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Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 3rd biggest story: Superintendent David Murphy gets fired.

On March 1, 2007, the Community Chambers was packed in anticipation of the Best Uses of Schools Task Force Report which was expected to recommend the closing of Valley Oak Elementary School. However, before this would happen, the very foundations of the community would be rocked by a very surprising announcement, with just a year to go on his contract Superintendent David Murphy announced he would be stepping down effective July and retiring.

In part of a statement to the board, he read:
“Since February 1, when I turned 60, my wife Robbie and I have been discussing what would be best for our family and with our life... It is now an appropriate time for me to conclude a wonderful era of 35 years of public service and spend more time with my family while we are all healthy and happy.”
At the time we would write:
"Longtime Superintendent David Murphy of the Davis Joint Unified School District stole the show last night with a surprise announcement that he was stepping down effective July. Citing family needs and personal changes, Superintendent Murphy said that the District would immediately appoint an acting Superintendent to aid in the transition and he would work with that individual as the Board sought a new full-time Superintendent.

While Murphy was heavily praised at this meeting, he has long been a source of great controversy both within the school district and in the community as a whole. It is no secret that the majority of school board members were not happy with his performance, however their hands were largely tied by an extension granted by a previous board on their way out."
Quickly it would become clear that this was no voluntary retirement. Voluntary retirements do not have large severance pay associated.

It was really former school board member Joan Sallee who spilled the beans when she told the Davis Enterprise:
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Murphy’s retirement. ... I am very sorry that the current school board did not see fit to retain his services. The district has suffered a grievous loss, at a time when we can least afford it.”
As the Vanguard speculated at the time:
"This has been a tumultuous year for the school district with a number of different financial scandals. In November of 2006, the board halted construction on a new King High School building. Allegations were made at that time by Board Member Jim Provenza that "shoddy practices in the business office have cost us" money on the project. He further said, "I'm happy we have a new chief budget officer (Colby) and (we're) cleaning up the mess we've had in the past.

Earlier this month the project was re-approved with money from redevelopment funds. Board member Tim Taylor cast the lone, "no" vote and he too made allegations about irregularities in board money use. "For me, the issue is some financially funky stuff that's gone on to get us to this point. It has absolutely nothing to do with King High."

Another scandal in the last year was the Total School Solutions scandal which led to the resignation of a number of administrators. Total Schools Solutions is a Fairfield-based firm run by Tahir Ahad, who served as deputy superintendent for business services for the Davis School District from 1999 through May. Employees who worked at Total School Solutions while at the same time working for the school district were perceived to have a conflict of interest and this led to new conflict of interest regulations within the school district requiring disclosure of other employers that school district employees work for. At one point, the employees at Total School Solutions were largely made up of administrators from Davis Joint Unified who were simultaneously on the both payrolls."
This is but the tip of the iceberg as we shall find out this coming year. However it was clear at the time that the current board was angry having been saddled with a three year last second contract extension by the previous board.
"The previous board was fiercely loyal to Superintendent Murphy and his staff. In fact, on their way out, one of their last actions before new members Gina Daleiden, Tim Taylor, and Sheila Allen took over was to extend Murphy's contract until July 31, 2008, which had for all intents and purposes tied the hands of the new school board. Something that deeply upset several of the members of the current board."
Within a week, the board would announce their interim replacement, Richard Whitmore. Controversy would arise due to the fact that David Murphy would be receiving severance pay at the same time the board was paying a new superintendent.
"The Davis Enterprise reported last night that "recently resigned" Superintendent David Murphy will continue to receive his salary until mid 2008 (when his contract would have expired). The district would pay Murphy approximately $225,000.

A week ago, Superintendent David Murphy surprised many in the community by announcing his retirement. Already the Davis Enterprise is calling it a "resignation."

This represents mounting evidence however that Murphy was in fact involuntarily terminated. One would not receive a settlement package for merely retiring or even resigning. This arrangement pretty much confirms our suggestion last Sunday that Murphy was in fact fired.

According to the Davis Enterprise:
"Over the coming three months, ending May 31, Murphy will “focus his efforts on mutually agreed-upon duties,” including completion of a reference manual outlining the superintendent’s duties and responsibilties (sic). Murphy also will use accrued vacation time."
A couple of points that need to clarified. First, the District is paying David Murphy $225,000 of taxpayer money not to work. That is a pretty strong statement there.

Second, we need to remind the public that it was the outgoing school board with BJ Kline, Joan Sallee, and Marty West that as one of their last acts, decided to extend the contract of David Murphy and made it extremely difficult for the incoming school board to terminate an employee that they believed was doing a poor job. Those members cost the Davis taxpayers and perhaps the students a tremendous amount."
This of course, in a city like Davis spawned controversy and letters to the editor.

George Warner writes:
Let's see if I have this straight. We're paying one school superintendent $168,000 for an $80,000 job and another $235,000 for sitting on his hands for a year or so.
Barbara Wochok writes:
Under a "complex settlement," nearly $300,000 in taxpayer dollars will support two superintendents during one year. One will be housed at the district office, one not.

Obviously, administrators matter more than students at Valley Oak. Taxpayer dollars are taxpayer dollars. Once again the money goes to the top, not to the classroom. How sad!
My perspective at time is that the school district had little choice but to do this, even if it meant biting a small financial bullet with a one-time severance payment.

As I wrote at the time:
What would be nice is if the local paper instead of writing editorials about how much we will miss David Murphy, actually reported the truth about what Murphy did and why he was likely fired. We have talked about the King High debacle here several times, but do these people understand that the district lost nearly $5 million in matching funds because it failed to meet deadlines? A fact that was buried in a paragraph near the end of the editorial on Sunday. Let's see five million versus $200,000. Hmmm.... Someone want to do the math here.
Mr. Whitmore earned high praise from Board President Jim Provenza and Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Delaine Eastin.
Board President Jim Provenza called Whitmore, “a leader who excels in managing both the education of children and business and financial operations that are so crucial to school districts.”

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin speaks very highly of Mr. Whitmore. According to The Davis Enterprise:

During his years with the state, Whitmore worked closely with then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, a Davis resident who attended Monday night’s meeting of the Davis school board. Eastin called Whitmore “an inspired choice for interim superintendent” in Davis, and added, “I can think of no finer education leader.”

“His extraordinary intelligence, integrity and administrative skills will serve this great district very well indeed,” Eastin said. “Richard will work closely with his board and his staff, keeping them engaged and well-informed.”
Meanwhile the Davis Enterprise did not hesitate to lavish praise on the departed Superintendent.

Columnist Bob Dunning wrote that the "town owes Murphy a standing ovation."
"Like most superintendents, David Murphy had his supporters and his detractors … it comes with the territory … it would be impossible to be a superintendent of schools in Davis and make hard decisions without someone taking a shot at you, including the local daily columnist …"

"Yes, I've had a few disagreements with David Murphy during his tenure here, but none that made me question his integrity, his dedication or his desire to make the Davis district the best it could be "
Richard Whitmore would oversee a tumultuous time for the school board, one of his first meetings in fact was the decision to close Valley Oak.

On August 22, 2007, the school board announced the hiring of a new superintendent, James Hammond.

Board President Jim Provenza:
"The Board is pleased that Dr. Hammond has accepted the offer to lead our oustanding schools to new levels of excellence and achievement... Throughout his career as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent Dr. Hammond has demonstrated intelligent and inspiring leadership, and a deep passion for well being and academic achievement of all students, including those who are struggling to succeed. He is a rising star in public school administration. We are lucky to have him."
This was one decision where all five members of the board enthusiastically backed:
"Davis Board member Gina Daleiden expressed confidence that Dr. Hammond is the right leader for the Davis schools.

"Our extensive conversations with Tukwila school, parent, and community leaders revealed that Dr. Hammond is widely regarded as an extraordinary leader. Colleagues describe him as courageous in his decisions, and have enormous respect for his superb communications and managerial skills.”
Board Member Sheila Allen, who later was downright giddy added:

“The Tukwila staff emphasized that Dr Hammond fosters a culture of collaboration and teamwork that brings out the best in people. His enthusiasm and energy are contagious!”

Board Member Tim Taylor:

“Dr. Hammond has the extensive experience and proven leadership qualities our board desired in a new superintendent. He also has a genuine affection for students, and in return has their trust and admiration. It’s a pleasure to welcome him to the Davis Joint Unified School District.”

Board Member Keltie Jones:

“I am delighted with Dr. Hammond’s appointment. He brings a fresh level of energy and creativity to our district.” "
The Vanguard caught up with the new superintendent that evening:
For his part, the new superintendent seems excited but a bit overwhelmed.

"Just a little sense of being overwhelmed but at the same time very excited. From my initial interactions, just an exciting dynamic community. People value the schools. People value the kids. The quality of education, so it's just an exciting time for me personally."
Overall, it was an extremely eventful year for the school district. For good measure, Dr. Hammond already had to step in defuse a brewing battle between the district and the supporters of the Valley Oak Charter School.

Furthermore it seems that supporters of David Murphy, particularly former board members Joan Sallee and Marty West went out of their way to dredge up past controversies. In an op-ed, they accused the current board of fiscal mismanagement. As most will see in the coming weeks, the problem rests not with the current board but with the past board and the superintendent. (See the Vanguard's follow up as well).

For all of this, the firing of David Murphy is the third biggest Vanguard story of 2007.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 4th biggest story: Sodexho Foodworkers Organize to Become UC Employees.

On May 1, 2007 protesters seeking university pay and benefits for food service workers held the first of a number of well-organized events. The main issues are ability over over 550 food service workers, custodians, and cooks to get university jobs which would entitle them to higher pay. An outsourced worker gets around $10.35 an hour versus a starting minimum over over $12 hour and a max of up to $15.50 for a university employee. However, even more important are health care benefits. One of the workers told me she was paying over $100 for her health care package where a UC Davis employed worker would only pay about 5% of that.

Police placed the number of protesters at 150, but the number appeared to be at least 400, and possibly more.

They held a rally at the MU for about half an hour. Then marched around the quad, down to Freeborn and held a brief rally there before heading down Howard to Russell and then down Russell to the corner of Russell and Anderson.
"The event was well organized. The police did a good job of blocking traffic, diverting it away from the protest and also did not engage with the protesters.

It was only when the larger group left the street to stand on the sidewalks, then a group of perhaps 24 to 30 people sat down in the middle of the intersection."
"At this point, Lt. Dorothy Pearson gave the order to disperse. When they did not disperse, officers read the protesters their rights and arrested them, one-by-one leading them into a bus.

When this was done, the protesters peacefully dispersed and there appeared to be no incidents. It was well handled by both the police and the organizers to make a point. Although you can see from one of the photos above, the police were ready with riot gear (or two of them were) if the crowd got out of hand."
Three weeks later, there was another large protest this one going directly to Mrak Hallthe main issues are ability over over 550 food service workers, custodians, and cooks to get university jobs which would entitle them to higher pay. An outsourced worker gets around $10.35 an hour versus a starting minimum over over $12 hour and a max of up to $15.50 for a university employee. However, even more important are health care benefits. One of the workers told me she was paying over $100 for her health care package where a UC Davis employed worker would only pay about 5% of that..
"A small contingent of 15 protesters had gotten inside the building prior to the protest and spoke to the crowd from second story windows. According to later reports, 15 of these people were arrested when they refused to leave the building.

The building was eventually locked down out of concern for public safety and the safety of the employees working in the building, although the crowd was largely well organized and did not seem to present a tremendous danger. The doors locked and protesters outside demanding action."
The lockdown of the building appeared to be an overreaction by the police and the university administration. The small but vocal crowd was of no threat to the safety of anyone.

We spoke with labor organizer Bill Camp who is the director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. He described in detail the organizing efforts, some of the complaints about treatment by the police, and some other interesting details of protesting and being arrested at UC Davis and in Yolo County.
"Last Wednesday Bill Camp, 63, was one of several protesters who entered Mrak Hall, sat down on the first floor and was arrested for failure to disperse. And in fact, the protesters including Camp, were charged with not only failure to disperse but also trespassing.

The protesters went into the building in advance to see how to enter the building. They tried to see Chancellor Vanderhoef, but access to his office was blocked, and he was not there. Camp, wearing a tie and slacks, appeared as though he was some “old professor,” to use his words. The protesters went up to the second floor because they couldn’t get up to the fifth floor where the chancellor’s office is located. So, they went to the fourth floor and were going to walk up to the fifth floor."
The university began to receive pressure from a number of elected officials most notably however, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk.

The response by the university was disappointing. First they attempted to pit the Sodexho workers against the students, by suggesting to the students that they would raise student rates if the workers were granted university status and paid commensurate with what a university employee would get rather than an outsourced contract laborer.

"In an article in Dateline UC Davis, the university said that it wanted to hear from the students "who pay the bills" regarding the demands of food workers efforts to become university employees.

On the one hand, according to the article,

"Sodexho already announced that it has established an independent third-party grievance system, introduced the UC Davis Principles of Community to employees and boosted wages consistent with UC's recent pay increases for its lowest-paid workers."


In a Sodexho letter dated May 18 and posted online with [Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janet] Gong's, the company's senior vice president, Bill Lacey, pointed out that the company in 2003 voluntarily elected to follow the Sacramento Living Wage policy, and that the company believes "our compensation is competitive within our industry."

On the other hand,

"The university estimates the cost of providing improved wages and more affordable benefits to Sodexho workers at $2.1 million annually."

Janet Gong, the interim head of Student Affairs suggests the following:

"This is a significant recurring cost that cannot readily be absorbed within the existing university budget."
She added that the burden of paying the extra cost would likely fall on students who rely on Sodexho service in the dining halls and elsewhere on campus. "Being mindful of the additional costs our students would face and consistent with the chancellor's commitment to address these issues, we are exploring a variety of strategies to improve wages and benefits.""
The students and workers decided to use Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's annual event as a means to protest, particularly since food service workers were being used to serve the guests their meal.

A large number of prominent public officials entered the Chancellor's university residence and ignored the protesters outside.
"More interesting was perhaps the reaction of leaders in this community--some of whom have expressed open support for the food service workers. For instance, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk had sent a letter to the chancellor in March urging him to negotiate with the students in good faith. She was also supposed to be meeting with the Chancellor in hopes of pressuring him to resolve the meeting. Given that, it was surprising to see the Assemblywoman walk right past the protesters, along with her husband Bruce Wolk, and say nary a word.

Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor exchanged pleasantries with me, however, he did not attempt to talk to the students despite his earlier letter of support. Nor did Councilmember Ruth Asmundson. Nor did former Mayor and current Judge Dave Rosenberg. Nor did Congressman Mike Thompson's representative Eli Faircloth."

All but one public official, that would be County Supervisor Mariko Yamada:
"There was but one exception to that list--County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. Ms. Yamada walked up to the protesters, offered words of support and hugs, and made the determination that she should not go in, in light of the protest. The students talked her into going inside, however, it was clear from the student's reaction that her support was very meaningful to them. Nor was the fact that several other leaders in the community had walked right past them without a word lost upon them."
Chancellor Dennis Shimek, whose hardball tactics have at times angered the organizers and workers intentionally showed his disdain for the group.
"Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek at one point intentionally and deliberately walked right through the marching picketers--and for really no apparent reason as he walked through some grass in some open space and then returned to the Chancellor's residence. I caught up to him at the park, and told him that my mother had taught me never to walk through a picket line.

He asked me, "why is that?"

I responded, "it is the ultimate sign of disrespect."

He said, "they were in the path, I had the right to walk there, so I did."

He could have easily walked around them. He was attempting to intimidate them and bully them, just as he had up in his office during negotiations. This is a university employee's disdain for students who were exercising their lawful right to assembly.

Finally, what perhaps disturbed me the most was the treatment of the protesters by the UC Davis police. There were at least six police officers there for a pretty small protest. But that's understandable given the size of previous protests. What concerned me was that the police were taking pictures of the protesters."
Meanwhile the university has continued with their attempts to break the will of the protesters. In August, announcing that a deal had been made with the workers. In fact, it was a deal deal that was cut with the company itself.
"According to UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef in the release:

"We have listened to a wide range of sometimes-conflicting concerns, and I believe we are responding in a principled way to balance the cost of improved benefits and wages for our food service workers with the need to maintain access and affordability for our students... And, very important to me because I believe a contract is one's word, we are doing so without breaking our contract with Sodexho. Sodexho is being responsive to our requests and is committed to strengthening its overall compensation competitiveness and workplace environment."

The release further claims:

"According to the agreement, Sodexho will augment its existing medical benefits plan by increasing the employer contribution level, effective January 1. The specific employer contribution will be determined by Sodexho prior to its employee health plan open-enrollment period in October.

The changes to the Sodexho contract are expected to add additional annual costs of approximately $2 million -- an estimated $1.5 million per year in additional costs to Student Housing and $500,000 per year to the Student Union operating services."
However, the news was met with caution and suspicion by the workers themselves.
"Dan Cole is the lead cook at Segundo and in charge of the station at the Segundo Dining Commons. He has been an employee there for five years. He makes a marginal income and feels he pays a lot for his health care benefits even though they are not great benefits.

According to him, this agreement is a good start.

"Everyone’s initial reaction was kind of to get excited, but they doing it for the wrong reasons, why now? They are doing this to get around the union. I don’t see why if they can get us the two-thirds, why can’t they go the whole way."

That is a point that he kept emphasizing, the University was willing to go two-thirds of the way there in terms of wages and benefits, but that's not the end of the story. There is no reason that they cannot go all the way and give them university employee status.

He views the University's tactic however as a "tactic to get around the union issue. They want to keep us as minimally happy as possible to keep things the way they are."

He described many of the workers now as being more resolved.

"Absolutely, everyone’s reaction is quite excited."

If anything this has made them in even stronger support for the union and their goals of becoming university employees.

"Without the union, this would not happen at all. A lot of people recognize what the union brings us—whether you agree or disagree with the union here, it is clear that this would not have happened if the union weren’t here.""
As the year comes to a close, the student protesters from the May 1 event have charges pending before them and their case will work through the court system. Meanwhile, the organizers are planning more actions in an attempt to gain university status and a livable wage with good and affordable benefits for these workers.

For all this, the Sodexho Food Service organizing is the fourth biggest Vanguard story for 2007.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 5th biggest story: Landy Black hired as new Davis Police Chief.

Given all of the controversy surrounding the Police Department and the exit of former Chief Jim Hyde, this is almost a story because it is not a story. The resignation of Police Chief Jim Hyde was the second biggest story in 2006.

However, the hiring of the new police chief was not without at least some early controversy.

City Manager Bill Emlen decided that the best way to conduct these interviews was to keep all of the names confidential.

So on January 9, the City Manager announced that there were seven final candidates for the position of Police Chief.
"Last night the Davis Enterprise reported that the city has seven final candidates for the position of Police Chief and that one of those candidates is not interim Chief Steve Pierce.

City Manager Bill Emlen was quoted as saying:

“We’d like to find somebody who’s going to be around for a while, is able to set the department forward with clear vision and will be able to implement that vision.”

City Manager Bill Emlen not only has not disclosed the list of finalists to the press, but he has not disclosed it to the city council. While this is a personnel matter, it would not be inappropriate to divulge the names of candidates particularly to the members of the council. Several sources have informed us that this is a highly unusual move by the City Manager. While some personnel matters are confidential, the names of those on a short list are not--particularly to the City Council who is ostensibly his boss."
However, just because the intent was to keep the names confidential, doesn't mean that names do not leak out--particularly controversial ones.

As we reported on January 10, 2007:
"The People’s Vanguard of Davis has learned from multiple well-placed sources that one of these seven finalists is former Davis Police Captain Nick Concolino who was dismissed from the Davis Police Department in June of 2000 by then Police Chief Jerry Gonzales and then City Manager John Meyer."
The article laid out some of the reasons for the firing on Concolino and the controversy it spawned.
"The nature of personnel matters is shrouded in confidentiality agreements that prevent the release of reasons for a dismissal. As such, the public and even the City Council at the time were never informed of the reasons. We spoke with the Mayor of Davis during the time of the dismissal, Ken Wagstaff. He expressed his frustration stating, “this was the most frustrating thing about being on the council.”
Any hire of Nick Concolino would re-open old wounds. This action resulted in a huge and ugly controversy as the Davis Police Officer’s Association (DPOA) and many citizens campaigned against the dismissal of Concolino and then began an orchestrated campaign against Chief Gonzales. In response many citizens and civil rights activists came to the defense of Chief Gonzales."

The fact that Mr. Concolino was even under consideration sparked a lot of attention, criticism, and outrage.

Two weeks later, when the field was trimmed to three, Mr. Concolino was not among them.
"The Davis Enterprise reported on Thursday that City Manager Bill Emlen has announced that there are three finalists for the Police Chief position vacated in June by the departure of Jim Hyde for the same position with the Antioch Police Department.

According to several sources, Nick Concolino, who we ran an article on a few weeks ago, is not among the top three candidates. According to Emlen, one of the candidates is a woman, two of them are from out of state, and two of them work currently for law enforcement organizations, but one does not but has experience working as management in police organizations."
By early February it was clear that there was one candidate--Seattle Police Captain Landy Black.

The Police Captain sat down on the phone with me for a 30 minute phone interview. And laid out his position on a number of controversial issues including expressed support for civilian police oversight, which he had worked under while in Seattle.

On February 20, 2007, Landy Black was named the new Police Chief.
"City Manager Bill Emlen at last night's Davis City Council Meeting announced that Seattle Police Captain Landy Black has accepted a job offer for the position of Police Chief. Captain Black's tenure will officially begin on April 9, 2007. Interim Police Chief Steve Pierce will once again return to his previous position of Assistant Police Chief. Captain Black's starting salary will be $130,421.50 which is the highest salary in the city's salary schedule."
The swearing in came in early April:
"Amid much excitement, anticipation, mixed in perhaps with some relief, Davis City Manager Bill Emlen swore in Landy Black as Davis' new police chief.

The newly sworn-in Chief Black was joined by a number of colleagues, friends, and his very proud wife and parents yesterday before a full contingent of Davis Police Officers, elected office holders, and other community leaders."
For the most part since that point, Chief Landy Black has been a non-story.

He earned rare praise from the Vanguard for his handling on the May Day Student Protests.

In an article entitled, "Davis Police Compare Favorably in their Actions on Tuesday Compared with the Problems in Los Angeles," I wrote:
"As I watched the protest on Tuesday as it moved from campus, through the middle of Russell Boulevard and eventually to the intersection of Russell and Anderson, I remarked to several people the professionalism by which the Davis Police Department handled the march. They not only blocked off the streets in advance of the march, but they allowed for the impromptu, never engaging or escalating even when things may have gone slightly off-track.

As the march ended up with several hundred protesters marching in the middle of one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in the city, the police seemingly effortlessly diverted traffic. I understand that this diversion inconvenienced travelers and students who were attempting to get to class, but in terms of their prime duty--safety and peace, the police did their job on that afternoon and they did it well."
Most impressive to me was a conversation that I had with Chief Black on site:
"I spoke first to Lt. Dorothy Pearson and then to the new Chief himself, Landy Black. In both cases, they downplayed the significance of their actions. Telling me that this was their job. Chief Black spoke about the importance of the right to protest as being a centerpiece of a Democratic society and I could not agree more. However, as we have seen throughout history, the actions of the Davis Police Department on this day should not be dismissed as lightly as the leadership did."
There will likely be trying times in the future for the new police chief, in many ways that is the nature of the job. However, the first seven months or so on the job have afforded the chief was an opportunity to put down roots and make contacts in the community before the next trying incident.

For all of this non-controversy, especially after last year, the hiring of Police Chief Landy Black is the fifth biggest story in 2006.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, December 28, 2007

2007--The Year in Pictures

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 6th biggest story: Measure P and Measure Q.

Two of the most important items on this past November's ballot was the renewal of the school district's parcel tax Measure Q and the library parcel tax Measure P.

Both of these measures funded vital services for their respective districts (the school district and the library district).

The parcel tax for the school district funds roughly 5 to 10 percent of the district's budget--$16 million.

The Vanguard sat down in August with Davis School Board Member Gina Daleiden and Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore:

According to Board member Gina Daleiden:
"If we were going to have to cut 16 million dollars over four years out of our budget that would obviously be a huge and very painful change. I think it would lead to the elimination of a lot of the programs that make Davis Schools, Davis Schools."
The stakes for such an election were therefore very high. The district relies on the parcel tax to fund a large number of programs.
"A lot of the districts eliminated things that Davis kept because we have the parcel tax... And so things like the music program and its foreign language offerings, the extensive art offerings, those are made possible by the seventh period in the junior highs and the high school. If you go to [other] schools around the area they don't have seven period's offered, they have six, and so if your student wants to take orchestra and a foreign language or art and a foreign language, those opportunities are more available here. Class size reduction, that takes a lot of funding beyond what's offered around the state, and many districts they've eliminated that."
According to Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore, without the parcel tax you would see a number of layoffs as the district would have to cut both regular and specialist teachers. We would have larger class sizes across the board and fewer elective offerings in the junior and senior high schools.

The parcel tax will go up during the four year period 34 dollars per year over the parcel tax in the previous four year period.

Board Member Gina Daleiden said the increases are there primarily to cover inflation, however there are two new programs funded as well.
"It mostly is to cover the cost of inflation—programs cost more, people cost more. It mostly covers that. There are two new components that are relatively small percentage-wise out of the parcel tax. One is to increase the offering of fresh fruits and vegetables in the school lunches and the other is for math support for students who need it. And that would be elementary school, 4th through 6th grades for the math support to help kids be ready to take algebra."
In late September, the Vanguard sat down with Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson, retired librarian Mary Stephen Stephens and Measure P Campaign director Rich Peterson.

Back in 1989, the city of Davis passed a $42 per parcel library tax to help fund the library. In 2007, Davis residents still pay the exact same amount despite the fact that inflation has greatly reduced the purchase power of that tax. Measure P proposes to increase that parcel tax to $88 which still would not equal the amount of the tax from 1989, however it would enable the library to maintain its current level of service, to refurbish some of the library building, and to restore some programs that have been cut over the years due to lack of funding.

According to Mary Stephens,
"For me the most important thing is to sustain at a minimum sustain the current level of service including hours. The library has been using reserves since about ’92 off and on depending on how the funding came through to make up for the shift of local property taxes by the state. The reserves are running out, so if there isn’t an increase in the funding, there will be a significant reduction in the hours, materials, and programs."
Measure P will also allow the library to hire additional staff--positions that have been eliminated over the years due to having effectively less money over time.
"It will also allow us to add some additional staff, I think there are two positions to work with kids after school which have been eliminated over the years due to the tightening of the budget."
Over 1000 people use the library per week and the library has a high volume of book circulation--over one million dollars worth of books are circulated.

For both of these measures, the stakes were high. The school district faced a big cut back in programs and the library a big cut back in hours should they not pass.

Amidst low turnout on election day, Measures P and Q pulled away as the night went on to easily pass both pulling in well over 70 percent of the vote in an election that required a two-thirds vote. Davis renewed its commitment to schools and libraries on election day despite an overall lack of interest in the off-year election.

We caught up with the some of the principals after the election.

The Vanguard spoke to Board Members Sheila Allen and Gina Daleiden who were the coordinators for Measure Q.

Sheila Allen told us:
"I am extremely pleased that the community of Davis has once again come together to support our schools and children. When the task of the Parcel Tax renewal was given to Gina and I we decided to take a very different tact than previous campaigns. The prior strategy has always been a "stealth" campaign: keeping below the radar, talking only to parents and supports, no lawn signs or public campaign, etc. This is not the way Gina and I and the current board do business. We wanted to communicate to the community what it is they pay for with their parcel tax dollars and what they get in return. We were very pleased that an informed (although low turn out) agreed that Davis students need to continue to have the programs that Measure Q pays for in the classroom."
Gina Daleiden said:
"I am heartened by the confirmation that the vast majority of people in Davis hold children and education as a top priority.

From the very beginning of the campaign, our biggest concerns were the economy and complacency. When headlines screamed of a weak economy, higher fuel prices, foreclosures, we knew we had to work harder. And we had to get the word out about what the tax actually funds---many of the critical programs that we all have come to expect as Davis Joint Unified. We had an amazing all-volunteer effort on this campaign---a broad coalition of people united in support of our schools.

We did have a little drama as we watched the early returns. While polling and phone banking and walking can show 78 or 80% support, that only translates into real votes if people turn out at the polls. In a very low turnout election like the one last night, the "no" votes will show up and the "yes" votes you need to dilute those don't materialize to the extent you would like in a tax election. All that said, nearly 73% is a reminder that education is a priority in Davis, even for those without students in the schools. In the end, this is about our kids and our classroom programs across the entire District. Our kids are the winner in this election."
We also spoke with campaign manager of the Measure P effort, Rich Peterson:
"We are absolutely delighted at the outcome of the election. Once again, Davis has shown itself to be a truly giving and caring community. On behalf of Supervisors Thomson and Yamada, I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to help Measure P pass, in particular Jay Johnstone, the Friends of the Davis Library led by Erik Vink, and Sandy Briggs - who walked precincts with a broken collar bone!! We truly are indebted to the hard work of countless dedicated individuals, named and unnamed. Above all else, we would like to thank the Davis voters."
As I mentioned previously, without a doubt these were the two most important items on the ballot and also for the most part two of the least controversial. For that Measure P and Measure Q are the 6th biggest Vanguard story for 2007.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 7th biggest story: Racial and Other Strife on the High School Campus.

Last year there were a series of incidents and stories involving the Davis High School Campus. One of the strangest incidents was an honors student who ended up getting suspended for giving a speech about Malcolm X that may or may not have challenged the authority of a teacher.

The incident started with the student asking if they could bring a poster of Malcolm X to to math class. The teacher had posted a number of political posters in the classroom and they had agreed.

As we wrote at the time:
"On the poster appeared the phrase very prominently, "by any means necessary" along with other phrases from one of Malcom X's most famous speeches.

This is a phrase comes from this context:

"We declare our right on this be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."

The next day, the student came back and found that the poster had been taken down and in front of the class and was told that it was a "terrorist" message.

A few weeks later, this same student was asked to give a speech in front of the school during Human Relations Week about a civil rights incident that he had experienced. He was given a choice and decided to do it on this specific incident. He then gave them an advanced copy of the speech which they approved. He was told that he could not specifically mention the teacher and he agreed to this.

He then delivered the speech, he did not mention the teacher's name. Apparently the teacher however walked out during the speech, he and his parents were called in by the Vice-Principal."
The text of the speech was approved apparently by the powers that be. However, according to some, the student changed parts of the speech and made critical remarks to the teacher.

Because of the criticism of the teacher in the speech, the student was suspended for three days.

According to the student, this is a copy of the text of the speech that was actually read during the assembly.

Versions of the incident vary depending on who you ask. From my perspective, a three day suspension for an offense that does not include physical danger or illegal activity is inappropriate. A further problem is a school policy that is in the process of being changed, whereby students are punished academically for being suspended. This is problematic since most students suspended are academically at risk to begin with.

This leads us to another concern from the high school campus and really beyond--the achievement gap.

The basics of the achievement gap are well-known by now. Each candidate for school board expressed great concern for it. At a fundamental level, white and Asian students perform consistently and statistically significantly higher than do African-American and Hispanic students.

In fact it is worse than that. The most chilling statistic is that when you control for education level of the parents, and you look only at children of college educated parents, the achievement gap still remains. This means it is something beyond merely economic or educational differences between black and Hispanic families and white and Asian families.

Last spring, Davis High School Catalysts for Social Justice presented research on a number of tough topic including achievement gap, suspension rate differentials, and lack of minority hires.

That presentation is summarized here.

Early in May, Tansey Thomas, a community leader stood up before the school board and spoke at length about a "Racial Climate Assessment Report" that was done in the early 90s. This report laid out a series of concerns and problems that existed at the time. It made a series of recommendations.

Here are some of the specific recommendations made:
"The District should establish... no later than the 1990-91 school year, a district-wide multicultural curriculum committee... [that] should oversee and assist in implementation of the plan within the District. The responsibilities of the committee should include developing staff training programs, curriculum materials, and other similar matters."

"The district needs to employ a specialist in multicultural education who can provide assistance to the administrative staff in the areas of staff development and development of multicultural curriculum materials."

"To promote teacher input, a committee of teachers should be established at each site."

"Job responsibilities of all school personnel should include being knowledgeable of, and attentive to, the educational needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds... Training should be broad, covering all aspects of human relations and multicultural education."

"The district should promote follow-through, such as peer coaching, where teachers can have other experienced staff observe, evaluate, and provide feedback concerning the implmenetation of teaching principles and methodologies covered in the training."

"A strong consideration in the selection of Mentor Teachers in the District for the next several years should be their skill in multicultural education."

"As part of its affirmative action program, the District should focus on strategies to attract and hire qualified applicants with diverse cultural backgrounds who are trained in multicultural education."

"The district should offer more kinds of programs such as Global Education in which teachers learn about different cultures within the United States and in other countries."

"The District needs to develop ways to help students realize their academic potential... a State task force recommended that local school districts review their policies to deliberately expose minority students to a strong academic background and prepare them for higher education."

"Assessments every two years or on an annual basis, as needed, should be made to evaluate the progress the District is making in improving the racial/ethnic climate in Davis schools."
The big concern of course is that this report could have been written today. And in fact, what happened was it gathered dust on a shelf. It was never implemented. The school district has gone to great measures to really just reinvent the wheel.

It does us little good to have studies, to discover that the same problems exist, but not to follow through on those recommendations.

Unfortunately these are just a few of the issues that arose during this year.

We also had a group of parents in frustration threaten to boycott the district's STAR testing.

And the Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore was concerned enough about this threat to personally respond on the Vanguard.

There was also conflict within some of the parents and students at the high school that led to the shutdown of the Black Student Union. This led to protests and marches.

Finally, just when it appeared things had calmed down after a long summer break, school started again, and the district began a crackdown of truancy at the same time the police began a crackdown on underaged students giving rides to other students (which is against the law). The combination led to mass confusion until everything was sorted out.

The Vanguard would run a four-part series on the truancy issue.

The first installment focused on the meeting itself. Newly promoted Director of Student Services, Pam Mari was put into an awful position at this time. She later told me that she was under the mistaken impression that the school board actually knew what was going on. They did not. Therefore, the lack of material and information fed into the confusion by the school board.

This was coupled with a fundamental misunderstand of what the term "truancy sweep" meant. Most of us took it to mean that the police were going around the community to round up students. What we would later learn is that they were using the term "sweep" as the police would to mean an operation that has a specific focus and goal, in this case to get the 15-20 worst truancy offenders back into class.

However, that is not what it looked like in mid-September when this story broke.

The confusion was perhaps best summed up by Amanda Lopez-Lara, the student representative on the school board.

"It was when the student representative on the board spoke, Amanda López-Lara, that it became more clear that what was being described by Pam Mari looked very different from the student perspective.

"Today was probably the first day most students were actually told these rules. We had never heard of them before, we were not aware of them. I agree it is very good to kid the kids into class again, because I do know there’s a problem at the high school especially with a lot of kids just skipping class and going to parks. But one concern I do have is that a lot of people appreciate Mark Hicks, and I know a lot of kids who are at-risk students who really respect him, but one concern that I had is that I know today during lunch, the whole high school was scared. We were scared because we went to lunch, we weren’t necessarily scared but we were made nervous, because we went out and I don’t think I’ve see that many cop cars at the high school. I saw one across the street, and two and each entrance, and then once I went down the street I’ve had my license for a year, so I wasn’t nervous, but what did make me nervous is that there were cop cars going up or down and I know that there were some students pulled over. I know one student who actually had his license for year and there was a misunderstanding between himself and the police officer. But I do know that a lot of students afterwards were feeling very nervous and had a lot of apprehension towards the police officers."
Furthermore she stated:

"I’m an A student, I have no truancy problems, and I know that made me nervous.""
School Board members Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor expressed concern about this type of seemingly overly broad approach to fighting truancy.

At one point, Board Member Taylor in frustration summed up his concerns:
"Pam with all due respect that is interesting, but Jim’s point is that a student with all the reason in the world to be going to the bank, shouldn’t be stopped… It doesn’t matter that once their stopped and police run a check on them that fifteen minutes later they are let out of police control, the problem is the being stopped in the first place. I have a huge concern about it… [He stated he is supportive of the mission to reduce truancy] but there are limits, and I think the limits that Jim is identifying in his question are the ones that I am concerned about.”
Here's the full article on the first meeting itself.

It was not until later the next week after a conversation with Davis Police Lt. Darren Pytel that it became clearer that what was conveyed at the school board meeting was not the entire story (fortunately).

Meanwhile the Vanguard met with a number of students who demonstrated the confusion and concerns that students had with the confluence of two policy decisions that appeared to the students to be one and the same.

By November 2, a new meeting laid out to the board what was really going on--telling the board in a way that should have been done in the first place. This time, in addition to Pam Mari, the Davis Police, the District Attorney's Office, and other agencies involved were there to provide additional information.
"To her credit, Pam Mari, Davis Joint Unified School District Director of Student Services admitted that the previous conversation did not go as well as was hoped. However, she suggested that communications have drastically improved.

As so often seems to be the case, there was a miscommunication about expectations. She seemed to believe that the board already knew what was going on with regards to truancy, when in fact they clearly did not. It should be noted of course, that this was her first presentation in her present position. Nevertheless, the entire incident underscores the need for communication to occur at a high level.

Unlike the September meeting, Pam Mari was flanked by Lt. Darren Pytel of the Davis Police Department who was able to clarify the role of the police as it relates to issues of truancy. Also present were Trease Peterson, the Youth Intervention Specialist, and representatives from the Yolo County Probations department and the Yolo County DA's office (Patty Fong).

Lt. Darren Pytel made it clear to the public that the use of the term "sweep" meant something different to the police than to the public. To the public the perception was that they would go around town and attempt to round up youths who might not be in school. "We have no intent to do that." Instead, they have found that a lot of high school students, when being truant, end up hanging around in the park next to school. If this is the situation they encounter then they approach the students with a consensual stop and ask them where they should be. According to Lt. Pytel, most students are fairly honest about what they should be doing."
The bottom line here is an illustration as to why communication within the district and between agencies would have spared a lot of people, a lot of grief.

Things would calm down after this, but it was a tumultuous year on the Davis High School Campus.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 8th biggest story: Saylor Claims He's Civil.

There are times when politicians make claims so outrageous that you just have to shake your head in amazement at the audacity. Such was the case on April 8, 2007, when Don Saylor wrote his treatise on Civility in Public Discourse.

Mr. Saylor writes:
"Nearly every day, someone in Davis expresses concern to me about the stark incivility that mars much of the public dialogue in our community. While we can certainly point to glaring examples of discord around the world, I prefer to think our community can do better."
The problem is of course, Mr. Saylor himself has the reputation for being incivil and at times an outright bully within this community.

As I wrote at the time:
"As I read Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor's treatise in the Davis Enterprise Sunday on civility in public discourse, the first thought running through my head is who is Don Saylor to be lecturing to the community on civility. This is a man with a widespread reputation in this community for treating people in a very non-civil manner. He has berated many individuals in front of others when he has had disagreements with them. Moreover, in public discourse Mr. Saylor often gets away with making very malicious, cynical, and critical statements of others due to the measured way in which he speaks."
There are a number of examples of Mr. Saylor's incivility in public life, but by far the most pertinent example is an attack letter signed by Mr. Saylor's wife, Julie who unleashed an attack on then candidate Lamar Heystek charging him with sexism and misogyny based strictly upon a tongue-in-cheek column he penned for the UC Davis Student newspaper, the California Aggie.

Mrs. Saylor concluded her attack by suggesting that Mr. Heystek should not be considered a viable candidate for council:

"I recommend that Lamar Heystek get a decade or two distant from his Aggie column before anyone consider him a viable candidate for council. This is not a comment about chronological age. We need to choose candidates with the emotional maturity, balance, perspective and experience to serve our whole community."
The irony of course for many observers is that Mr. Heystek is likely the most congenial and often the most mature and respectful member on the council, addressing his colleagues by their formal titles, disagreeing with his colleagues without being disagreeable. In short, in his brief time on the council, it is Mr. Heystek and not Mr. Saylor who embodies the ideal of civility that we ought to strive to be as a community.

This is not the only example of Mr. Saylor failing to practice what he preaches. Last February, during the course of a debate over the Cannery Park property, Mr. Saylor spoke from prepared text and suggested that he was being disrespected.
"I want to make one small observation, in our council ground rules, under the first paragraph, it says that each councilmember should treat each other with respect and dignity even when disagreements arise. I feel disrespected and treated without dignity when my motivations are questioned and it is assumed that I am leading to something that I have not said."
The irony is that while his opponents on the council were suggesting the council majority had ulterior motives for their proposal--to eventually develop the Covell Village project--their criticism was not directed at any individual and the tone was very civil.

Of course that has not stopped Mr. Saylor from questioning the motives of others from the dais.

In the fall of 2006, during a discussion on living wage that Councilmember Lamar Heystek had been encouraged (by his council colleagues) to bring forward as an item written by a councilmember.
“There’s just a number of questions about this. To bring it up as a discussion is appropriate. To bring it up as a full-blown ordinance for a first reading, that’s not talking about policy, that’s talking about politics in a lead-up to an election.”
Remember this was after Councilmember Souza specifically encouraged Councilmember Heystek to bring forward this item as an item by a councilmember.

Councilmember Saylor also complains that certain actions by the public have produced "a chilling effect on the practice of community."

As the result of this, he argues,
"Many residents have told me they no longer feel they can "safely" participate in public discourse; they are reluctant to write a letter or speak in public for fear of vilification."
In fact, it has often been the actions of city council members that have produced this kind of atmosphere. Councilmember Saylor and his colleagues are as guilty of that as anyone.

Last spring, the ASUCD Senate passed a resolution in support of the creation of a civilian police review board. Rob Roy, a UC Davis student and also a candidate for the city council, presented the resolution to the city council during public comment. Saylor then proceeded to accuse him of presenting a distorted account of events and calling this manipulation "cynical," "malicious," and most likely "politically motived."
And what is that--that is the questioning of the motives of ASUCD when they brought forth a resolution that they deemed important. Exactly what he would later preach against when he found his motivations (nominally questioned).

Perhaps the most disturbing part of all is that Councilmember Saylor appears to believe what he wrote. He uses the article as a campaign piece, trotting it out to all events.

At this point, the more observant Vanguard Readers are saying, okay that is an interesting story, but why is it the 8th biggest story of 2007? Because the story does not end here of course. Mr. Saylor's preachings had to be put into motion of course with a two session retreat last summer where the council endured at city expense a special workshop on Transactional Effectiveness.

In it were two themes of the five topics--the idea of questioning of fellow council members' motivations and the second was the treatment of staff by council.

I wrote at the time:
"Councilmember Don Saylor suggested that it was "uncivil" to question the motivations of fellow councilmembers. He suggested that the councilmembers could disagree on the issue but there was a general notion by all of the councilmembers that each one was doing what they thought was best for the city."
Nothing wrong with the general notion, the problem here is the fact that the preacher is not following his preachings. If you want people to not question your motivations, start by not questioning theirs.

The next portion of the agenda was used to attack Mayor Sue Greenwald who has found herself in the position of having to grill staff in order to get them to do their jobs. Sorry to be so harsh, but that's the bottom line. Staff is biased toward the council majority, which leaves you two choices if you are a minority member--either you force staff to admit things or you find your own staff.

As I wrote at the time:
"The second point brought up and this one was transparently aimed at Mayor Greenwald, was the treatment of staff. City Manager Emlen, who is of course in charge of city staff, suggested that the staff does the best they can to produce the reports that they do and their recommendations represent their best assessment based on the information that they uncover. There was a general consensus that the staff should go to greater lengths to provide all sides of the argument in their report, even if they end up recommending against it.

The suggestion by council is that councilmembers are free to question the staff. They are free to disagree with the staff. Mr. Emlen made it clear that they do not take it personally if a councilmember or even the entire council disagree with their recommendation. That is part of the process.

The complaint was that some members did not treat the staff with the professional courtesy that they thought was due. It is entirely acceptable to question staff, but not to publicly berate or embarrass staff.

I can see both sides of the story here. On the one hand is the need to maintain professional courtesy to individuals. However, I do not think the counterpoint was as well articulated as it needed to be. From where I sit, there are times when the staff is either unprepared or they get tunnel vision. The councilmembers have a severe disadvantage in this system. They do not have their own staffers. They also lack the time and expertise to research on their own. So it is easy to suggest that the councilmember is free to disagree with a staffer, but when there is an information asymmetry that disagreement becomes more problematic."
The irony of the Transactional Effectiveness workshop is that perhaps the most lasting aspect of it has been a modification of the rules of debate and procedure--a modification that Councilmember Saylor bitterly opposes.
"The council has stringently been operating under the rule that there needs to be a motion on the floor prior to any discussion. The problem, opponents argue, is that it limits debate, because the moment someone moves for an item they are locked into a position. What we then see are a series of motions and substitute motions and friendly amendments as the council tries to figure out where they really stand, which locks them in, but also bogs them down in procedures.

There was really only one person objecting to the changes in the procedure, and that was Councilmember Don Saylor. In the end, even he voted for it. But during the course of the discussion on Tuesday night, and further during the course of workshop, Mr. Saylor argued forcefully that it would lead to longer debates. I disagree. I think it has the possibility at least to lead to shorter debates, because when the motion is finally made, most people will know where they stand and there will be a good gauge as to who supports what."
It is far from clear that there have been longer debates as the result of the rules change. If there has been any effect, it has been to produce more concise motions because everyone is clear where they stand.

The rules were too stringent, too formalized for most subjects.

As I wrote at the time that council adopted these changes in September:
"I agree with those on the council who have complained that the structure of council meetings, as dictated by Councilmember Don Saylor, is entirely too rigid. The general rule, whether you are using Roberts Rules of Order or Rosenberg's Rules of Order, is that you use the formalized rules when you need to. However, you can also relax the rules when you do not need to. Most bodies, if you watch them, relax their rules except for those intense "to the death" battles that require the most stringent of rules to ensure fairness, and to prevent any bystanders from getting hit with collateral damage."
So it is with great irony that Councilmember Don Saylor's long treatise on civility has resulted in a temporary rules change that he bitterly opposes. For the irony and frankly the sheer hypocrisy of the notion, Don Saylor's Civility Claim is the 8th biggest Vanguard story of 2007.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We continue with the 9th biggest story: The School Board Elections.

One the biggest areas of concern in 2007 was the Davis Joint Unified School District. The School Board had to deal with a vast array of controversies as we will see later in this countdown. They would also deal with the firing of a superintendent, the hiring of an interim superintendent and finally the hiring of a new superintendent--all in the same year.

The field of four school board candidates turned out to be surprisingly weak and untested.

The early handicapping was:
"The four candidates are Susan Lovenburg who has been very active both on the PTA and in general as a volunteer. Richard Harris a columnist with the Davis Enterprise and former District Director with Congressman Vic Fazio. Bob Schelen, a Researcher/Consultant for Majority Services for the Democratic Party in the State Assembly, and Joseph Spector who [is] a former school psychologist.

I do not know much about Mr. Spector and I am not certain how strong a campaign he is going to run. My early handicapping of this race is that Ms. Lovenburg as the only female running has a tremendous advantage and I would say is likely to win one of the seats. That would leave the three men to vie for the second seat. Harris has already raised a lot of money for this race. Schelen needs to become the alternative to Harris with an emphasis on his support for keeping Valley Oak open and helping disadvantaged kids."
In fact as you'll see, despite a few bumps on the way, the early handicapping held up.

The Vanguard interviewed each of the candidates.
One of the hot-buttoned issues and one of the few issues that drew any kind of differentiation was the issue of Valley Oak. Joe Spector and Bob Schelen attempted to campaign on the Valley Oak issue, but the message did not seem to resonate with the public. Richard Harris was supportive of closing the school and concerned with the fiscal impact of a charter school. Susan Lovenburg also supported the decision to close the school but was more circumspect on the charter school.

As I mentioned previously there were a few controversies along the way. One of them was that the early endorsements were somewhat pushed through the Davis Teachers Association's Political Action Committee.

Here's what we reported at the time:
"The Political Action Committee had originally unanimously endorsed Susan Lovenburg and Joe Spector. The endorsement was viewed as controversial by some of the membership. An election was held at Korematsu which confirmed the original endorsements, but they had low turnout at that meeting and Rep Council made the motion to have another election, and hold it at the school sites where there would be more representation.

At this point, a vote was taken as to whether to endorse both Susan Lovenburg and Joe spector, both names were placed together, and that was rejected by the narrowest of margins--five vote separating the yes and no votes. As a result there was yet another election, but this basically confirmed the results of the second election.

The decision has been made not to endorse in the school board race, instead they have decided to focus their energy on Measure Q and contract negotiations. 98% of the membership voted to endorse Measure Q."
The biggest controversy erupted over an incident originally reported in the Davis Enterprise that Don Winters--campaign manager for Joe Spector AND a Davis High School Teacher had allegedly used class time to stuff campaign envelopes for Joe Spector's campaign.

"In last night's newspaper, the Davis Enterprise ran an above-the-fold story based on a single source that suggested that Davis High School Teacher Don Winters had used classroom time in his capacity as Campaign Manager for Joe Spector to stuff envelopes for the campaign.

According to the Davis Enterprise:
B.J. Kline, a former board member, brought the alleged incident to the attention of Davis High Principal Mike Cawley, two current school board members and The Enterprise.

"This is campaigning at its worst," Kline said. "(It) should not be allowed to happen."

His allegation prompted plenty of discussion Thursday in Davis political circles. But when contacted by The Enterprise for comment, almost no one connected with the alleged incident, the school board campaign or the school district administration had much to say."
At the time, sources from Davis High School denied that the incident occurred and so we ran with that story.
"Students Claim Envelope Stuffing Never Actually Happened"

"The Vanguard has spoken with students off the record who claim that the incident never happened."
This turned out to be false.

By Thursday of the next week, Don Winters admitted to having done exactly what he was accused of and resigned from the Joe Spector Campaign.
"After nearly a week of silence on the matter, Don Winters, campaign Manager for Joe Spector's School Board Campaign came forward last night and released a statement both admitting to using class time to stuff approximately 300 campaign envelopes for Joe Spector and resigning as campaign manager for Joe Spector's campaign."
A column by Bob Dunning on Tuesday was a key in changing Don Winters' thinking.
"Winters, responding to my short e-mail that asked simply "What happened or didn't happen?" never got around to answering the question of whether students used class time to stuff envelopes for the Spector campaign.

In his e-mail, Winters wrote: "I guess what the highly educated voter in Davis will have to decide is not so much 'did it happen,' but does it matter?"
It matters, Don, it matters."
In a statement released to the Vanguard Mr. Winters resigned and accepted full responsibility:
"Effective Wednesday, October 24th, I resign as manager of Joe Spector’s Board of Education campaign. I accept full responsibility for a mistake in judgment I made last week in allowing my students in the final 10 minutes of one class at Davis High School to prepare 300 campaign flyers for mailing. I regret this action. I have met with the high school principal and have accepted appropriate disciplinary action. I apologize today to Joe Spector and to our campaign team, neither of whom had any prior knowledge of this activity. I also offer my sincere regrets to my students and to the Davis community."
The Vanguard also had to apologize for relying on sources that turned to not have been in position to know what had happened and unfortunately for taking the word of the accused at face-value.

However, this was largely a side-show. The school board race ended up just as one would have expected to the school board race to end up.

The Vanguard's final thoughts were captured on the morning after the election amid very low turnout.
"On an evening when the school board races were all but decided during absentee voting and the ballot measures decided shortly thereafter, the story of the day was the extremely low turnout. While the final figures are perhaps a few days away from being made official, it appears certain that turnout did not top 30 percent.

This was not a tremendous surprise given the relatively low interest that the school board election seemed to draw on this blog and throughout the community.

In the end, the results were pretty much as expected. Susan Lovenburg finished first, Richard Harris finished a comfortable, but relatively close second to Lovenburg. There was a considerable gap to the third place finish of Bob Schelen who was narrowly above Joe Spector.

In the low turnout, the establishment and relatively better known candidates won."
Susan Lovenburg and Richard Harris were seated on the school board and on December 13, 2007, they sat in on their first school board meeting. Given some of the issues and controversies they will have to deal with, one could perhaps make the argument that in fact they did not so much as win as they drew the short straw and now will have to pay for that mistake by taking over a school district in the midst of declining enrollment and financial disarray with many of the problems from the previous regime still unresolved.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007 Year in Review--10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People's Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from this year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

We begin with the 10th biggest story: The Davis City Council Preserves the City's Historic Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.

This story begins actually in October of 2006. The City of Davis had just reformulated the Human Relations Commission after putting it on "hiatus" in late June of 2006. During the course of reconstituting the commission, the Davis City Council sought to re-write the authorizing resolution in order to strip some of the powers of the commission.

However, it was not until then newly elected Councilmember Lamar Heystek brought forward the language from the city's seminal anti-discrimination ordinance, that the council realized there may be inconsistencies between the new authorizing resolution of the HRC and the city's anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 1986.

The Davis Enterprise in October of 2006 reports:
"[T]he commission has been charged with reviewing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, created in 1986. [HRC Chair John] Dixon appointed a subcommittee to look at the ordinance to see if any changes are necessary."
When the current Davis City Council reformulated the Davis Human Relations Commission, they sought to strip much of the previous power that they once had. As a result, they passed a resolution making the HRC strictly an advisory body, without the ability to investigate complaints.

This directly contradicted the Section 7A-15(C) of the City's Anti-Discrimination Code:
"Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action."
Councilmember Stephen Souza (a former chair of the HRC himself) was caught completely unaware of this section of the city's Anti-discrimination Ordinance. The question was whether the city council should alter the anti-discrimination ordinance adopted into law by the City Council on February 26, 1986 and approved by Nichols-Poulos, Rosenberg, Tomasi and Mayor Ann M. Evans and opposed by Jerry Adler.

The council in February by a 3-2 contentious vote (Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek) authorize the subcommittee of Councilmember Steve Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson to address this issue and make a recommendation to the full council.

The issue finally came before the Davis City Council in June of 2007. Councilmember Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson come before the council with a subcommittee report.

The report concludes:
“The subcommittee recommends that Section 7A-15(c) of the city’s Anti-discrimination Ordinance should be deleted.”
Furthermore, they argue that this is not a fundamental problem for civil rights enforcement:
“The Subcommittee believes there is an adequate web of resources available to individuals.”
At the time, it appeared the vote was a mere formality. However, neither the city nor the subcommittee seemed to be very prepared in their presentations or their material. Much of the recommendations were last minute. And indeed neither the council nor city staff appeared to have much knowledge of the historic role of the commission as a body that does informal rather than formal investigations.

Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz was charged with presenting the staff report.
“That particular resolution, one of the things that it did was attempted to remove the responsibility from the Human Relations Commission to investigate individual grievances with the intent of attempting to adjudicate them primarily because that particular responsibility is problematic in a public commission…”
Ms. Stachowicz specifically referred to the Commission's lack of subpoena power and lack of ability to get all information as a reason to strip its power to investigate and mediate.

The first of many twists of this night came when Souza suddenly announced that they had changed their proposal, which first sought to delete the authorizing section from the ordinance and instead would edit it to shift the power from the HRC to the city and city manager.
“Section 7A-15(c) which is civil remedies under the anti-discrimination ordinance, speaks to a specific commission as the entity that would mediate and investigate, what we have done is change that language to not be specific and allow for the evolving nature of the city’s mediation ability and programs over time.”
Souza spoke of replacing the power of the HRC with that of existing organizations. The argument that he used was that the city now possesses resources that it did not have at its disposal in 1986 such as the mediation and fair housing program, the police advisory committee, the ombudsman, the personnel board, and the human resources department. He argued that only one of them has subpoena power, the personnel board. In order to do a proper investigation, a body must be able to compel individuals to come forward to testify, only the personnel board has that power, not the HRC, he stated.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek took strong disagreement with both the process by which this was brought forward and some of the specific proposals.

Councilmember Heystek pointedly asked:
“We received this amendment to the ordinance shortly before 6:30, why was this not included in our council packet when it was delivered to our homes?”
Councilmember Souza responded:
“Because we prepared it a half hour before the meeting. We thought about it over the weekend, and me and Ruth discussed it, then we came and met with Kelly [Stachowicz] at 5:30 and proposed the language that you see before you.”
Heystek continued to press his point:
“I certainly appreciate that you’ve done that, but I question whether or not we’ve given people, even here, who wish to speak who were not prepared for these changes, and perhaps people at home who haven’t had these changes presented to them, I think the council should be very eager to take public comment tonight, but I question whether or not we should take action tonight.”
He also questioned the relevance of the personnel board as an investigative body for civil rights complaints.

Souza responded:
“It’s the appropriate body where individuals in the city lodge complaints against individuals in the city”
City Attorney Harriet Steiner had to step in here:
“The personnel board is there so that if there is a personnel action against a city employee, if there is a complaint against a city employee… that is the hearing body on whether the employee should appropriately be disciplined for their conduct. That board is set up as an adjudicatory board, but that board is not a board where people come in and lodge a complaint against a city employee…”
“That was my understanding of the role of the personnel board, so I will ask the subcommittee what relevance does the personnel board have to what we are dealing with tonight, changes to this civil rights ordinance, why do you bring up the personnel board if it is not otherwise a body that is open to the public?”
“If there is a discrimination complaint against an individual in the city from an employee of the city, that would be the vehicle that they use to adjudicate the issue.”
Souza also admitted in response to a question from Heystek that he had only read the minutes of the deliberations on the original ordinance from 1986 “this evening.”

Councilmember Heystek pressed City Manager Bill Emlen as to where he would be providing referrals to investigate or mediate the complaint of individuals. Emlen in fact had no idea and dodged Heystek’s question twice. First, stating it would depend on the nature of the complaint. And second stating, “I think they’ve been mentioned this evening the various options that are available.” Both of these were essentially dodges and non-answers.

Then came a key exchange between City Attorney Harriet Steiner and Councilmember Souza.

Councilmember Souza:
“Do we have to do anything in order to keep the ordinance legal in its intent and the resolution in the Human Relations Commission? Can we leave it as it is?”
City Manager Steiner:

“I think we probably could leave it as it is.”

Councilmember Souza:
“Does any city commission, in particular the Human Relations Commission, have the ability under law to investigate?”
City Manager Steiner:
“None of our commissions would actually provide what lawyers think of as a non-biased investigation, none of the commissions with the possible exception of the personnel board that we talked about before, really are set up to do an equivalent to what the courts do. Many of our commissions listen to the citizens, provide forums for issues, and come to a policy recommendation to the city council with an appropriate recommendation…”
The discussion turned on the meaning of the term adjudicate. Council seemed largely unaware that the commission had never performed nor sought adjudicatory power. Their power was in the ability to bring sides together to mediate--if both sides were willing.

During this discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson and Councilmember Stephen Souza conferred with each other and Ms. Asmundson stated that there was an announcement from the subcommittee.

Councilmember Souza stated:
“I would suggest, given the first answer to the question about whether we could just leave the ordinance as is, that I would move that we leave the ordinance as is, and that we direct the liaison to the Human Relations Commission to explain the other avenues that are available and clarify the meaning, and provide the information as to the avenues that are available for mediation and complaints.”
Suddenly by a 5-0 vote, the city council left the anti-discrimination ordinance unchanged and restored the power of the HRC to its previous levels.

It was a bizarre turn of events and the most unexpected ending.

The discussion spawned a few commentaries from the Vanguard.

First, a youtube clip of some of the deliberation.

Second, a general commentary on the degree to which the council and staff appeared unprepared.

All of this makes the city's preservation of the anti-discrimination ordinance, the 10th biggest story of 2007.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Commentary: Being Available to Hold Council Meetings on Christmas

I have thought about this issue at another time in a different context, but there is one thing that bothered me during the discussion of the issue of Atria Covell Gardens--and I'll start by suggesting Councilmember Don Saylor was probably correct that there probably was little that the council could do in a week, under the existing law. However, my problem has to do with the very basics of the argument--the availability of council.

Now let us back up into a different time and a different argument. During the spring, Mayor Sue Greenwald, in my opinion, rightly complained about the length of agendas and the lack of meetings. Councilmember Saylor went to great lengths to try to demonstrate that the council had actually met around the same number of times--if not more--than it had previously.

From the perspective of the public, all of this is troublesome. Meetings are largely inaccessible to those who have to work early in the morning or those who have family commitments and cannot stay past 11, sometimes as late as 1 a.m.

The core of my argument here is that the public elects these individuals to serve as decisionmakers on the city council. When someone agrees to both run for office and serve if elected, I think to a large extent they have agreed to be available at all times for a meeting should the need arise.

That means you only miss meetings under extreme circumstances. We have seen a number of times in the last year where a particular councilmember has missed meetings and in some cases that has meant that we have had to revisit issues.

The council should meet every Tuesday and if they do not meet every Tuesday, they should be available to meet if the need arises.

Councilmember Saylor attempted to avoid this issue by arguing that there was nothing we could do even if three of the Councilmembers were available this coming week to have an emergency meeting. That misses the point. The council needs to be available should that need arise. His response should have been--allow the City Attorney to examine the issue and if there is anything we can do, I will cancel my plans and serve the public who has elected me.

For me it is unacceptable that three of the five councilmembers can ever be out of town. What if there really is an emergency? Of course we have a city manager, but there are some things that a city manager cannot do. And that raises the question--is the city manager going to be in town or will he too leave town for vacation?

I want to raise two quick issues or head them off. This is not a criticism of Councilmember Saylor or the other two who will be out of town. This is not a political argument. I do not think people should think less of a given councilmember because they are out of town. I do not think this is a reason to hate them, criticize them, vote against them, etc. There are many other reasons to vote for or against these individuals. The issue has not been raised in this manner anyway, it is unfair to criticize them. My purpose here is not criticism but rather to raise an issue of some import.

Secondly, the issue came up the other day and someone said, well they aren't paid that much. That is irrelevant. It does not matter if they are paid $500 per month or $200,000 per year--they are public servants. The city council needs to be available should the need arise whether it is elderly people who may be priced out of their homes or a city-wide disaster that requires immediate action.

But the other point during all the weeks that are not between Christmas and New Year's is that the council should meet virtually every week for less time. And there are many important reasons for that, the first which I already mentioned--convenience for the public.

The second which is just important and has been raised many times by many different people, I would prefer the council or any body of lawmakers not to make crucial decisions late at night when they are fatigued. It is one thing if you have a meeting that occasionally goes past 11 pm. It is quite another thing when you are scheduling meetings that you know will do so.

The last meeting went until 1 am, and they pulled an important item off the agenda for future discussion. Actually they pulled two items if you council the campaign finance issue.

I just do not believe that is good public policy. We have talked this year about Board of Supervisor Meetings being held during the day when many people work, but if you end up holding meetings until the wee hours of the morning, it does not seem much better.

That is food for thought as we approach the end of another year.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting