Have Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s five new aides paid dividends?

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 9:16 AM

But some council members still declare the money should be spent elsewhere. Johnson’s move to fortify his staff with five extra positions latest year raised concerns that he was overstepping the bounds of his office – particularly after voters had just rejected his powerful mayor ballot measure, which would've increased his power over city government.

Have Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s five new aides paid dividends?

Controversial staff positions added to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office latest year create the office more effective, declare two of his top aides. But some council members still declare the money should be spent elsewhere.

Johnson’s move to fortify his staff with five extra positions latest year raised concerns that he was overstepping the bounds of his office – particularly after voters had just rejected his powerful mayor ballot measure, which would've increased his power over city government.

His office presently has eleven full-time staff members including the mayor, executive said, compared to the seven full-time positions he'd before. One previously existing full-time staff position is vacant.

The three highest-paid employees added to the mayor’s staff are City Legislative Affairs Director Scott Whyte, Intergovernmental Affairs Director Lindsey Nitta and Community Relations Director Jovan Agee. Two of the new staff members are administrative assistants, each receiving an annual salary of $45.000.

Whyte and Nitta are paid $85.000 a year and Agee’s salary is $100.000. Including the cost of employee benefits, the estimated total bill for the five staff positions comes to $450.000, according to the mayor’s office.

The budget passed by the City Council in June keep a price tag of $652.000 on the new positions. Technically, only two of the positions are in the mayor’s budget and three are in the city manager’s budget, but all of the new staffers work for the mayor.

Whyte, a former home builders’ advocate, was hired latest April before the budget was finalized. Agee was hired in the summer before Strait came on as chief of staff. He was the CA state director for StudentsFirst, an education advocacy organization founded by Johnson’s wife, Michelle Rhee, from September two thousand thirteen until December two thousand fourteen.

Johnson press secretary Ben Sosenko said Johnson knew Agee before he worked for StudentsFirst.

Nitta, who previously worked at Mercury Public Affairs, was hired in October, about the same time as Strait.

“We bolstered our extremely tiny staff, which was smaller than any legislator’s representing Sacramento, to do a better work for the city, and it's paid off and then some,” Sosenko said in a statement.

Johnson has several initiatives in the works for his latest year in office – his downtown housing thrust for 10.000 units, community policing initiatives and building up the tech industry in Sacramento.

Crystal Strait, Johnson’s chief of staff, said two of the new directors played a role in the work of the Community Police Commission and the Officer Following Door initiative. Established latest summer, the Community Police Commission gathers input from the community on recommendations for police practices and holds public meetings each month. Officer Following Door is aimed at increasing community outreach by police, creating the mayor’s Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force and partnering with local high schools and the Cadet Program to recruit a more diverse set of young officers.

Agee attends all the meetings of the commission to collect community input on police activity, Strait said. Whyte, the legislative director, wrote the speech to present to council on starting Officer Following Door and establishing the commission, she said.

Strait pointed to the appointment of a new federal government liaison between the Dept of Housing and Urban Development and cities in Northern CA as a success made possible by Nitta, the intergovernmental affairs director.

Sacramento was designated a “promise zone” about a year ago and Johnson was selected as one of five mayors to meet with the secretary of the dept in Jan to speak about how to leverage that designation. Nitta helped obtain that meeting and prepared Johnson to lobby to obtain the liaison assigned, Strait said.

The liaison, who hasn’t started yet, will assistance the city discover and apply for more federal grants, coordinate with other promise zone cities and share best practices learned in other promise zones.

Councilman Eric Guerra, who voted against the budget that authorized Johnson’s staff expand latest year, said he's found the new employees helpful and accessible in preparing him for a recent ride to Portland to speak to local executive there about homelessness. Nitta keep together information about Portland’s policies and past conversations between Sacramento executive and Portland officials.

He wouldn’t modify his vote, however.

“I still would've said we necessity support in the neighborhoods,” he said. “We still don’t have nearly the no of park rangers, law enforcement and code enforcement that we need.”

Councilman Steve Hansen argued latest year that the money being spent on beefing up the mayor’s staff should instead be used for more parks employees. Today, he said he'd love to look a report from the mayor’s office on what the positions have accomplished. He said the public doesn’t entirely believe the government to utilize money wisely, and adding employees to the mayor’s office doesn’t help.

“I continue to think that with such pressing needs in other parts of the city organization that it’s tough to justify,” he said. “Certainly (the positions) have their merits, but in the overall needs of the city we've to create challenging decisions about trade-offs. As the city recovers, how we deploy our resources to most effectively serve the people is probably the most critical question we face.”

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