Commentary: Don’t We Need Three in Town?

imageCity of Davis

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


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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31 thoughts on “Commentary: Don’t We Need Three in Town?”

  1. Anonymous

    Wow , aren’t we grumpy . Who cares if three council members were gone , thats why you have department heads and a city manager.Readership must be down because your having to stir the pot in a huge way like you always do !Ranting , raving , and Bashing will get you no where Blog Boy

  2. Anonymous

    I distinctly remember the times Lamar was not able to be at council meetings personally. He was in Scotland observing elections run by choice voting, he was in Arkansas for a conference of young elected officials, and he was at a youth leadership camp for his day job. In the last instance, Dunning made fun of Lamar for doing his day job instead of being at the council meeting physically, yet Lamar was still able to call in to that meeting and cast his votes. For someone who has had to work Monday to Friday from 9 to 5, I think Lamar has served us very well.

  3. Mike Hart

    ahhh… this is where we disagree. I would prefer that the majority of our city council would take much longer vacations- perhaps a sabbatical to slowly tour the world by bicycle?The notion of a riot in Davis with Sue and Lamar as first responders is kinda entertaining though.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    …Shouldn’t we have some kind of rule in this town that precludes three councilmembers from leaving town at the same time?…No. It’s unnecessary.In the 92 years that Davis has been an incorporated city, there never once has been an instance when an immediate quorum of the city council was needed. …I think the city should have pushed back the discussion on the Grand Jury report ……I disagree completely.It was a mistake to delay official city business for 3 hours for a discussion on the Middle East, all the while paying members of the staff to wait. The priority of the city council should be city business. Starting important business items near midnight, because a non-business item went on so long, is poor policy. As you note, the people of Davis want to have these kind of forums now and then. There is a lot of passion on this issue. My suggestion is the council has them on a separate night, not when any city business is being discussed.Here is how I would organize such a townhall forum: All five members of the council would be at the dais; it would be shown on cable TV; no city staff would have to be there; the Mayor would run the meeting; a question formulated by the council would be put forward as the discussion topic — for example, …Should the U.S. government declare war on the Lord’s Resistance Army?…; one-by-one interested citizens could step forward to the microphone and share their views on the topic for up to 3 minutes each; after the last member of the audience spoke, members of the council would share their views; Ruth and Sue would disagree; and then anyone who wanted to vote …yea… or …nay…, including members of the council, could do so.Every vote would count equally, and whatever the vote totals were, that would be reported out as the vote of the townhall.

  5. Papa Jon

    How do we know that the state legislators were on official business? If they were, then the state must have paid for it by spending what we do not have ($). If there was state business to attend to, it seems that it would be better taken care of when there was less pomp and show and more business discussed. Let’s face it, everyone was in Washington to celebrate the inauguration of our new President and little of any real business was conducted.

  6. Stick to Business

    I think it is very hypocritical of Mayor Asmundson to limit public comment for important city issues, then give absolute carte blanche on the discussion of foreign policy, which is NOT WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF CITY GOV’T. This is one time, and they are rare, that I actually agree w Rich Rifkin.

  7. Just Asking

    According to the politically correct environmental …rules… of today, all of his …Globetrotting… to DC by the CA Legislature and by our local Councilmembers to other locations has a massive carbon footprint and contributes to global warming. Yet, not a word about these negative impacts in the Davis …Empty Prize… or in this Column. I guess that hese …rules… only apply to politically incorrect activities within the sphere of influence of our fair city. Davis, thy name is hypocrisy!,

  8. Rich Rifkin

    …This is one time, and they are rare, that I actually agree w Rich Rifkin….You must feel terrible about that….all of his Globetrotting to DC by the CA Legislature and by our local Councilmembers to other locations has a massive carbon footprint and contributes to global warming….If you check here, you can calculate how many pounds of carbon dioxide your travels produced. In the case of our 3 city councilmembers flying round trip from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., they produced 5,555 lbs of CO2.If the average member of the city council has a PG&E bill of $125/month, it would take each a full 6 months to produce 5,555 pounds of CO2.

  9. Rich Rifkin

    A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs/year. Therefore, in order to offset the roundtrip of the city council to Washington, Davis needs to plant 116 trees.

  10. rick entrikin

    David:I agree that Grand Jury report on Davis FD should merit serious Council consideration. BUT, to criticize Ruth, Don and Souza for attending a historic inauguration is lame – at best.A better question might have been, why didn't our "progressive" council members travel to D.C. to honor our incoming President? I know: Sue & Lamar couldn't afford to go because they didn't accept developer contributions!And, why are you so concerned about three councilmembers being out of town simultaneously for a few days? That happens about one to two months every year, and we have never (in my 34 years living here) had an "emergency" that required immediate Council action.In fact, it seems the progressives should be pleased that the entire, evil majority is out of town. But, apparently, they (or you) are not.I have never voted for Ruth, Saylor or Souza, but I am very happy they experienced the joy of attending President Obama's inauguration. At least our City was reprsented (minus our so-called "progressive" council members) on that historic day.To criticize anyone (council member or not)who spent the time, money and effort to attend the inauguration is blatantly absurd. I will think twice before supporting the Vanguard in the future if such mean-spirited, political drivel continues to be directed at our elected officials for doing something as innocent and noble as attending a historic presidential inauguration.I have heard that you are establishing an "editorial" board, mainly to form a non-profit stucture. Perhaps you also should consult with your board on potential topics before making a fool of yourself (and the Vanguard)by making unfounded attacks on council members who exercise their civil rights as private citizens.

  11. Mike

    …I talked to councilmembers after the meeting, no one was thinking clearly and key questions went unasked….If that’s the case, Dave, why did you want the discussion on the Grand Jury report pushed back to 11 o’clock?

  12. David M. Greenwald

    I wanted it push back to 7 pm the next meeting based on the concern that people were not fresh. I think in retrospect Rich Rifkin’s proposal of a separate meeting would have been a good suggestion. That gets to my larger concern that the council has so loaded up agendas with heavy items that any blip in the radar can really cause problems. I personally think we’d be better off having fewer items on more agendas and allowing a better and fuller discussion on those items. Ruth’s tried to compensate for the long agendas by in some cases forcing things through too quickly, I think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

  13. Still Asking Questions

    Are discussions of global warming, carbon footprints, and other …politically correct… environmental concerns considered to be …… mean-spirited, political drivel…?… I get the impression that just because liberal elitists can afford to do ……something as innocent and noble as attending a historic presidential inauguration…… they should indulge their whim, global impact be dammed!

  14. SODAite

    I really like Rich’s suggestion of separate (not paying for staff time) meetings for issues like the Gaza discussion. I for one appreciated that discussion but was very disappointed that the Grand Jury report discussion seemed short and not very thoughtful….maybe the late night; maybe not many watching by then I am sure.

  15. Phil Coleman

    Responding to the column’s title, and ignoring all the other stuff, a council majority is virtually NEVER needed in case of a city emergency. The City Manager and affected departments can handle any contingency. In fact, emergency situations are better handled without the interference/interruptions from local politicos.

  16. Mitch Mifkin

    One meeting for useless resolutions, one meeting for actual city business, and one meeting to plant trees for every action that One Guy With A Computer thinks adds to the Council’s carbon footprint. That leaves 4 days in the week to fill up with other things you think the Council members should be doing…

  17. Karl

    The (satirical?) suggestion that Davis always have a majority of the council in town is preposterous. I hope it’s a joke. Not that I’m concerned it’s going to become city policy, but it’s simply such a short-sighted, ill-considered notion that it shouldn’t be on this blog. As for Anonymous 10:00am re: recording phone calls. The blog seems to suggest that they were in transit, and probably out of the state. Federal law applies to inter-state calls, and only requires the consent of one party on the call (presumably DPD, in this case). California is a two-party (really all-party) consent state, for calls within the state. However, it’s really irrelevant in this case, b/c there is a protocol for these kind of political-media calls that outlines rules for recording.

  18. Vanguardian

    David,I think you raise some good questions. I don’t know why everyone’s getting so bent out of shape. Maybe it’s the rain. Who knows?Yes, the event was an historic event and I did support Obama just like you and your wife and many others, but like you, I too wondered who’s watching the city while the majority of the council is in D.C.?Good questions that have been raised:1) What if there was a city emergency? The city had mud on it’s face during the floods and the blackouts.2) You and Rifkin made a good point about council taking up city time to discuss the Gaza situation when they should have scheduled a forum to discuss this issue. Maybe you – the Vanguard – should host a forum?3) If the Gaza issue was discussed in a forum then the poor firefighters would not have been made to wait so long. It’s an important issue (the Grand Jury Report) and should not have been discussed in the middle of the night.4) Rick Entrikin – why did you get so bent out of shape? He’s posing some good questions. I too heard that he David Greenwald – the Vanguard is starting a Board. That is great! It looks like you are expanding the blog and I commend that.How do I sign up to support the Vangaurd? Keep up the great work David!

  19. Anonymous

    Every vote would count equally, and whatever the vote totals were, that would be reported out as the vote of the townhall.I like this idea. It bugs me that the council votes on these things that don’t have to do with the city and pretends they are voting for the rest of us. They said Davis is a …pro-Choice… city, even though a lot are …pro-Life…. If we had a public forum on abortion, it might be 158-42 …pro-Choice,… but that would not make all of Davis for abortion. It would just mean that at least 158 people out of 60,000 hold that point of view.

  20. David M. Greenwald

    Different View:You’ve somewhat unwittingly described the problem that economists and social scientists refer to as the free rider problem or the collective action problem. It’s a problem with all environmental impacts–the individual impact of any one person is negligible. The combined contributions of all people are quite pervasive. So you are correct, that their individual effect on the carbon footprint is negligible. The problem is everyone taking that viewpoint leads to a very heavy impact. This is one reason why economic free market models do not work well for environmental impact. You basically have an individual incentive at odds with the collective outcome.

  21. Rich Rifkin

    …This is one reason why economic free market models do not work well for environmental impact….A Chicago-school free-market economist would describe this as a simple externality problem. That is, a private transaction which imposes an external cost not borne by the passenger and the airline. The economic solution to an externality problem is make the transactors internalize the cost — that is, pay a tax in an amount reflective of the impact the transaction had on the collectively owned external environment. That internalizes the costs and gives airlines, in this case, an incentive to incorporate technologies which minimize pollution. The taxes collected could be used to subsidize the purchase of green technologies.An uneconomical solution — that is, an anti-market approach — is to regulate effluents. The government decides how much pollution (or CO2) a plane can legally emit. There is no tax on discharge, but rather the general public, flyers or not, pay the taxes to meet this regulatory burden.The great advantage of a market approach is flexibility. For example, if, after imposing the tax on effluents at a certain level, it is determined that still too much CO2 (or other effluent) was pouring into the atmosphere, the level of the tax could be raised until the equilibrium was found. By contrast, regulatory approaches tend to be sclerotic. Regulators tell airlines what equipment they must buy, and the airlines do so. If it turns out the mandatory equipment is not sufficient, it’s hard to adjust the system because of the costs of the investment. Perhaps the biggest benefit of a regulatory approach over a market approach is with transaction costs. It’s easy to say, if you are an airline and you pollute X amount, you pay an effluent tax of so much. But how do we know you polluted X amount? That involves a transaction — a neutral party measuring the effluent — on each flight! That’s not cheap. That’s why we tend to avoid a market-oriented solution. If we didn’t measure the effluence all the time, airlines would have a great incentive to cheat. By contrast, it’s much easier to require mandatory pollution control equipment on an airplane, and occassionally have inspectors check to make sure planes have that equipment and that it is in working order. Generally speaking, you always want to go with market-oriented solutions, because they are much more economical. However, when the transaction costs are very high — such as with tailpipe emissions — it makes sense to go with a regulatory approach.Note: in the case of carbon emissions, an alternative market approach — one that would have low transactions costs — would be to impose a tax on the fuels, based on the carbon content of the fuels. That would give consumers an incentive to burn low-carbon fuels.

  22. Anonymous

    David Greenwald, As I read this piece I noted that you compared articles on Saylor and Martin Luther King. Only 107 words for Mr. King. You were disturbed and some others a bit more, most likely Tansey Thomas. What do you think MLK would have said? he would have told all of those making that stupid comparison to get a life. Another example of why your blog will not be successful.

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