Media blocked from public 'strong mayor' forum

rlillis@sacbee.comMarch 27, 2014 

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers the State of the City address at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday night, February 12, 2014.

JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS — jvillegas@sacbee.com

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson squaring off in a debate against former Mayor Heather Fargo, the woman he defeated to take office in 2008?

An appearance by the president of the embattled state Senate?

A "strong mayor" debate in a room filled with members of a union representing thousands of state workers who live in the city?

Sounds pretty newsworthy. Too bad the news was shut out.

The media was banned from attending a strong mayor town hall at the local headquarters of SEIU 1000 in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday. The union had said earlier in the week that the event would not be open to the media, saying it was a private event being held on union property.

That explanation was fine, until chaperones at the door began letting in members of the public who were not SEIU members. In all, we counted eight members of the public who were allowed late access to the forum. That doesn't include the mayor's mother, who was a late arrival. Or Councilman Steve Hansen, who left after a few minutes to attend another event.

The forum served as somewhat of a kick-off for Johnson's campaign to increase his office's authority through a measure that will appear on the November ballot. An announcement for the event was circulated on Facebook and Twitter, with many people taking to social media to say they planned to attend. Johnson, Fargo and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg were among the panelists, answering questions from the audience.

The room was filled to capacity and some members of the public were turned away –leaving them to stand outside along with reporters from The Bee and the Sacramento News and Review.

It's a bit unclear who made the decision to allow the public to attend, but not the media. Jim Zamora, an SEIU spokesman, said in an email on Tuesday that "the event was not planned to have any news media."

"No news media were invited and the organizers have no plans to open it up to the media," Zamora wrote. "It's an informational event on private property that was never intended to include more people than those who were invited."

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

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