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Monday, November 06, 2006

Serious Questions Remain Unanswered by Souza and Saylor in Target Negotiations

On Friday and Saturday, the People’s Vanguard of Davis reported that Davis City Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor had entered into negotiations between the Target Corporation and the Builders Union regarding a project labor agreement (PLA) over the construction of the Target building should voters approve Measure K on Tuesday, November 7, 2006. A number of troubling aspects of this arrangement were raised both on Friday and Saturday. The following is an assessment of what we know and what we do not yet know in this arrangement.

Did city council authorize council members Stephen Souza and Don Saylor to enter into these negotiations? No. Souza and Saylor neither asked for nor received authorization to pursue these negotiations. Did they need to receive authorization? Souza claimed both in the Davis Enterprise article and at the September 18, 2006 City Council meeting that the PLA needs no council action and that they were not required to seek any sort of council approval for negotiations or the results of the negotiations. Is this true? Are their actions legal? These remain open questions. There has been some suggestion from off-the-record conversations that this might not be legal.

Who are the parties in this negotiation? According to the Davis Enterprise, one of the Target negotiators was Jay Ziegler. Ziegler is the Campaign Manager of the Yes on K campaign and he is apparently working with Saylor in some capacities on the Yes on K campaign as we know from the EPA’s letter of complaint regarding Councilmember Saylor. Moreover he is a paid consultant for the Target Corporation. Matt Kelly, a representative for the Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades Council, appears to be negotiating on behalf of the unions.

Are Souza and Saylor parties to these negotiations? Statements at both the September 18 council meeting and the newspaper indicate that they are. What role are they playing in these meeting? Are they neutral? Are they facilitators? Are they negotiating on behalf of Target? Why is the campaign manager for the Yes on K campaign involved in these negotiations? These are all questions to which there are no answers right now. Souza and Saylor as strong backers of the Measure K campaign and who have extensively worked behind the scenes on this campaign certainly do not appear to be neutral parties in these negotiation. So what role are they playing? If they are facilitators it would seem that their relationship with Ziegler and the Yes on K campaign would disqualify them from serving in an impartial role. Are they therefore negotiating on behalf of Target? That might not be unlawful, but it certainly would not sit well with many voters in Davis to have a sitting councilmember negotiating on behalf of a corporation. It seems that we need some answers as to what role the two councilmembers are playing in these negotiations. At minimum this appears unethical.

If they are parties to this, why did they not inform their colleagues until September 18, a month into their negotiations? Souza announced on September 18 that they had been involved in negotiations for 30 days. Even if they were not legally bound to disclose this—and again this is an open question, it would seem common courtesy to inform their colleagues of these undertakings.

Moreover why where Souza and Saylor able to participate in this process but not someone like Councilmember Lamar Heystek, a strong supporter of organized labor and the rights of workers? The decision to do this on their own, meant that they effectively decided which councilmembers could and which could not participate in talks. That’s part of the objection here. Perhaps a councilmember like Heystek would advocate more strongly for the union employees than someone like Saylor or Souza. By making this decision unilaterally and without consultation of their colleagues, Souza and Saylor took matters into their own hands.

Perhaps their defense would be that they are acting as private citizens? Saylor has often said in other contexts though, that he could never merely be a private citizen, he would always be associated with his office. If that is the case, perhaps there is a situation where Saylor and Souza are operating under a “color of law” where they are using their roles as elected officials and representatives of the city to give them authority and credibility to conduct negotiations. This is a key question because if we assume that as private citizens they are permitted to be involved in this process—are they actually acting as private citizens? There is no oversight of this, it has happened outside of public light, there was no authorization or sanction by the city council on this issue. Should there have been? This where I think, if the conduct of Councilmembers Souza and Saylor is not outright unlawful, where they really push up against the ethical line.

Is this merely a political issue or is there a greater problem with their conduct? Clearly, we have a situation where Souza used this as a reason to not support living wage and suggest that the discussion of a living wage might jeopardize future negotiations. That deception, is a political question rather than a legal one. There are a number of other political questions in this situation as well. Souza made the claim in the Enterprise that he thinks a PLA is better than a living wage. But again, the living wage and PLA do not seem to effect the same workers. Again, that’s a political question, but the legal question is whether laws have been broken and whether Souza and Saylor parlayed their positions on the council into trying to politically influence negotiations in an attempt to swing the election in their favor. These are serious charges that require a serious investigation by someone completely independent of this process and city government who is familiar with the laws.

I think there are serious questions raised and unanswered that deserve an investigation. I would recommend to Mayor Sue Greenwald, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson, and Councilmember Lamar Heystek that they press for an independent investigation of the actions of their colleagues Souza and Saylor. These questions need answers and the citizens of Davis need assurance outside of the political process that everything that has occurred has been legal.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting