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Friday, August 04, 2006

Power Broker

The Davis City Council now hold a roughly 3-2 balance on issues of controversy. The former council held a 4-1 balance with only Sue Greenwald representing the progressives on most issues. She seemed a bit of a slow learner on the police issue, but she came around on that by the mid-to-end of the last term.

In many ways, a 3-2 balance makes things more interesting than a 4-1. With a 4-1, there is not a lot of chance for maneuvering. And there is also safety in numbers, as no one member has to cast the deciding vote.

We watched Stephen Souza on Tuesday try to establish himself somewhat in the middle on one issue. Lamar Heystek, introduced a motion to give the public a chance to opt out of aerial spraying. As a courtesy, Sue Greenwald seconded that motion. (This is going to be a big difference with this council, as last council this would have never even gotten a discussion. Now with two members in the minority, Sue will not have a countless string of motions die for a lack of a second. That does not mean they will prevail, only that there will be a fuller discussion). In the end, even Sue defeated that motion.

However, Heystek made a second motion, to cover only ground spraying, this time Souza seconded it. And it ended up passing, 4-1, with Ruth Asmundson joining in. Bob Dunning discussed some of this in his column last night, but of course left out the second motion and the fact that it carried. He only criticized Lamar for trying to appeal to the "CAVERS." Interesting that it was my impression that he was being brave by sticking himself out on the line. But I guess that's a matter of perception.

All of which leads back to my initial point--will there be a consistent 3-2 block on most issues, or will Stephen Souza attempt to become a power broker and be a swing vote. Will he swing on important core issues or on the periphery?

I've been disappointed with Souza on the issue of the police. He has personally witnessed police misconduct. He has in the past been a fighter for civil rights and civil liberties. But last term, he was clearly with the 4-1 council majority on this issue. He's also been a staalwart on growth issues--siding with the developers each time. Yet he has a chance to be a huge factor on the council, but he'd have to break from the Saylor-Asmundson voting block to do so. He has yet to show the willingness to do that--at least not on a vote that matters.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Spraying: Democratic Process Imperiled

On the scale of my concerns, I generally have a much stronger interest locally and even globally on issues of civil rights and human rights, than I do on issues of growth. I would consider myself a tree-hugger, a nature-lover, and an environmentalist, but my passion rests with ensuring that all people have the same rights and access to opportunity, protection, education and services regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

In terms of the issue of West Nile Spraying, I honestly do not know where I would come down on this issue. I am concerned that we probably have not done enough longitudinal studies on the long term effects of these chemicals on human physiology, but I also tend to believe we are probably exposed to much more dangerous toxins on an everyday basis--something that should give everyone pause.

One thing though that became crystal-clear on Tuesday was the utter inability of democratically elected official to stop the actions of an unelected bureaucracy. In this case, the democratically elected Davis City Council claimed it had no power to stop the actions of the Sacramento are vector control board. As a democrat, small "d" and a populist, I find this absolutely appalling and frightening.

The message that the Davis City Council sent to its constituents is that they had no control. No control over timing, over spraying locations, over anything.

Perhaps more frightening to me is that they seemed alright with this arrangement. It seemed almost as though it was a sense of relief because with control comes responsibility, and this gave them the ability to say to the public, that it was out of their hands and we just had to accept that an external agency could determine when and what chemicals to dump on our heads. Again, this is a frightening notion.

In the end, I do not agree with the council's assessment of our situation. Let me suggest four strategies that probably could have prevented or at least delayed spraying.

First, the City Council could have made a formal request to the vector control board to delay or cancel the spraying. How would the vector control board have responded? Would they have continued? We do not know. It was not attempted though. It's easy to throw your hands up in the air though when the Council basically agrees with the action. That's fine, but do not make the claim that you can do nothing about it.

Second, if the vector control board refused, the City Council as an elected body could have appealed to whomever does have control over the vector control board. Again, I do not know if this would have worked, but again it was not attempted.

Third, and most drastically, the City Council could have asked City Attorney Harriett Steiner to go to court and ask for an injunction against the spraying until a judge could hear whether the city had any control over spraying conducted within city limits. Again, I believe that this action would have at least postponed the spraying and it would have asserted the power of the city over an unelected bureaucracy. Or at the very least it would have forced a court to make the determination over who gets control over local level decisions such as these.

Finally, as a long term strategy, the city could lobby the State Legislature and the Governor to make changes in the way that State Agencies interact with cities on matters such as these. This is a longer term strategy obviously, but what this would basically do is prevent a repeat of this.

Again, the concern here is not necessarily to stop the spraying so much as to regain the control of the elective body over the issue of when to spray.

The city council made the claim that they do not have the expertise or staff support to make such decisions, however, I believe they could hire a consultant to advise on this issue. It is crucial that a body who is accountable to the voters in Davis have the ultimate say in such serious matters as health and safety. Again, the lack of accountability means that the public is basically powerless on this issue. That we have no control over the chemicals that are literally dumped on our heads this evening. I find that lack of control to be the scariest of all aspects of this ordeal.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Damage Control

In the spring of this year, a member of this community made a public records request for emails from the city council about the police and other peripheral issues. Not enough citizens recognize that written and electronic correspondence using public email accounts is public record and not private domain. At times these emails are very revealing because the public officials themselves are less guarded about their pretenses.

We have all by now seen the public response of the Davis City Council to many of the charges from the community of police misconduct. But it is rather telling the response that one particular member had the night when Jamal Buzayan, on June 14, 2005, went before council and told them about his daughter's arrest the night before.

Don Saylor emailed Police Chief Jim Hyde and City Manager Jim Antonen. Like most of us he wanted to know if it was true and why the arrest couldn't have waited until morning. But even within that context his overriding concern was damage control and not compassion or alarm.

He writes, "This is a flash point issue. The recent highly publicized arrests in Lodi have added to the already strong watchfulness and concern among the Davis Muslim community. I am concerned that we do not have a rift develop here. Perhaps it would be a good idea for Chief Hyde to make some contacts with Islamic leaders as well as the family to assure relationships do not crumble. Hamza el-Nakhal is a member of the Human Relations Commission and I know he would be willing to meet and discuss. I also know from past and ongoing contacts with the Muslim Community in Davis that the father who appeared in Council meeting is a prominent member of the Islamic center and well known to Hamza and others at the Center. I am happy to participate as needed and desired. But my real concern is that Chief Hyde be aware of this and do some outreach while this is still sparking and not yet a conflagration."

Hamza el-Nakhal was initially instrumental in trying to sooth over relations with the Buzayans. He worked hard behind the scenes and tried to convince Jamal Buzayan to take an arrangement of diversion--whereby his daughter would essentially admit guilt, do some form of community service and take some classes, and then have the incident stricken from the record. Eventually el-Nakhal's efforts were not successful. The Buzayans were determined to fight the charges. They hired top-notch attorneys to represent them.

Hamza el-Nakhal in the end believed he was misled. On April 14, 2006, he sent an email to Pat Snyder: "I am deeply disappointed with the law enforcement as more facts about the Bozayan (sic) case come out. Earlier, based on the information that I received, I requested Chief Jim Hyde and Deputy District Attorney Patricia Fong to drop the case. I was told the evidence is solid. However, in fact the evidence shows that this case, at best, was investigated and prosectued very poorly and at worst, there was clear discrimination."

The statement that was read at City Council by his daughter was even more pointed: "Today we come to you and ask that you look deeply into the police department. The facts revealed during the Buzayan case must not go without notice. The evidence clearly shows at best it was an extremely poorly investigated case and at worst it was a case of major discrimination, violation of civil rights, and misconduct by a police officer. It is hard to believe that something like this would take place in the 21st century in Davis, CA. This is very troubling for our community. It is even more troubling that such a police officer would be awarded and recognized as Police Officer of the Year. This action in itself speaks louder than anything that can be said. The defendant’s formal complaint against the police department was investigated by the Davis Police Department and determined to be unfounded. Based on the current facts I have serious questions about the professionalism of the police officer who investigated the original case and the defendant’s complaint. In fact, this episode casts doubt about the investigative process used for all of the unfounded complaints about the Davis Police Department on file. Originally I thought we could give the chance to the plan that former city manager Jim Antonen has had. This plan did not help us identify the injustice in the Buzayan case. The Buzayan case development makes me wonder about the purpose of the current review process and the effectiveness of the Community Advisory Board. For all of these reasons I did not attend the advisory board meeting in April as I did not want to be part of the cover up. The Buzayan family went to excruciating pain and expenses fighting their case. Because of them, our community will be better. They deserve an apology and recognition for standing up against the injustice. No one should go through what they have to go through"

While we see a clear transformation in the viewpoint of Hamza el-Nakhal, Don Saylor remains adament to the end. From the dais in April, he read a long and excuriating statement. "
This matter has been disturbing for many reasons. One of the most disturbing aspects of the situation is the one-sided publicity given to a matter that should have remained confidential for the reason of protection of the juvenile involved. Another disturbing aspect of the irresponsible treatment of this case by some in the media is that the facts of the interactions between the Davis Police Department and between the juvenile and her family have been misrepresented to the point of comic book caricature."

The implication of Saylor's statements were quite clear. His initial response was that of damage control. The agent he brought in to achieve that damage control became increasing concern that he was part of a "cover-up." The end, Saylor was able to achieve his damage control through the illegal release of selective tapes of the case and the one-sided commentary of the Davis Enterprise and its columnist Bob Dunning.

The family has now filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento. With the criminal charges now dropped at the order of the judge, the family will get its day in court.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The No-Speech Zone of Davis

I watched with horror on the night of June 27, 2006 as the Davis City Council did what I thought was really the unthinkable--they disbanded the Davis Human Relations Commission. Oh yes I know, Stephen Souza tried to convince us that they were really just having a cooling off period. However, that cooling off period included the dismissal of every member of that commission.

In the aftermath of that calamity, the truly scary and shocking fact is the reason that has emerged for this purge. The Chair of the Human Relations Commission publicly opposed a decision of the council. As a private citizen she continued to advocate for civilian review of the police rather than the ombudsman model that the council adopted.

One of the chief concerns was that the Chair publicly opposed the council's decision to create an ombudsman. Saylor was directly asked about this and his basic response was that while individual members have the constitutional right to free speech, that once they become the member of a comission, they are seen by the public as only a member of that commission. In essence, his viewpoint is that the commission should be advisors not activists. Souza held a similar view as he recited at the Council Meeting but also was quoted in the newspaper: "I understand very well (the actions of the HRC)," he said. "There is a passion, but I understand how blind that passion can be. It's when they deviate from their mission. The commissioners are not advocates in the community, they are advisers to the council." Sue Greenwald disagreed with that viewpoint saying in a Davis Enterprise interview, "Commissioners do have a right to carry on political activity outside their role as commissioners." But her viewpoint seems to be in the minority.

The guidelines for commissioners to speak in public seem at best to be a moving target. According to several sources, staff's initial position was that speaking was fine in public and to the media as long as it was clear that the individual spoke on their own behalf. If you do a search of recent statements by the Chair, you will see that indeed she attempted to adhere to those guidelines. In her June 18, 2006 letter to the editor, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald starts out saying, "I write this letter as a private citizen, not as chairwoman of the Davis Human Relations Commission." You can see this in a number of interviews and public speeches at Council Meetings as well.

However, the night that the HRC was dismissed the clear statement from Saylor and the rest of the Council, sans Sue Greenwald, was that a commissioner cannot separate themselves from the public role they hold and can never speak merely as a private citizen.

I certainly am inclined to take the side of Sue Greenwald on this issue--commissioners should be able to carry on political activities, free speech included, as commissioners. However, if it was the view of the council that they should not, that should have been clearly articulated in a written statement in advance. On the eve of destruction, the view of Saylor strikes me as adhoc justification for their actions.

I also have increasing concern about Stephen Souza as a Councilmember. From the July 16, 2006 Davis Enterprise: "Souza himself was a member of the Human Relations Commission from 1989 to 1996. An alleged rape and several other crimes against women spurred the then-Human Relations Commission to recommend a hate-crimes ordinance to the City Council."We pushed the issue three times," Souza said. "The council said 'no' two times. Two former mayors came to the commission and said 'We are the policy-making body. You are the advisers.' "Although Souza said he was miffed at the time, now that he's a councilman, he understands where the two former mayors were coming from."

Souza made similar statements on the night of the council meeting--basically stating that he was wrong to continue to push and he overstepped his bounds. However, Souza was never publicly criticized for his actions. He was not removed from the commission or as chair. I wonder exactly how he justifies a more extreme action by himself.

Moreover, Stephen Souza is wrong. Stephen Souza was a hero in Davis in the mid-90s, leading the charge for reform and justice. He fought the council and he made a difference. He did not take no for an answer and for that reason, today Davis has excellent hate-crimes ordinances.

What happened to the Stephen Souza who was a fighter for human rights and a champion of justice--the Stephen Souza that just two short years ago, I voted for--proudly? He's sold out. He came to the "realization" that he could never get elected to office as a liberal, a progressive, as a champion for the underdog. Now he favors the establishment-- the police, the developers, the man. Souza's tale is a sad one. It is a tale where idealism is sold out in favor of expediency.

It was not long ago when a staffer from State Senator Don Perrata's Office, an African American, came to Davis to walk precincts before an election. The man was harassed by the police. It was an embarassing episode. I've been told that Stephen Souza was in charge of the Democratic Party in Davis at that time and that he was incensed. Now just a few years later, he's defending the actions of the police as they make state and even national news coverage.

Don Saylor is a cold and calculating figure. In my experience, he coldly manipulates people for political gain. It is my view that Stephen Souza is a tragic figure--selling out his soul to gain political office. I often wonder though if he'll have anymore gain from it than Faust himself.

Council has suggested that the members can reapply. They've even asked some of the less dangerous members to do so. Some have refused. Some such as the former chair and vice chair have stated they will not seek re-appointment. Council will indeed get their wish--they will get a commission that will rarely speak out against the council and the city of Davis will be far worse for it. Whether the Council knows it or not, the city was not built on pliant, quiet people, practicing business as usual. The city is strongest because people like Stephen Souza would not take no for an answer and pushed hate-crimes through, people like Shelly Bailes helped to enact anti-discrimination ordinances that covered gays and lesbians, and people like Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald continue to push the police and the council on the issue of police misconduct and forced the council to adopt an ombudsman model that they clearly otherwise would not have done. It's also remarkable that both Souza and Bailes who led past fights and started their own controversies would in the end advocate for the removal of Escamilla Greenwald as chair and in Souza's case, advocate for the disbanding of the commission... Oh yeah, I forgot, it's only temporary.

---Henry Bianco

Monday, July 31, 2006

Don Saylor's Parlor Game

If you have been reading the Davis Enterprise you might have caught the following article:

You'd have to be living under a rock in Davis to not realize that Samantha McCarthy is dead-set against pesticides and it should come as no surprise at all that she opposes the use of pesticides to attempt to knock down the mosquito population as a means to curtail the spread of the West Nile virus. You however have missed that she and her family were hiking in Canada when her husband, Don Mooney fell ill and had to have a quadruple bypass surgery. He has since suffered from a number of setbacks that has left him in the hospital and Samantha fighting mad in Canada.

My impression of Don Saylor is a very negative one, I've been around politics for a long time. I've never met a more cold, calculating, and seemingly remorseless individual as Don Saylor. Yet it took me awhile to understand Samantha's outrage on this one.

She sent off an angry letter via email to a number of public officials. It was not a kind letter. It was an angry letter. Unless you know Samantha, you might be taken aback by the venom in this letter. "A medical exemption is not a neighborhood vote. It is an exemption to save the health of certain [members] of your constituents." The gist of it is neatly summed up: "Thak you for placing my husband's immediate life at risk and for impacting my daughter's puberty. You are unfit to watch over others."

Don Saylor responded:


I am sorry to hear of Don's health setback. I wish him a speedy recovery and the best to you and Morgan at this challenging time.

Don Saylor"

You might say, hey he's actually being nice and compassionate.

Then we get to the PS. This gives us a stronger hint at the true agenda:

“P.S. Your message was sent to a public e-mail address. Some people who may benefit from your thoughts were not included in your list of addressees. I am forwarding your message to those who come to mind. I note that for some reason you chose to send this message to only one of the five Yolo County Supervisors and so I have included the remaining four in this transmission.

So Saylor never responds to her concerns about a medical exemption. Instead, he makes what appeared at first to be a kind remark of condolence about Don’s health. However, then he takes it upon himself to send it to the public officials that Samantha did not send the initial letter to. Moreover, as I found out later, he also sent the entire letter to the Davis Enterprise and Bob Dunning.

This all seems not only inappropriate but wholly unnecessary. I do not understand the reasoning behind Don Saylor's decision to send this to the press. It certainly seems like some sort of game that Saylor is playing. Samantha is not one who is shy with words. She was absolutely livid at what she perceives as Don Saylor's cynical manipulation of her husband's health issues for his own political gain.

"Don Saylor this shows you to be a true political ass, egotist and definitely unfit for service . You take my husband Don's condition as a political game, smugly smile and forward my email to the newspapers. You truly are lower then scum. I think this shows you in your true light not me. I fight for my husband's health and you play games. I in turn am forwarding your little political trickery and low moves to the folks working on recalling all of you who so thoroughly prove yourselves unfit for public service."

It will be interesting to watch this unfold as Samantha fires back from Canada.

---Reporting Doug Paul Davis

Sunday, July 30, 2006


To all:

Most in Davis this summer find ways to escape the heat in the comfort of the air conditioned homes, the cool of the pool, or the leisure of a well-time vacation. For some of us though, this summer has ushered in dark times and dark events in the second-most-educated city in the country.

For the last year, a movement has been growing in the city of Davis. People of color, the few that there are in Davis, have been speaking out, coming out, and calling out for help. Numerous stories of police abuse and misconduct have arisen in the media, even more have been held just outside of the limelight of the Davis Enterprise, the guardians of the order and the status quo.

This confrontation reached a flashpoint in April and May of this year, as the establishment struck back. A 16-year-old girl was arrested for a hit-and-run bumper-bender in a Safeway parking lot in June of 2005. The family has accused Davis Police Officer Pheng Ly of various violations of state and federal law in addition to violations of Davis Police Department procedure. The family spent over $100,000 defending their daughter from criminal charges brought forth by the District Attorney's office. Finally, April, it seemed over, the judge dismissed the charges.

In effect, what the judge is purported to have said, is that in juvenile cases, when a civil settlement is reached, the state's interest ends and the case is considered closed. This is per the official policy of the City of Davis, a policy that encourages parties to settle things civilly rather than criminally. In a small damage, no injury case such as this one it makes sense.

So why did the DA bring charges? According to the family, the DA brought charges because the family was planning to sue the city. Deputy DA Patti Fong said this to Judge Warriner in court--multiple times. The family has now filed suit against the Davis Police Department and the District Attorney's Office.

Where this case turns bizarre is that once the Judge dismissed the charges, the DA's office and in particular Patti Fong, released private tapes of the juvenile affair into the press. The Davis Enterprise posted the tapes containing very private information about the family and also the victim in this, Ms. Wonhoff. Columnist Bob Dunning, published for weeks about the mistreatment of Officer Ly. Editor Debbie Davis proclaimed that Officer Ly was "doing his job and doing it well." And Mayor Ruth Asmundson apologized to Officer Ly on behalf of the city and later said that the 16-year-old learned her lesson.

The story gets more bizarre, as right after the city council elections, the Police Chief resigns and blames the Human Relations Commission and specifically the Chair for creating a climate of intolerance. The lame-duck Davis City Council then acts on this, and dismisses the Human Relations Commission. The Human Relations Commission acted as the only body that people of color could come to, to air their grievances with their treatment.

Now the ruling cabal of the Davis City Council--led by Don Saylor and including Stephen Souza and Ruth Asmundson, have conspired to rob Sue Greenwald of her rightful place as Mayor of Davis. There were rumors for weeks that they would refuse to seat her altogether. Then there were rumors that they'd give her a month and then proclaim her out of control and ineffective. They might just completely ignore her, and name whomever they want to whatever committees they want, and effectively rule the city with a 3-2 majority.

Watching this unfold last week, I realize I must act. This blog will be the voice of truth for the City of Davis. This blog will expose the lies and deceptions whether they come from the City Council, the Davis Police Department, the DA's Office, or the City Manager. This blog will be the source of hard-hitting reporting and news that you will not get from the Davis Enterprise.

----Doug Paul Davis reporting