson collaborated with City Manager John Shirey “for many months” to draft a budget that included five additional mayoral positions.
“At no point did the city manager say he disagrees with these positions,” Sosenko said. “We were under the impression that these three positions would be temp positions that would be filled from open, vacant spots. We were surprised when we saw there were new positions created in the budget.”
This was, in part, what Hansen took issue with on Tuesday.
“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,” he said during the council meeting. “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.”
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. Neither Johnson nor the city manager’s office has said who was hired and at what salary.
Hansen and Johnson have a history of friction beyond the strong-mayor campaign.
In 2013, as Johnson put the finishing touches on a financing deal for a new Sacramento Kings arena, Hansen was a bit of a holdout.
He suggested a pivotal City Council vote on a funding term sheet be delayed to give the public more time to consider the proposal, a move that angered some in Johnson’s inner circle. Hansen also pushed for local arts groups to receive a boost in funding if the arena deal was passed.
He eventually supported the project.
“The mayor wants to succeed and we want to see him succeed,” Hansen said. “So we all have to find a way to continue, even when we disagree.”
Tuesday was the first time the council had the chance to publicly discuss the spending plan, which includes nearly $19 million in new spending from a list of requests from elected officials and will be subjected to several more meetings and recommendations before a final version is voted on by the council in June.
War of words
Councilmen Steve Hansen and Allen Warren had a spirited exchange over Hansen’s criticism of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s proposal to boost his staff more than 70 percent in one year.
Hansen: “That money needs to be spent not only in priority neighborhoods but making sure we sustain quality of life and services –”
Warren: “We’re not spending the money tonight.”
Hansen: “I understand that. I understand what the item is –”
Warren: “So, the purpose is what?”
Hansen: “But I am speaking. And it’s my prerogative.”
Warren: “The purpose is what?”
Hansen: “Mr. Vice Mayor, it is my prerogative to speak as long as I have the microphone, and unless I have finished, please do not –”
Warren: “Or I stop you.”
Hansen: “You cannot. Mr. City Attorney, while I am speaking, I don’t believe it’s the vice mayor’s prerogative to quiet me.”