When Elaine Roberts Musser, chair of the Senior Citzens Commission, came up before Council on Tuesday night, she delivered harsh and very pointed criticism in the direction of Councilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson. Souza and Asmundson seemed very defensive in their reactions to these accusations yielded by Musser. And while they denied some of the charges and apologized for any misunderstanding, the fact remains that the accusations by Musser are accurate and frankly there was no misunderstanding—their intentions from the very beginning were very clear. A review of the public record reveals not only that Musser is correct, but that Souza and Asmundson have done a very hasty retreat on this issue since they brought it first before Council on September 12, 2006.
At City Council meeting in October 2006, Souza made the claim that he would later repeat in newspaper interviews that in fact all he and Asmundson wanted to do was “generate conversation.” They were not necessarily recommending merger, but they wanted to consider it. After reviewing the public record, this claim seems dubious at best.
When the Council met on September 12, 2006, city staff, under the direction of the city council subcommittee of Asmundson and Souza, had placed on the agenda a number of recommendations on changes to be made regarding various city commissions—many of these were minor and had to do with changes in authorizing documents and size of membership.
One of the major changes was the recommendation to merge two commissions: Senior Citizens Commission with the Social Services Commission.
According to agenda item 9, “Recommendations of the staff liaisons that are recommended by the subcommittee have been incorporated in the proposed
The Senior Citizens Commission and Social Service Commission recommendation reads:
“There is a significant amount of overlap and to combine the two commissions would be beneficial to the members and the City Council. It is suggested that the name of the commission be Social Services and Senior Commission. The functions of the two commissions were reworded and combined into one set of functions and no functions of either commission removed.”
Souza and Asmundson did not raise this issue to generate conversation. They proposed that the two commissions be merged at a public city council meeting before receiving any feedback from the two commissions affected by this proposal. They had placed on the September 12, 2006 council agenda both a full recommendation and a full resolution merging the two commissions. This was an action item and there is no doubt they wanted to take action to merge the two commissions that evening as they pressed their colleagues to do so.
Had they wanted to generate discussion, they would have broached the topic at the respective commission meetings first and gauged the support of the membership rather than bringing up a full resolution for a vote at the city council meeting. Only after questions were raised by Councilmember Lamar Heystek and Mayor Sue Greenwald as well as from members of the public did they then go to the respective commissions for comment.
What happened here is that Souza and Asmundson made several critical errors in this process. They went forward with a full resolution and recommendation for merger without adequately soliciting the opinions of the involved commissions or the groups and citizens the commissions serve.
Upon resistance from the Senior Citizen’s Commission they backtracked both in rhetoric and in policy, before finally at the most recent meeting on Tuesday, December 12 they were forced to abandon the idea after first proposing a two-year delay in consideration.
The most striking part of this entire experience is the blatant dishonesty by the Councilmember Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson about their original intentions which were quite clear. They made serious errors about how they chose to approach this issue. It would have been a responsible thing to do to take a step back in September when these errors became apparent and put this process on a different trajectory. Instead, they tried to finesse around their mistakes and then deceive the public about their true intentions.
Please review our numerous articles on this issue and watch the comments first by Elaine Roberts Musser and then Souza’s defensive response.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting