Mayor Anthony Silva makes two cases for changing Stockton government to a “strong mayor” office: his rhetorical case, in which he argues that a strong mayor could get more things done, and the case he makes by his example which, all things considered, is probably the most effective argument that could ever be made against strengthening the mayor’s office, at least while Silva occupies it.
But here’s a credible voice in favor: Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee. Walters has interesting things to say about the council-manager form of government, which is the kind both Stockton and Sacramento have.
Writes Walters, the council-manager form of government started out as a species of checks and balances.
“By the late 20th century, however, civic leaders in larger cities were beginning to recognize that the city manager system had limitations and drawbacks,” he continues.
“Managers were typically beholden only to their city councils, whose members had parochial preoccupations. And while mayors elected by their entire cities may have had broader visions, they had little or no power to realize them, or to influence nonmunicipal factors, such as schools or regional transportation, that could affect their residents’ lives.
“By and by, it became evident that when cities reach certain levels of population, cultural diversity and economic complexity, their mayors need to become the equivalents of governors and presidents – elected executives with authority to make things happen and be held accountable for what happens.”
Agreed, though I would add an important caveat. A city is not ripe for a strong mayor form of government when it merely reaches “certain levels of population, cultural diversity and economic complexity” but when it reaches a level of civic literacy and can reliably draw on qualified candidates.
That is something Walters may take for granted in Sacramento. As Silva’s election shows, that cannot be taken for granted in Stockton.
Here, where one in four live in poverty, and where a high number drop out of high school, and fail to go on to college and earn a degree, there remain too many of what former City Manager Bob Deis called “charlatans:” people who combine ambition, populism and dreadful lack of real governing ability. Making one of them a strong mayor would lead to a debacle.
I would add that there is an underclass of political consultant and others here who profit from civic illiteracy.
So Stockton’s educational system, economy and civic culture all should be strengthened before the city hazards a strong mayor form of government. At the very least groups such as Jane Butterfield’s good government group and the San Joaquin County Taxpayers Association ought to be strengthened to keep the “charlatans” in check.