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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Commentary: Don't We Need Three in Town?

If you are one of those who is easily offended at any hint of criticism, stop reading right now. There are a few things that need to be said. Tuesday was an historic day. For those who missed the Vanguard radio show last night, listen to it when the podcast is available. I spoke with Tansey Thomas, who everyone knows and with Wayne Lindsey, who no one has heard of. Wayne is a 21 year old UC Davis student. And yes he's African American. It was neat listening to someone born during the depression and someone born when I was in high school talking about what the election of Barack Obama means to them and for African-Americans.

But now it is time to get back to work, back to the real world. For my other job, I had the priviledge of sitting in a teleconference with Speaker of the California Assembly Karen Bass and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg. They were flying back from the Inauguration. One of the reporters who wasn't me asked them if they thought the California voters were better served by them going to the Inauguration or given the budget crisis being back in Sacramento and trying to get a budget agreement.

It was a tough but fair question. They gave in my opinion a strong answer. The President is formulating his stimulus plan in the coming days. The California legislative leaders came to Washington basically to see that the President and his team put money into the stimulus plan to help the states. No one has money of course, but at least the feds have the ability to deficit spend.

I relay that story because of what I read later yesterday evening about our leaders from Davis who also went to the Inauguration. I do not want to begrudge them a trip to Washington to watch history. I watched on my couch on Tuesday morning with Cecilia, and we were both glad to be on our warm couch watching it on TV rather than standing in the cold without easy access to bathrooms watching it on a giant monitor. Anyone who knows me, knows crowds are not my thing.

But a few things struck me about the article in the Enterprise. First, unlike the state leaders, there was no official business involved in this trip for our three city leaders.

One line from the article in particular seemed to stick in my craw:
"Saylor chatted after the ceremony from bleachers across from the White House. He was playing a quiz game, and had just correctly named the eight U.S. states that begin with the letter M."
I guess I am glad he can name all eight states that begin with the letter M. I am pretty sure I could have done that in first grade, not that that means anything. I am not sure I would really be sharing that with anyone.

A couple of things that come to mind on all of this. Councilmember Lamar Heystek, if he had said that, would have been lampooned in the local press to no end. He was lampooned for being Max Headroom by Hudson Sangree of the Sacramento Bee after representing the city of Davis in Arkansas and still having the diligence to serve our community and attend the council meeting in a virtual way that was unfortunately a bit technologically challenged.

This was not meant as a shot at Councilmember Saylor. He didn't choose for the paper to actually print that, but I would hope he would be embarrassed that they did. He was probably just making small talk with the reporter. What disturbs me and apparently others a bit more is that the newspaper gave more coverage to this story than they did Davis' City MLK event the day before. 399 words for this story to the 107 word caption under the MLK day festivities.

More seriously, with three councilmembers out of town simultaneously, obviously the city manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis, but what if there were an emergency? Apparently I was told in an emergency we do not need a quorum. So let's say in the unlikely event of a riot, we could have Lamar Heystek and Sue Greenwald decide by themselves that we need a curfew. I can only imagine what else they can do.

You know for years traveling on the plane, passengers were greeted with the instructions, "in the unlikely event of a water landing you can use your seat cushion as a floatation device." I'm sure there are 155 passengers last week glad that that message was drilled into their heads. Fortunately they didn't have to jump into the very cold Hudson River.

Shouldn't we have some kind of rule in this town that precludes three councilmembers from leaving town at the same time? Should we not require there always to be three councilmembers in town so we never have a situation where two councilmembers are calling the shot in case of an emergency? It was just last year in January that we had massive power outages and a city that was not ready to respond.

While I am at it, also wanted to comment on a blurb from Bob Dunning in his column last night.
"FIREFIGHTER ABUSE - my friend Larry writes to say he read in this very newspaper that 'the firefighters had to sit and wait until midnight to hear the summary of the Grand Jury report because it was preceded by 70 speeches concerning a council resolution to end the violence in Gaza.'

That's what happened, Larry - 'Hey, if the Davis City Council is going to take over running America's foreign policy, couldn't it at least adopt Obama's new policy of 'no torture.' ' - well said, my friend -"
First of all, in retrospect, I think the city should have pushed back the discussion on the Grand Jury report given the late hour as they did with the two workshops including the budget workshop that ought to be a huge priority at this point in time.

But second, no one forced the firefighters to sit and wait until midnight. They were not required to be there. In fact only two of them spoke--the fire chief and the union President. They were there for effect and to remind certain councilmembers that they had worked to get them elected and suggest in a not so subtle way not to let them down.

There is more. This notion that the Davis City Council is running foreign policy is preposterous and irresponsible. They are doing no such thing. As Souza pointed out last week, the Davis City Council is the closest body to the citizens of Davis. They are our closest representatives in Government. They are not running foreign policy, they are acting as the voice of the citizens, representing our values to other bodies in government that do not meet in our town.

What we saw the other night is that this is a community that is divided on a key issue in our time. This is a value to the community and now the Human Relations Commission tonight will take up this item and see about creating the type of community forum that can help bring our community together and bridge the gap.

I literally spoke with hundreds of people on Tuesday throughout town at various parties and this was the most common topic of conversation. It is an issue that needed to be addressed. I agree with council's ultimate decision. The council cannot speak for a divided community and should not. And thus discovering the divisions as they did on Tuesday night, they pulled back and realized that a letter was not the appropriate solution at this time and on this issue. But that does not mean this is a topic they should not have discussed even if it meant the delay of vital city business until after three councilmembers came back from having their fun and frivolity in Washington, DC.

If that display of democracy meant this blogger had to be up until 2 am and get only three hours sleep, that's part of the duty. If the firefighters wanted to impact public policy and had to stay there until the wee hours of the morning, well poor them? Give me a break. These guys are getting paid big time by this city, they can wait for their meeting like the rest of us if they choose, keyword is CHOOSE, to attend.

---David M. Greenwald reporting