The City of Sacramento is supposed to stay neutral on local ballot measures. City employees can’t use their office to promote or oppose measures, city resources can’t be used to help campaigns. Easy enough, right?
And yet, the City’s Neighborhood Services Division is giving the leader of the “No on Measure M” campaign top billing at community meetings about that ballot question.
Measure M, you’ll recall, is the question on forming a Sacramento Charter Commission. Neighborhood Services held a meeting on Measure M last night, at Hart Senior Center. Here’s what happened, according to charter commission candidate Anna Molander and another Measure M supporter, Rick Bettis.
The agenda for the Monday night meeting included, among other topics, zoning changes, information about neighborhood watch, Measure M and Measure T (the claw).
Supporters of Measure M asked if they could have someone make the pitch for the measure at the meeting. But, according to Molander they were told no, because this City-sponsored event was just going to include an impartial presentation of the facts and an opportunity for citizens to ask questions.
But the person giving the “impartial” presentation of the facts was in fact city council member Angelique Ashby, who is leading the opposition to Measure M. She signed the ballot argument against the measure, and has steadfastly argued from the dais that it’s unneeded and too expensive. She has routinely voted with Mayor Kevin Johnson on this and other governance issues, like strong mayor. She’s close to the public safety unions, which have been strongly opposed to the charter commission (and for strong mayor). In short, Ashby is not impartial. She is as partial as they come. (I’ve got calls in to Ashby and to Vincene Jones at Neighborhood Services, but no response yet.)
Rick Bettis, an activist with Common Cause and League of Women Voters attended the whole meeting and said that Ashby played it pretty straight–she disclosed her opposition to Measure M upfront, but mostly kept her opinion out of her presentation. Bettis supports Measure M, and so he was keen to correct Ashby when, he says, she told audience members there was no organized “yes” campaign, and that the end result of the Los Angeles charter commission experiment was a strong mayor form of government. (That’s part of it, but they also got an ethics commission and neighborhood councils, and other reforms.)
No matter how impartial Ashby tried to act at this meeting, it’s not appropriate for her to be the voice of the City on this matter. Before this meeting, Ashby posted on her Facebook page, “Busy day ahead, including two community meetings to ask folks to please Vote NO on Measure M…”
Then we’re supposed to trust that she’ll present the information on Measure M fairly? That’s a lot to ask.
In fact candidate Molander thinks it’s illegal to give the “No” side a venue and not giving equal time to representatives from the “Yes” side. “The City is not permitted to spend public funds to support or oppose ballot measure, particularly where the opposing view is offered no opportunity to speak. The public now perceives the City as opposing Measure M although the City has taken no such position,” Molander said in letter she sent this afternoon to the City attorney.
It may be a stretch to say this meeting had a big impact on public perception, one way or the other. Bettis said there were about 7 people in the audience. Still, Ashby is a politician who wants to raise her profile and be seen as leading on this issue. The City gave her a venue and denied it to the other side.
“It un-leveled the playing field,” she told me. “I want to know what the City is going to do to make this right for the people who support Measure M, and who are running. I don’t have the same kind of money that Ashby does.”
And there are more meetings scheduled with Ashby giving her “impartial” analysis, including one on Wednesday night. Even if Ashby thinks she can be fair, why pick her for the job? I know there have been budget cuts and there are fewer staff around. But really, there’s no one on staff who’s at least plausibly impartial who can give this information to the public?