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