Revolving-door syndrome (Sacramento, CA)

Sacramento News & Review Editorial, Nov. 16, 2009

It wasn’t all that surprising when one of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s chief volunteer advisers, Michelle Smira, announced a few weeks back that she’d be leaving her city post to work on behalf of Johnson’s “strong mayor” campaign.  Smira, who runs a public-relations business called MMS Strategies, sent her resignation to the mayor to formalize her decision, but she also wrote that she looks forward to working for Johnson again “at a later date.”  OK, no big deal. It stands to reason that accomplished staff volunteers might become candidates for job offers from those they served well.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Heads turned three days later when it was revealed that Smira had also taken a job working as a consultant for Nestlé Waters, the giant water-bottling company now building a bottling plant in south Sacramento.

So, uh … wait a minute.

There’s little doubt that Smira got the Nestlé job at least partially based on her political connections to the mayor. (Interestingly, he’s the one who greenlighted the water plant without a public hearing.) Like lobbyists, public-relations professionals use their connections to help them produce results for whoever they work for. That’s how it works.

But it’s weird to have key staffers (even volunteer ones) consider moving in and out of local public service this way, since a symbiotic relationship can develop between the two roles—and what’s good for the city is often not what’s good for an industry. That’s why there are anti-revolving-doors laws at the state and national level.

As the Smira case illustrates, it’s past time for Sacramento to take the revolving-door syndrome more seriously and strengthen existing laws that keep this tendency in check.