Monday, April 11, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Strong Mayor Initiative Attempt Loses Court Challenge

City Beat

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The Sacramento Bee  April 7, 2011

Sacramento City Hall and the attorney who drafted Mayor Kevin Johnson's halted "strong mayor initiative" are on the hook for more than $114,000 in legal fees to the labor boss whose lawsuit killed the initiative last year.

In a tentative ruling issued Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court, attorney Tom Hiltachk and the city were ordered to split $114,158 in fees to the attorneys for Bill Camp, head of the Central Labor Council.

Camp had filed a lawsuit in 2009 seeking to block the strong mayor initiative, arguing the measure went beyond a mere amendment of the City Charter and therefore could only have been proposed for the ballot by the City Council or a charter commission. Johnson had proposed the initiative and a council vote had placed it on the ballot.

Under the proposal, the mayor would have been granted more authority over top city officials, the power to submit the city budget and veto authority over some City Council actions. Many of those duties are now carried out by an unelected city manager.

Judge Loren McMaster agreed with Camp in a January 2010 ruling and Camp later went after the city and Hiltachk for the legal fees. Hiltachk and the city were both defendants in Camp's lawsuit.

The tentative ruling states that the city should be liable for a smaller amount than Hiltachk because the attorney was "vigorous" in his opposition to Camp's lawsuit.

City Attorney Eileen Teichert had warned the City Council the strong mayor initiative was "an unconstitutional attempt to revise the City Charter," a warning the council ignored by placing the measure on the ballot in a 5-4 vote.

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