(For a more lengthy discussion of the misleading tactics employed by City Councilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro tem Ruth Asmundson please click here)
One of the frustrating aspects for the commission was that they were in many senses chasing a moving target in terms of both the actual proposals and the rhetoric used by City Councilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson to justify their position.
Originally, the council proposed with a full resolution to immediately merge the two commissions. This was placed on a consent agenda item. The consent agenda is generally used for non-controversial matters that need council authorization but do not require great or lengthy discussion.
It was only because Councilmember Lamar Heystek requested the item be first pulled and then postponed, that some of the details of the proposal began to emerge. The subcommittee composed of Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson, proposed a wide variety of changes simultaneously for a large number of commissions. However, when this proposal drew some apprehension and criticism from fellow members of the council, they agreed to meet with the respective commissions to gauge their support for such a move (why they did not do this prior to the proposal is an open question).
The Social Services Commission never had a problem with this merger and they agreed overwhelmingly to do so. However, the Senior Citizens Commission had a large number of concerns that ranged from the meeting time being changed from a daytime meeting to a nighttime meeting–at time that many seniors would have trouble making because they cannot drive after dark. (City Staff’s response was carpooling or public transportation). Also there were questions about the watering down of the Senior Citizens agenda and influence. (Souza somehow believed this would make them more powerful–an argument the Seniors did not accept). Finally there were concerns about the compatibility of the two commissions. It was pointed out by Mayor Sue Greenwald among others that it is not clear that these two commissions have any more overlap that several other city commissions not being considered for merger have.
When the Senior Citizens commission balked at the merger, according to several witnesses, Councilmember Souza became hostile and aggressive, chasing the Mayor Sue Greenwald, who is the liaison to that commission, from the meeting, and then proceeding to browbeat a group of seniors, several of whom were not in the best of health. This served to further strengthen the resolve of the Senior Citizen Commission to fight the merger. Angry words were exchanged in the newspapers and at council meetings.
Eventually the political pressure mounted on the City Council and the proposal was dropped.
(Click here to view a speech by Chair Elaine Musser who lays out in great detail the greviences and concerns of the Seniors.)
Last Thursday, the Senior Citizens Commission met and discussed some of the fallout of this move by Souza and Asmundson. At one point, the Chair read from a statement from this blog that outlined some of the concerns about the process. City Staff also conceded that this merger was not handled as well as it could have been handled. Several witnesses remarked that the staffer was noticeably uncomfortable when the statement from the People’s Vanguard of Davis was read by Ms. Musser.
The more immediate concern for the Senior Citizens Commission is that they are down to just four members right now. One of the members had to resign due to health reasons. Obviously this is not uncommon as many of the members are in their eighties and nineties with a number medical ailments.
This situation has been a problem for the commission especially given health concerns with regards to meeting quorum requirements. This was the only commission whose membership was not restocked in September when the commissions were re-organized and the new members were appointed.
The council this week has an item on the agenda to appoint four applicants to fill the large number of vacancies.
The chair also confirmed one of our suspicions that the City Council majority (particularly in this case Souza and Asmundson) and City Staff believed that they could get away with this sort of procedural subterfuge because the Seniors would be too weak to fight back. This is a tactic that has been employed at other times, with other bodies.
Hopefully the Senior Citizen Commission will have a strong and productive year and they can put this behind them to carry out their duties on behalf of their fellow citizens. All the while, they will be a little bit wiser about the policies and politics of the City Council majority.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting