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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Guest Commentary: Charlie Brown’s Son To Serve Fourth Rotation in Iraq

Guest Commentary by Bill Ritter

A few days ago I read Congressional Candidate Charlie Brown’s post on the nationally acclaimed progressive blog: The Daily Kos.

Charlie’s son, a USAF Captain, has been ordered to return for a fourth tour of duty in Iraq.

Once again for the Brown family this needless and unnecessary war in Iraq has been brought close to home. Please see Charlie Brown’s post below.

This follows the announcement by Bush/Cheney Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reported by the Associated Press & the Huffington Post:

“Stretched thin by four years of war, the Army is adding three months to the standard yearlong tour for all active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, an extraordinary step aimed at maintaining the troop buildup in Baghdad.”

I had the honor of meeting Charlie Brown and his wife Jan during the fall election of 2006. Charlie was the Democratic Party nominee for Congress to represent the 4th Congressional District of California. Charlie & Jan (both retired USAF officers and neither one a politician) were carrying forth their patriotic duty to oppose this war which they knew to be unjust, unnecessary and begun with false motives. In the true spirit of practicing one’s citizenship, they waged a valiant campaign seeking to remove from the Congress one of the biggest proponents of the Iraq War: John Doolittle.

Military veterans throughout the district joined them in their effort and some national war heroes such as Gen. Wesley Clark, former US Senator Max Cleland as well as former Congressman Pete McCloskey came to campaign for Charlie. All these men together with Charlie Brown (a war veteran too) know that you go to war only as a last resort and you had better be certain of the need to do so and how to win your objective. And your war must be a just one, a moral one to sustain the support of the American people, our allies and the good citizens of the world who share this planet with us.

The Bush/Cheney Iraq War is a disaster for our country in every way. We must work everyday in some way to remove these horrible politicians including Doolittle who continue to take this country down the path of disaster.

This past fall, together with friends and political allies, I organized two events in Davis to raise money for Charlie’s campaign to unseat the corrupt and pro-Iraq war Congressman John Doolittle. None of us could vote for Charlie, but we could walk precincts, work phone banks and raise money. Why would we do this? Because our country is in serious, serious trouble and just voting for our local Congressman Mike Thompson is not enough.

With the election of Speaker Nancy Pelosi the Congress has begun to change the direction of this country, but it is not fast enough for the Bush/Cheney Iraq War continues as Americans and other human beings continue to die and our country is going bankrupt both financially and morally.

We must strengthen the Congress with additional voices of reason and sound judgment as well as elect a president who will end this war. The Bush/Cheney Iraq War has made our nation less safe and more vulnerable not only to terrorism, but to fiscal mismanagement and the war profiteering corruption which will wreck havoc on our citizens for generations to come. This insanity must stop.

I urge everyone to enlist once again in supporting Charlie Brown for Congress. We came close to electing him in 2006 and with your help we can do it in 2008.

He can be contacted at:


Phone: (916) 792-7696

Mail: P.O. Box 368, Roseville, CA 95661


by Charlie Brown for Congress

Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:30:44 AM PDT

Most Americans woke up this morning ready to read the morning paper, listen to the news, and check their computer to see what the day would bring.

Jan and I woke up knowing that today our son deployed for his fourth rotation in Iraq. We woke up knowing that for the next several months, the last thing we do at night and the first thing we do in the morning will be checking the internet for news out of a war zone...for word from our son.

We are in the minority: parents, spouses, and friends with a loved one in Iraq. Knowing from experience about the true cost of war, we questioned the justification and execution of this policy before it was popular. We learned first hand about the lack of proper equipment before others read about it in the newspaper. We checked prices for top quality body armor to send our son while the GOP led Congress fiddled. And long before the Walter Reed scandal broke, we followed the aftercare problems facing our troops, their families, and surviving dependents as our son talked about the injured and dead his unit flies out of Iraq.

The truth doesn’t only set you free, it strengthens your resolve to fight for what’s right.

Like many other veterans and military parents, my wife (who served as an Air Force Nurse) and I have borne the burden of far more truth than is typically presented to the general public. We learned about contractor fraud from an auditor I used to fly helicopters with who monitors contracts in Iraq---about the slower than reported progress on Iraqi civil infrastructure projects from a Marine civil engineer who was stationed in Iraq---about our long since discredited intelligence on the war from people on the ground who I worked with during my own 26 year military career. And, as a longtime subscriber to ‘professional’ military publications, I learned years ago that the military has not been quiet about the problems it is facing--you just had to know where to look, and you had to be willing to listen to the experts on the ground.

Now that this information is more public, most Americans disapprove of U.S. policy in Iraq, and are justifiably outraged over the care given to our troops when they come home.

Welcome to our world.

We thank those of you reading this for caring, for working to spread the truth, and for helping to elect a new Congress in 2006 that is fighting for change. That’s what "supporting the troops" is all about, but it is only a beginning.

Representatives like my 2006 opponent John Doolittle are still voting to send people like my son into combat without proper equipment, training, or a plan for success. They are still refusing to make personal sacrifices to support our armed forces, or hold the administration and Iraqi politicians accountable for results instead of rhetoric.

I suppose that’s easy to do as long as it’s someone else’s child fighting and dying, but it is not the American way, and it is certainly not patriotism.

We need good people in the military, and we owe those who serve the benefit of competent civilian leadership, and seamless aftercare when they become veterans. Families like ours know this truth all to well. We know that resolving these issues at a human level is not about having all the answers---it’s about having the right priorities and the courage to ask the right questions.

We are proud of our son and the troops who protect our beloved country. They truly are our best and brightest.

And that’s why Jan and I are as determined as ever to ensure we have a government that cares as much as we do about the safety and success of our men and women in uniform.

Be safe son. And come home soon.

Charlie Brown, Lt. Col. USAF Ret.

---Bill Ritter reporting

Bill Ritter, a political consultant, is a community activist in Davis and Yolo County. He is a past Chair of the Yolo Democratic Party and a past President of the Davis Democratic Club. He is also a former Aide to Congressman Vic Fazio and a former Chair of the City of Davis Human Relations Commission.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Announcement: Radio Show TODAY at 5 PM

I will be on KDVS 90.3 FM TODAY at 5 pm on "Speaking in Tongues" with Ron Glick and Richard Estes. We'll be talking about a wide variety of local topics that are covered on the blog and people are welcome to call in and harass the blogger, er, I mean, give your comments.

People can call the show at (530) 752-2777.

You can also listen online:

For archives: archives

Note: Today from 5 pm to 6 pm I was on KDVS with Ron Glick. Richard Estes was apparently at home with his new baby--so congratulations to Richard and Lisa on the birth of their son. If you would like to listen to archives log on here. We spoke on a wide variety of topics including Caesar Chavez Day, the human relations commission and the anti-discrimination ordinance, the school board, former Superintendent David Murphy, Don Saylor, Lamar Heystek, the Malcolm X controversy and a wide variety of other controversies.

Update on DHS Student Suspension

Last week we reported on a Davis High School Student who was purportedly suspended from high school after delivering a speech on an incident where his Malcolm X poster was removed by the teacher. On the poster, the words "by any means necessary" were prominently displayed. The teacher reportedly removed the poster because she felt it conveyed a "terrorist message."

One of the issues discussed on this blog has been whether this represents a first amendment issue. Some have suggested that there is no free speech rights of high school students.

However, according to conversations I had with a lawyer familiar with this case and the law in this respect, that is not true. I have since verified these claims with another lawyer who is also familiar with this aspect of law.

Basically high school students at assemblies have the same free speech rights as anyone else. The school is not required by any means to provide the forum for speech. But once they have created the forum and invited the student to speak they have no authority to censor what the student can or cannot say in front of the assembly.

There are of course limitations to that right, they are the same limitations that anyone else has, which is the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" exception and also the inciting a riot or posing a "clear and present danger" of causing an unsafe situation. The standard for that is basically if they gave a speech and no action results from said speech, they have not presented a clear and present danger. Also the speech cannot be obscene. However, these are not claims being made to substantiate the suspension.

The student was basically given three reasons for the suspension.

First, the claim was made that the student had deviated from the speech--that the student had essentially given an entirely different speech than the one submitted and that the student had self-censored in the submitted speech in order to engage in some sort of deception to get it approved. Given the law, it is not clear that the school even has the authority to take this step.

Second, the student was cited for basically publicly humiliating a teacher--this despite the fact that the student never mentioned the name of the teacher and the teacher essentially outed herself through her own behavior. The teacher left the assembly in tears and did not return.

The law here would dictate that the speech be actually slanderous and the speech, text of which we have, seems to fall well short of any slander.

Third, the student was cited for disrupting an assembly--this charge is completely inaccurate by any standard that would be used. There was no disruption that occurred.

What this means is that according to the law, the school did not have the authority to suspend this student for a speech he gave in front of the school. And we can construe the actions of the school as a violation of the student's right to free speech--a right that contrary to some claims, the student does have under the law.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Police Chief Landy Black Takes Over Police Department Facing Numerous Challenges

When Landy Black was sworn in as the tenth police chief in the history of the City of Davis, one was tempted to congratulate him on the one hand and apologize to him on the other hand. By most accounts, Black is a good and dedicated police officer, with good family and a strong support network. He also has vast experience running a very diverse precinct in a very diverse part of Seattle. He will need all of these assets to survive in Davis.

The problems faced by Black as he enters Davis will be both internal and external. By now people are well aware of the external situation. There have been long standing and credible complaints in this community about police misconduct. That has resulted both in numerous citizen complaints, lawsuits, and a general atmosphere of distrust in segments of the community.

The situation boiled over last year to the point where the animosity and distrust were mutual. He spoke specifically to this point both in February when I interviewed him and this week as he was sworn into office.

In February, when I spoke to him, he stressed the importance of communication. He believes that police departments are not doing service to the community if not communicating with critical people. But there is a dual responsibility. The community needs to inform them about where they can make improvements. They also want to know when they are doing the right thing and not just the wrong thing.

This week he spoke this this concept of communication and community involvement once again.
"It has been mentioned that there is a sense of a need for respect, a respect of people of all classes and all sense of diversity, and that is something that I am committed to... However it is important I understand that the community needs to be involved in the process of leading their police department and I am the conduit by which that information is conveyed to our officers. And I am committed to and will continue to always look for any opportunity for those who are allies and stakeholders in the concept of safe and livable cities to communicate with me about the manner in which we can go about obtaining that lofty end."
This was a theme picked up by former UC Davis Police Chief Calvin Handy in our interview last month:
"I am not an expert on the DPD at this point. [But,] I think that the DPD is in need of solid open community embracing leadership. If you look at the issues of the past 18 months and perhaps before, the DPD needs a good new police chief with good ideas and build ideas and build some trust, I’m not saying there is completely no trust, but there are areas where trust is lacking and this is where the new chief can made a bigger impact. The new chief needs to be open to community input. This is a good department but the number one need is a good leader who is open and accessible and approachable."
It is not merely the public however that needs a new commitment of leadership.

In the Ombudsman's report in February, Bob Aaronson spoke to "the need for quality leadership and clear supervision that uniformly holds people accountable."
"Without intending to disrespect the hard work of current and former supervisors and administrators, it does appear that the turnover in staff, and particularly in chiefs, has undermined the organization’s supervisory chain of command, its vision and its morale. By all reports, these problems pre-existed the Buzayan incident. There is no more critical decision to be made for the Department in the next twelve months than the selection of the next Chief of Police."
Mr. Aaronson's critique is exactly right in my view, and this has been a problem that has plagued the police department since the day that former Chief Jerry Gonzales was forced to step down as Police Chief.

Chief Landy Black will face immense challenges is within his own organization if he is to set about making changes to the supervisory structure.

I have some concerns about the willingness of some of the old guard leadership that still exists in this department to make the kind of concessions and changes that are needed to bring about both changes in the command structure that Mr. Aaronson refers to, that are necessary for a changed approach with the public that Chief Black clearly desires to take place. It is here that I sense in several conversations some reluctance of certain high ranking police officers in the Davis Police Department to make the necessary changes and even embrace the new leadership of Chief Landy Black.

I left the reception Monday on the one hand hopeful that Chief Black with his strong experience and solid support structure and upbringing could indeed be the person that this community needs to lead the police force. Everyone who I spoke to, who had any sense of history with Chief Black, affirmed his character and commitment. These attributes do not seem to be in doubt. One can tell the character of a person by their family and their associates, and from those alone, Chief Black seems to be a person of outstanding commitment and character.

However, I also left concerned about the enthusiasm and commitment of the old guard in the Davis Police Department. Some of the sergeants seemed very cold and distant when asked their feelings on the new police chief--some of them even evasive when asked about their feelings of the new chief. It is these people that either are going to need to fall into line or be removed if Chief Black is going to succeed. With the Chief be able to get rid of some of these officers who seem to so clearly have been a problem for the last decade if not longer? That is a tough task to ask a new chief, but that will be a very important and telling factor in whether or not Chief Black is to succeed where his predecessors have not.

As I say, I have nothing but support and respect for Chief Black but he is going to have a very tough task ahead of him. Congratulations and good luck.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Commentary: Looking toward options for the future of Valley Oak

The Davis Joint Unified School Board by a 3-2 vote last month voted to close Valley Oak Elementary School. The school board led by board trustee Tim Taylor left open the possibility of placing a second parcel tax on the ballot that would enable Valley Oak Elementary to remain open. Bill Storm, a teacher at Valley Oak Elementary has posed an alternative suggestion of a Charter School.

I will examine both of these options and then offer up a third alternative that I think is better than these options both in terms of feasibility and in terms of effort.


There are actually three suggested parcel tax options that have been offered.

The first is the motion passed by the school board which would place a second parcel tax on the ballot. It would require the primary parcel tax to be pass by a two-thirds vote and it would need to pass by a two-thirds vote. It would ask the voters to specifically approve a parcel tax of somewhere around $20 additional per property to open Valley Oak.

There are several drawbacks to this. (see Library Tax issues and Board Discussion on Parcel Tax) The County is likely to place a library parcel tax on the ballot as well, and that would mean that the voters would have three tax items on the ballot which may in the end doom all three. In addition, it would seem unlikely that voters would approve a tax for kids to go to a specific school.

Board President Jim Provenza and Sheila Allen suggested alternative wording for the second parcel tax which would be a "nine school option" or some derivation there of. That would give the parcel tax a better chance to pass given the wording, however, you would still have three parcel taxes on the ballot, which again, would be problematic.

A third alternative posed by the Davis OPEN folks is to combine the two parcel taxes. That would make the primary parcel tax a bit higher, but it would require only two tax measures on the ballot. The school board majority is however dead set against this option, which seems to be the best of the parcel tax options from the standpoint of keeping Valley Oak open.

Regardless a parcel tax would be a daunting endeavor requiring two-thirds of the vote to pass and under the most likely conditions it would require two two-thirds votes to pass it. That would necessitate a long and sustained grassroots campaign. The work required to pass this seems very high and the chances for passage at this point seem low. Therefore, other alternatives should be explored.


Bill Storm writes in his blog:

We need to have an extended conversation about the desirability of charter status for Valley Oak Elementary, as such status gives us the means not only to survive and sustain what works for our children, but to create a new vision to serve them even better.

Mr. Storm, a teacher at Valley Oak elementary school also presents a lengthy FAQ.

The Charter School option is one definitely worth exploring. However, there are several tricky factors one of which relates to the teachers and service time. Apparently however, they have support from the teachers or at least that is what my reading of the blog implies.

Support from the Teacher's Association would make this option a more feasible one, but problems still persist with the charter school alternative. Writing up a charter is a long and exhaustive work. It is highly technical and requires a long and concerted effort.

While I would not rule out a Charter School as a last resort option, I would recommend another more easily attainable approach.


This November, there will be two open seats on the Davis Joint Unified School Board. Jim Provenza, a strong proponent of keeping Valley Oak open is running for the County Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile Keltie Jones, a strong proponent of closing Valley Oak is retiring. That leaves two openings. With a 3-2 margin on the current board, the Davis OPEN folks would need to win two seats to be able to force a new vote and keep Valley Oak open in fall of 2008.

There are what I would consider two outstanding candidates that if convinced to run, would stand an excellent chance of winning.

First is Val Dolcini. Dolcini is a very prominent name in Davis. He comes from a family that are long time prominent Davis residents. He has an excellent resume in his own right as a community leader and a long time aide to former Congressman Vic Fazio. He was a member of the task force and in fact the one dissenting vote on the decision to recommend the closing of Valley Oak Elementary School. Not only did he have the fortitude to stand against his colleagues, he was a passionate advocate for his position and wrote a fine dissenting opinion.

The second outstanding choice would be Rick Gonzales, Jr. The late Rick Gonzales, Sr. was a legend in Yolo County. Gonzales brother, Jerry Gonzales was a respected Police Chief in Davis. Gonzales himself runs the Concilio of Yolo County which provides disadvantaged kids with scholarships and resources to go to college. He has been an educator for over 35 years.

These would be outstanding candidates for school board even without the issue of Valley Oak. The community would embrace these candidates and I believe they would win easily if they chose to run. If they did, they could then change the board policy and keep Valley Oak open.

I believe this is the best alternative for Davis students in general, and by far the best means by which to keep Valley Oak open.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Does the use of subcommittees stifle public debate and input on important topics

Last week one of the centerpieces of the city council battle was the issue of the use of subcommittees and whether debate on key issues should take place in full public view or be largely hashed out behind close doors.

And while the council specifically argued about the issue of the city charter, this issue of the use of subcommittees largely transcends any single topic. It goes to the very heart of our democratic values.

While I strongly value the issue of transparency in government, I do think this is at best a very nuanced and complex issue. Both sides of the debate offer strengths and weaknesses in their argument.

Having watched a long and painful discussion a few weeks back where the council basically hashed out a development agreement in public, I would suggest that there are some things that should be done by staff and subcommittee in private because they deal with small and fine details rather than broader principles and issues. It was painful to watch the council try to grapple with specific details in public and inappropriate in my opinion. That would have been a perfect issue to hand back to staff and have staff work it out with council and then bring it back as a consent item to be voted up or down. So I do have some appreciation for the use of bodies that can hammer out details outside of the public realm.

On the other hand, I think the council minority of Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek have important concerns about the use of subcommittee when it is used to bring forward full blown proposals that have the weight of staff recommendations behind them. In those cases, the issues are framed by those who hammered them out in private away from the public's eye. The public misses out on potentially important deliberation and alternative options. The process becomes largely fait accompli with the council majority then neatly and cleanly ratifying staff recommendation.

Now one way to avoid both of these pitfalls would be to have subcommittees instead of being charged with making specific recommendations, bring forward an array of options that the council would then have to deliberate upon. This way the fine details are worked out in private but the subcommittee is not coming forward with a final proposal that would strongly condition whatever action is taken by the council.

I have not figured out the statistics, but the vast majority of staff reports are approved with perhaps only small alterations. That gives an unelected staff tremendous ability to frame the debate and exert vast control over elected councilmembers. Similarly, a subcommittee that meets in private with staff would have tremendous ability to frame and direct a debate. There are occasions when subcommittee proposals have not been accepted--for instance--the subcommittee on commissions got almost all of their recommendations approved however, they did not get their proposed changes for the merger of the Senior Citizens Commission with the Social Services Commission.

The entire debate over the merger of those two commissions actually demonstrates the problem with the subcommittee system. The subcommittee came forward with a full blown resolution to merge the two commissions and they had done so on the consent agenda, meaning unless the item was pulled it would be approved with little discussion. The item was then pulled from consent, it was delayed a week, and only then did the commissions involved begin to realize what was going on and begin to take action. It was largely because the Senior Citizen Commission and its chair, Elaine Roberts Musser, began to raise a fuss and protest the merger that the merger was halted. And then it was primarily due to the strength or perceived strength of that community. In short, it took rather extraordinary conditions including a fair amount of fortune and luck for the subcommittees recommendation to be overruled.

The argument here is that a group of two are making decisions in private that will end up strongly directing whatever debate and public action takes place and the fear by the council minority is that by moving controversial issues from public to private deliberation, it makes it more difficult to raise controversial issues and more importantly strongly directs future council action. The force of subcommittee and staff recommendations provides political cover to what may be otherwise unpopular council actions.

The key debate facing council right now is whether there should be more or less public debate on items and where is the appropriate venue for these discussions. A subcommittee system could work under certain conditions.

First, the subcommittees should not come forward with specific recommendations. That was in my opinion, the biggest problem with the school district's task force on best uses of schools--they their recommendations, tailored their arguments and report toward those recommendations, and did not provide the elected officials with an array of options. They were thus forced to either overrule a volunteer committee who had spent considerable time working on it or accepting their findings. Statements made by the school board indicated that in fact, that line of thinking did factor into the process and a bare majority of 3-2 voted to ratify the recommendations of the task force.

Thus, subcommittees should be charged with studying issues and presenting a broad array of possible actions rather than focus on a single action. This would achieve the strength of subcommittees--hashing out fine details--while mitigating its weakness, structuring debate toward a single recommendation.

Second, all subcommittee reports should be agendized as full debate and discussion items. They should never be placed on the consent calendar for a non-debated up or down vote.

Third, all subcommittee deliberations should be made public record that can be scrutinized by the public and fellow council members. It would be even better if they could be videotaped and broadcast on the government channel.

Fourth, issues that are likely to be large and contentious should be heard by the full council first to allow for full council direction about philosophy. The subcommittee would then meet to study the issue and hash out the details. The issue could then come back to the full council for more debate and discussion. This would again achieve the best of both worlds.

Overall I do not oppose the use of subcommittees, but I do oppose their current usage and I fully understand the concerns of the minority that the majority can use these as a technique to neatly hash out controversial topics outside of the view of the public and then present them with a quick and neat argument.

It is important to note as we have in the past, that one of the big problems that the council as a whole faces and the council minority in particular faces is that none of them have individual staff working for them. That means issues that are complex and need the expertise of staff put the members of the minority at a huge disadvantage because staff often does not fully present both sides of the issue.

We saw this perhaps most prominently with the water issue, where most of the council members were completely at the mercy of trained experts. Members of the council minority did not have the luxury of allowing their own staffers or independent analysts to provide alternative findings. That strongly disadvantaged any dissenters because they could not bring forward an alternative perspective outside of those who were presenting their own preferred alternatives. This is the same problem that council members face with any topic whether it is the presentation by staff or a subcommittee. And it represents a major disadvantage for any group in any sort of permanent minority on an array of issues.

Now a good and strong staff would present both their recommendations and counter-recommendations, this staff does not seem to do that well. I will never forget the exchange when Councilmember Heystek asked a staffer to explain the weakness of their approach and they could not do so.

In the end, I understand at the times the need and desire for using subcommittees as a means to facilitate and expedite complex topics that require study and development outside of the normal council process. As I stated earlier, there are some activities that just should not take place in full public view at an open meeting. However, I think that the use of subcommittees also takes away from the deliberative and democratic process. So if the council is to continue to use subcommittees, they should restructure their purpose so as to not take away from this process.

In the end however, the minority is really at the mercy of the majority and their own defense is to raise issues in public and allow the public to know what is going on with their government. I favor any arrangements that will facilitate greater transparency in government actions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Commentary: Who is Saylor to Lecture US on Civility in Public Discourse?

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.

In February during the course of a discussion on the Cannery Park proposal Saylor spoke from prepared text to suggest:
"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.

Nevertheless, since that point Councilmember Saylor has taken on an increasingly rigid tone toward adhering to already overly rigid rules for council discourse. Rules that have likely contributed to the overly formalized style of discourse and that seek to prevent discussion and debate between the members.

The measured outburst in February was nothing new for Saylor, in fact, it was the latest in a long string of carefully phrased statements that sound reasonable in tone but in words and in meaning portray at times biting criticism.

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.

When Councilmember Heystek did so several months later, Councilmember Saylor accused Heystek of playing politics.
“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 "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."

In April 2006, Councilmember Saylor delivered a long monologue to the community in response to the dismissal of the charges against the 16 year old accused of a hit-and-run. At one point he basically called this family a liar from the dais, suggesting that descriptions of the interactions between the police and the family had been "misrepresented to the point of comic book caricature." The ensuing public response by the police, the district attorney's office, and the city council where the then-Mayor Ruth Asmundson, a close ally of Saylor, apologized to Davis Police Officer Pheng Ly and later suggested that the minor had "learned her lesson" had a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to come forward with complaints against the police department, for fear of the type of disrespect and ridicule that Saylor now accuses others of.

In fact, that whole episode was marked by incivility on the part of Mr. Saylor's colleagues. At one point after the Human Relations Commission had presented their report on the police complaints, Councilmember Ted Puntillo, a strong ally of Saylor, remarked that the report was "not worth the paper it is written on." During public comment in February, Ruth Asmundson tried to silence a UC Davis administrator in charge of minority student retention derisively claiming "we're not listening."

There was also the over-the-top political attack upon then candidate Lamar Heystek last spring, officially penned by Mr. Saylor's wife at Mr. Saylor's behest or approval. Julie Saylor accused Heystek of among other things sexism and misogyny based strictly upon a tongue-in-cheek column he penned for 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.

None of this even speaks to the numerous complaints of Saylor's rude and bullying tactics with the public, city staffers, fellow councilmembers, commissioners, and other public dignitaries in front of others. I have heard first hand accounts of Mr. Saylor yelling and berating members in public, though no one wanted to go on the record with their accusations. However, I have heard numerous first and second hand accounts on the matter.

There was however a respected faculty member at UC Davis who served on a city commission. At Farmer's Market he approached Mr. Saylor, they exchanged some pleasantries. Then as he tried to engage Mr. Saylor, Saylor turned to walk away. As he caught Mr. Saylor's attention, Saylor rudely exclaimed, "are you still here?"

Councilmember Saylor wants to have a discussion on civility? He had better start with his own conduct at times, because his reputation on this matter is not a good one.

I have been concerned for a long time at the rigidity of council rules for discourse which require first a systematic period of questioning and then no discussion prior to a motion. That means that there cannot be a discussion on what the motion should be. That means that there cannot be a lot of give and take between the councilmembers. As I observe the city council, I note that it has a far more rigid discussion format than either the school board or the county board of supervisors. I also note that the city council likely has the most contentious relations between its membership. That is not to suggest that the school board members or the county supervisors are not in disagreement at times because they clearly are. However, the city council is much more hostile toward each other.

In recent weeks, Councilmember Saylor has been bringing up procedural points continually, but I think those points actually are producing more contention and animosity than would be the case if those issues were relaxed. Moreover, one of the biggest points of contention has to do with at what level discussion should take place--at the subcommittee level or in public. By placing important matters in subcommittee, you have largely taken the public out of the process.

From my discussions with members of the community, nearly everyone has been appalled by the audacity of Councilmember Saylor's editorial. They believe that he is the last person to complain about incivility. And frankly, he has never jumped on one of his allies on the council when they treat the public uncivilly at meetings, he only uses it against his adversaries. This editorial and discourse by Mr. Saylor seems to use his language, cynical, mean-spirited, and likely politically motivated. I think most of the community can see through items such as this.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Update on the Suspension of DHS Student

A few more details have become available on circumstances leading to the suspension of a Davis High School Student primarily for what was said while giving a speech on a civil rights incident that he personally experienced and spoke about at an assembly for Human Relations Week at the High School.

The teacher involved was indeed a math teacher, it was an AP Calculus class. Apparently the students had noted to her that she had hung a number of other posters including one from the girl's water polo team. The boys water polo team asked if they could could hang a poster and she said yes if it was appropriate. Then the student involved asked if he could hang a poster and she said yes. She apparently approved this one of Malcolm X. At some point she must have had second thoughts about the poster because she literally tore it down. I saw it was pulled through the tacks rather than merely having the tacks removed.

The student asked for the poster and the teacher then talked in the front of the entire class about how this was a "terrorist" message and inappropriate. In meetings concerning this incident the teacher has mostly accepted this version of events. That happened in February.

The high school's Human Relations Week happened and the student was asked to give a speech before the assembly. He gave the assembly organizers two speeches to choose from--they chose this topic. The organizers were two students who were in charge of Human Relations Week plus the administrator who approved the topic. The speech we posted a few days ago is the one he gave, which is only very slightly different from the one he submitted--and the substance was identical.

The student gave the speech and the teacher basically drew the attention to herself by leaving the assembly in tears.

Why was the student suspended? The student was basically given three reasons for the suspension. First, the claim was made that the student had deviated from the speech--that the student had essentially given an entirely different speech than the one submitted and that the student had self-censored in the submitted speech in order to engage in some sort of deception to get it approved. Having seen both speeches, I think this is a false charge. The degree of difference between both was almost non-existent and the speech read seemed innocuous. Most of the changes were innocuous and cosmetic.

Second, the student was cited for basically publicly humiliating a teacher--this despite the fact that the student never mentioned the name of the teacher and the teacher essentially outed herself through her own behavior. The teacher left the assembly in tears and did not return.

Third, the student was cited for disrupting an assembly--a charge that stemmed from the teacher bolting the assembly.

The teacher has basically told the student that the student cannot come back to class. That the teacher's reputation has been tarnished by this incident. Meanwhile the student is missing AP Calculus and is signed up to take the AP exam this spring.

Looking at the discipline code it is not clear that the punishment--even if the student were guilty of these accusations should have been a three day suspension. In my opinion, this situation could have been better handled by the administration and certainly by the teacher involved--on a number of levels. Hopefully some kind of resolution can be struck to allow the student to continue to pursue their academic goals.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Landy Black Sworn in as Davis' 10th Police Chief

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.

Mayor Sue Greenwald led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and made a few opening comments praising Captain Black's experience and looking forward to the future.

Chief Black acknowledged in general terms some of the turmoil and challenges that have occurred in the past and that he will face in the future. He has close ties with a number of other prominent local chiefs including UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza with whom he worked closely as she had a parallel job with the University of Washington in Seattle and with whom he had attended the police academy.

This was a day for hope and a day for new beginnings. We all wish Chief Black good luck and we need him to be a success for the sake of the citizens of this community. He has much work to do, but we are very hopeful that he will be able to provide this community with the kind of leadership and drive necessary to solve many longstanding problems. We all need him to succeed.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday Briefs

Mayor Sue Greenwald's response to Davis Enterprise Article
The university is about to break ground on a new housing development for faculty, staff and students on campus land adjacent to our city. I would like to make some clarifications concerning annexation of that project, West Village, an issue I brought to the City Council last week. My motion was: "It shall be the position of the city of Davis that annexation of the university's West Davis neighborhood is a goal that we strongly support in concept."

In concept, of course — and as I made clear in the discussion — meant subject to fiscal analysis, university approval and a city-county tax-sharing agreement, among other considerations. This motion was seconded by Councilmember Lamar Heystek, but the council majority successfully blocked a vote on it by substituting a somewhat more ambiguous motion.

I asked to bring this item forward, as an item submitted by a council member, for an important reason. The current council had never had a serious discussion of the issue of the West Village annexation. I had made several requests of the city manager to place such a discussion on the long-range calendar, to no avail.

For years, the discussion of annexation had been relegated to a council subcommittee. I became concerned when our city manager and city attorney told me they believed the council's stance toward annexation was "neutral to negative," and that the staff analysis of the fiscal implications had assumed that the city would provide police and fire services. This fiscal assumption would kill the hope of annexation, since the council had voted that the project would have to be fiscally neutral to qualify for annexation.

This fiscal assumption was unwarranted. Since the university will provide police and fire services if the West Village neighborhood stays in the unincorporated county, the university could provide all or part of these, or other, services under annexation. For example, the university supplies police service to Aggie Village, which was built by the university and annexed by the city.

I feel strongly that the faculty, staff and student residents of this new neighborhood, which will be built adjacent to our city, be full participants in our community and its civic life, rather than an enclave in the unincorporated county. I am hopeful that future fiscal analysis will include various service provision options, and that the university will support annexation in concept.

And I hope the council majority will ultimately signal our staff that we are in support of annexation, in concept, because I believe annexation will never occur if we don't.

Sue Greenwald
Mayor of Davis

Rexroad Readers Think I Ought to be in Jail

Matt Rexroad has occasional oddball polls on his site. This one I found amusing. Can't say I'm really surprised by the result, I would think his readers share some company here in Davis. Must be doing something right.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Incident Represents the Latest in a String

To be honest, I do not even know where or when to start with this, but to be very frank, everyone should be very concerned at this point with the Davis Joint Unified School District. Last summer the Davis Human Relations Commission was disbanded for a number of reasons, most of which had to do with the mishandling of a case involving a 16-year-old Davis High School student of Muslim heritage. And I think if you pin down those involved in the situation from the police to the city council, at some point all will admit that they did not handle it as they should have. What should have been a minor incident became a major incident that eventually led to a city manager, police chief, and a city commission all being fired in one sense or another.

What does this have to do with the Davis Joint Unified School District? Bear with me on that for a moment. The Davis Human Relations Commission had the authorization according to the Anti-Discrimination ordinance to "investigate and mediate" any alleged violations of the anti-discrimination ordinance. However since the body was placed on hiatus, the body has largely been a ceremonial body--hosting a few community events, but taking no part in the more formal functions it once served.

Therefore, in each of the incidents that have occurred, there has been no body sanctioned by the city that could act on the behest of aggrieved or allegedly aggrieved parties.

In November, we discovered that a Harper Junior High School student had been harassed by his peers because of his fathers' (plural), sexual orientation. The concerning aspect of this is that the initial response at the administrative level was completely inadequate. The Principal in this case was much too lenient initially which created a safety issue and turned a small incident or string of incidents into a situation where the student would be unable to return to school and the school district is being sued, now not by one student, but by two students. The school board did eventually and fairly quickly step up and make strong changes to the discipline policy, but by that point, the damage was done. Could a body like the HRC have stepped in and prevented this case from going into the legal system? Hard to know, but that was one of the reasons it was established to begin with.

On March 1, 2007, the Davis High School principal suspended the Black Student Union at the Davis High School. A huge rift had developed in the group following the resignation of the popular club adviser Courtenay Tessler. Tessler's resignation was due to internal tensions in the group, mainly with some of the parents. Those tensions blew up in the wake of Tessler's resignation and a subsequent meeting that created a power struggle that devolved into "rude and disrespectful behavior" according to Ginni Davis, the association superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District. Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis was temporarily named as adviser following Tessler's resignation, but that moved served to just further fuel the flames, part of which seems to centered over a rift between black immigrants versus US born African Americans.

Aside from the fraternal nature of this incident, there are two key issues. First, that there are around 60 African American students but no African American teachers at the school. Second, and related, the BSU had served as a group vital to the student in terms of support, community, and solidarity, and now that outlet is gone. That vehicle has at least temporarily been disbanded to create a "cooling-off" period, however, this has not prevented the tensions from continuing as the students marched in the streets and have held a serious of meetings to attempt to rectify the situation and force the school district to reconsider their policy.

At around the same time, the school district led strongly by an appointed task force, made the determination to close down the most heavily minority and section 8 school in the district. The closing of Valley Oak Elementary school has been covered extensively here. While in none of these incidents would I suggest that racism played a role in the handling of the situation, I would suggest that the handling of each of these was poor. I would also suggest that in the case of Valley Oak, that the fact that this particular school was slated to be closed may have to do with some political situations. There may have been a thought that it would be easier and less controversial to close Valley Oak as opposed to say North Davis Elementary or Cesar Chavez Elementary.

Regardless of intention, the effect I believe will be to put disadvantaged kids at a greater disadvantage. The sad thing was that this was a successful school. I am of the belief that you do not close down successful schools, you find ways to fund them. Already, I am hearing that the proposed closing is having a huge impact on enrollment and parental activities. Moreover, now the parents at Valley Oak Elementary and deciding how to proceed and one option that they are considering is a charter school--which would be a very risky and difficult venture, at best. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a great option, even the one available, the parcel tax, will be exceedingly difficult to pass.

That leads us to the most recent incident involving a Davis High School student, apparently asked to take down a poster of Malcolm X because it contained the phrase, "by any means necessary." The teacher then explained to the student in front of class why the poster was inappropriate. She mentioned a "terrorist" message--which is ludicrous. The student then was asked to give a speech before an assembly, he sent the organizers two speeches, they picked the one that he gave and was told not to mention the teacher, the teacher left the assembly in tears, and the student was suspended for three days. Now the teacher has informed the family that the student is not wanted back in class.

From what I have seen this situation was completely mishandled. There is no way I can see to justify a three day suspension (which carries with it permanent repercussions to the student's academic future) for an incident like this. There is no way that this situation should have been handled as this one was. This once again seems to be a failure of the administration to properly handle a tough situation.

The school board despite some controversy did the right thing when they "fired" Superintendent David Murphy in early March. However, what appears to be in order is a thorough house cleaning of many of the administrators that were hired under his tenure. Each of these situations except for the Valley Oak one, stem from an initial mishandling of a situation by a site administrator. In some cases an overreaction and in another an underreaction.

The initial mishandling set the tone for future interactions and the sad fact is that somehow the district has been unable to extricate itself from the problem once the initial incident was mishandled. Will that continue in the latest case? Will this end up being another lawsuit and drawn out incident? Too early to tell, but the district needs to take the initiative early on in this case and prevent it from being an ugly legal battle. There should be room from compromise and room to work out an acceptable arrangement, but the trajectory on this latest incident does not appear headed in that situation.

At some point the board needs to step in early and prevent this from becoming a lawsuit and from harming a promising student's academic future. It is very important that they act soon. In the meantime, we have to all ask ourselves why these situations continue to occur in our community. At the recent Caesar Chavez event a couple of city officials asked me point blank why there were so few (no) minorities in attendance? The same was true at the MLK day event. It is a simple answer to unfortunately a very serious question. Meanwhile just last week, the Davis City Council took another step toward re-writing the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. And people wonder why so few minorities attended events that used to be the most diversely attended events in the city.

People will accuse me, as they often do, of exaggerating this stuff even as more and more minorities tell me that they have to move out of Davis for the sake of their children and not wanting them to grow up in an environment of what they perceive to be intolerance but worse than that, indifference by the majority of the people to what is actually going on. I fear that this situation is about to come to a head. I would hope that those leaders in this community would be able to step in and prevent it before it reaches a boiling point.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Commentary: Beware of Reforms Wrapped As Sheep's Clothing

In 2000, Californians weary of the ever-rising cost of campaigns and perceived influence of big money passed Proposition 34 which seemed to be a constitutional answer to the problem of campaign spending limits. It did several notable things--first, it limited the size of contributions from groups and individuals to candidates--something that the courts had allowed already at the federal level. Individuals are limited to contributions in the range of $3,000 for the legislature, $5,000 for the constitutional offices, and $21,000 for governor.

But the big reform is that it set set "voluntary" limits for campaign spending. It was voluntary in that in order to have a ballot statement in the sample ballot, you had to accept the limits. But you could not accept the limits and forgo having a ballot statement. It seems that probably two-thirds or more have accepted these limits in the three subsequent elections. It also have cost of living increases so that the number unlike federal limitations is constantly adjusted for inflation. So for a State Assembly Primary the initial number was $425,000 in total spending, now it is about $483,000.

Here were the original limits:






Other Statewide












The law is well written enough that it will be tough to find loopholes in the language except for one very big exemption. There is no limit to the amount individuals can donate to political parties and there is no limit as to how much political parties can spend at the behest of candidates. "A campaign expenditure made by a political party on behalf of a candidate is not attributed to these spending limits." Moreover, "Prop. 34 states that it is designed to strengthen the role of political parties in financing political campaigns. " (See: FPPC).

The result of this loophole is twofold. It is possible that in contested primaries, the state party can intercede on behalf of one candidate over another. This will be of particular interest to watch as Yolo County will have two possible contested legislature primaries--The Assembly where it is Mayor of West Sacramento Christopher Cabaldon against Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada and in the State Senate where it is Assemblywoman Lois Wolk against John Garamendi.

Second, in targeted general elections, the state parties can spend what they want, which means essentially that spending and influence of money will remain the same but the state parties will be more important since they control the unlimited money.

We now see a similar type of reform effort in the term limits reform--"The Term Limits and Legislative Reform." As I have expressed in the past, term limits in my opinion has not been a good thing for California. UC Berkeley researcher Bruce Cain, one of the preeminent scholars on California Politics recently wrote in a Sacramento Bee Op-ed:
"But some aspects of term limits have not been beneficial. A recent comparative term limits study sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures discovered that term limits have weakened legislative expertise and leadership in many states.

This is particularly evident in California, where members rarely serve long enough on committees to learn the complexities of the relevant subject matter, and where the Assembly chairs are frequently first-term members.

This has several bad consequences, including a significant decline in legislative oversight -- the sometimes tedious task of scrutinizing how agencies spend money. Oversight requires knowledge of what agencies have promised in the past and detailed questions about their current operations. The best time to hold agencies' feet to the fire is during the budget process, but increasingly members have opted out of using budget hearings for that purpose. There is just not enough time to develop the knowledge to match the agencies' expertise. The public wants to be assured that public money is well spent, but without the proper checks and balances, bureaucrats face less scrutiny than ever before.

A proliferation of silly bills in the Legislature is testimony to the dual imperative of the term-limited politician: Get something out as quickly as possible so you can set yourself up to run for another office, and work on bite-size problems rather than tough, long-term problems since that is all you have time for. But some of our problems require a long-term perspective: improving schools and fixing the prison system."

Professor Cain in the end supports this reform as a means for gaining expertise in the legislative leadership. While I respect Cain's expertise and body of work, I disagree with his final conclusion here. I am just not certain in the long run it really accomplishes those goals. I say this as a virulent critic of all term limits. In my opinion we have a perfectly good term limits law already on the books, they are called elections.

What the law does is instead of limiting members to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate, it limits the total time in the legislature to twelve years, regardless of office. So you can foresee some members spending twelve rather than six years in the Assembly and I think that will help the Assembly. But what happens to the State Senate? That is less clear, it is not generally an entry-level office, so you would assume most members will still serve in the Assembly first in order to get elected to the Senate, that will mean they can only serve two terms in the Senate, which is what we have today. In the end, we are not really increasing expertise and leadership ability with this reform.

A more realistic approach would be to expand the amount of terms in each branch slightly. Would the voters go for that? Hard to know. The voters may go for this, although it would be fairly easy to as Cain suggests, "argue against changes in term limits by suggesting that sitting members will benefit: It plays to the public's populist suspicion that elected officials are out for themselves."

In the end, the I see this as a ploy by the current leadership to maintain their leadership positions that would expire this year. So what you have is an early Presidential primary in February with this proposition on the ballot, that would given them time if the measure passes to run in June for their old seats. I see this as a cynical ploy for the leadership to maintain power rather than a serious effort for reform.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting