Commentary: Mayor’s Proposals Threaten Principles of Open Government

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Residents of Davis may rightfully rejoice at the news that Davis will house the Bicycle Hall of Fame–an honor that announced this week.  However, in a lot of ways it obscures the more sinister and ominous developments of the week that will caste dark shadows over the governance of this city.

Mayor Asmundson’s second tenure as Mayor has been somewhat less eventful than her first tenure that saw open civil unrest befall the city.  However, more quietly she has effectively moved to stifle debate and dissent at least within official city hall.

Early on the Mayor moved to shorten meetings at the expense of public comment and council discussion.  The move to limit public comment to just 15 minutes has for the most part been a non-issue and the one time that extended time was needed, she was overruled by the rest of council.

On the other hand, the Mayor consistently works to shut down Sue Greenwald, her most outspoken colleague on the minority side of the aisle.  Continually trying to limit questions and comments from her duly elected colleagues is distasteful.

However, this week, we see a far more sinister development under the guise of budgetary savings.  And let’s be honest, the amount of money the council itself consumes is drops in the bucket compared to the millions that go out for salary, benefits, pensions, and retirement health care.  No one wants to deprive city employees of a decent wage and benefits, however, people enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayer, and we’re not talking about councilmembers, has no place in government service and public employment.

The solution that Mayor Asmundson suggests is closing down access to government.  It is abridging open discourse and free speech.  It threatens the very tenets of democracy and civil society.

Her proposal of limiting meals and holding public meetings to three hours a meeting, twice a month is appalling.

Her disdain for transparency and accountability of public officials is even more so.

But her rank hypocrisy is something else.  There she was stammering away incoherently admonishing her colleagues for wasting time as she spent a lengthy period of time after 11 pm doing exactly what she admonished her colleagues for doing.

Folks democracy is at times time consuming.  It is rarely pretty.  And it forces us to spend time on procedural things that maybe are not the best use of time and energy.  But we have put these policies and procedures into place for a fundamental reason that transcends ideology and policy goals.

We sacrifice expediency in the name of liberty, equality, and overall fairness.

We sacrifice our time and energy at the alter of democratic governance.

We listen to those spending an inordinate amount of time defending that which we find most apprehensive and distasteful, knowing full well that to do so defends our right to do the same.

It is unfortunate however that the Mayor of our great city, our bastion of liberalism, a community inhabited by among the most educated populace in the country, does not share these principles and values.

She would rather sacrifice deliberation and debate for the sake of brevity.  She would sacrifice our rights to speak for her own comfort.

Franklin once said that he who would sacrifice essential liberty for the sake of temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security.  Our Mayor sacrifices essential liberty and open government for the sake of expediency and brevity, and she deserves neither liberty nor expediency.

I do not believe that the Mayor has the support of the majority of council to enact these changes.  The council must rise up and overrule the Mayor’s poor judgment here.  Our very democracy and our entire community is at stake in this.

This has nothing to do with policy areas.  This has to do with core beliefs.  This community deserves the right to know whether agree or disagree, the council has heard all sides on issue, debated the merits and downsides of the issue fully, considered fully the input of the stakeholders and citizens of this community, and reached the best conclusion that it can under those imperfect circumstances.

The second that we cut short council discussion or public input is the second that we have violated something far more important than simply making bad policy.  Rather we have violated public trust and the spirit of open government or democracy.

Two weeks ago was sunshine week around this great nation, celebrating the principles of open government.  This week in Davis, we are threatening a full eclipse of democratic policy for no good and essential reason.  We must all rise up and collectively say no.  For next time, it will be your issue at stake and you will have your voice cut off from you.  Let us prevent that from ever happening in this great community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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16 thoughts on “Commentary: Mayor’s Proposals Threaten Principles of Open Government”

  1. SODAite

    Assume you are leaving her comments re: combining, decreasing commissions along with their frequency, for another day. Maybe it isn’t surprising since CC often minimizes of ignores the various commissions’ work. I would say staff does too especially in Planning. There is often little or no summary of what/why planning commission did when it comes to CC. And BTW what are your feelings about cutting more than described from planning dept? What are the staffing stats now VS when growth was booming?

  2. Low Sodium

    There has to be a happy medium. If you have to wait until 2:00 am to address the board because a bunch of Yahoos are droning on about how long they’ve lived in Davis and how they don’t like their neighbors parking in front of their house, this stiffles public participation as much as Ruth’s vicious gavel. Maybe we could require them to read this blog daily, and give them a brief quizz to be sure they do. As for Ruth, maybe we shouldn’t vote for her next time!

  3. stupidity knows no bounds

    “wave the flag pop the bag rock the boat skin the goat”
    Another ad hominen attack filled with hyperbole. My favorite part is Davis as a bastion of liberalism. I guess Phil Ochs was right about liberals especially the Davis type who are liberals as long as their own pocketbook isn’t threatened. When that happens their true Republican tendencies are shown to give into that little devil on their other shoulder whispering in their ear, cut teacher salaries, restrict housing so only the rich can buy, beat up on firefighters, cops and city workers, don’t clean up the sewage or improve water qualiy or let students who live on campus vote. Yes Davis love it or leave it liberal bastion of the sacramento valley. Maybe Dustin Pedroia is on to something.

  4. Caine-607 X

    Good insight DPD. I argue with you all of the time, but I agree with you on Asmundson. To deny John F. Taxpayer 30 minutes of time to speak while saylor electioneers on the dais until 2AM is criminal. It is also not in the spirit of open government because talking until 2AM is a time when the public cannot effectively participate.

    “Franklin once said that he who would sacrifice essential liberty for the sake of temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security. Our Mayor sacrifices essential liberty and open government for the sake of expediency and brevity, and she deserves neither liberty nor expediency.”

    I had an argument with someone else over this statement on another point in this blog. I’m glad you printed it here. The crucial element of this statement is the word “essential” because “essential” can be interpreted differently depending on who you are talking to. I think the person who argued with me interpreted the Ben Franklin statement to mean Franklin was for absolute freedom, instead of what Franklin meant, which was essential freedom. In other words, essential freedom would include the first amendment, however, I do not interpret essential freedom to mean Franklin would have been in favor or against of legalizing drugs, or some other issue. Franklin needs to be here to tell us what he would feel about that kind of stuff.

  5. BrianK

    Dustin said of Woodland in a Boston Magazine interview — “It’s a dump, Everyone justs wants to get out of there.” Woodland in this instance could be construed as “far north Davis.”

  6. Anon

    “cut teacher salaries, restrict housing so only the rich can buy, beat up on firefighters, cops and city workers”

    isn’t it the firemen who are beating up the taxpayers? the taxes and water rates keep getting raised so out of towners like “stupidity” can keep his fluff job with the city, while the rest of us are going broke paying his pension.

  7. remy

    Great job Davis. Keep it up. And yes Anon, it is the fireman who are beating up the taxpayers. I’m done with that rip off ($100k for a fireman). Give me a break.

  8. martin

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/11/business/11fees.html?_r=2
    After her sport utility vehicle sideswiped a van in early February, Shirley Kimel was amazed at how quickly a handful of police officers and firefighters in Winter Haven, Fla., showed up. But a real shock came a week later, when a letter arrived from the city billing her $316 for the cost of responding to the accident.

    “I remember thinking, ‘What the heck is this?’ ” says Ms. Kimel, 67, an office manager at a furniture store. “I always thought this sort of thing was covered by my taxes.”

    It used to be. But last July, Winter Haven became one of a few dozen cities in the country to start charging “accident response fees.” The idea is to shift the expense of tending to and cleaning up crashes directly to at-fault drivers. Either they, or their insurers, are expected to pay.

    With the economy flailing and budgets strained, state and local governments are being creative about ways to raise money. And the go-to idea is to invent a fee — or simply raise one.

    Ohio’s governor has proposed a budget with more than 150 new or increased fees, including a fivefold increase in the cost to renew a livestock license, as well as larger sums to register a car, order a birth certificate or dump trash in a landfill. Other fees take aim at landlords, cigarette sellers and hospitals, to name a few.

    Wisconsin’s governor, James E. Doyle, has proposed a charge on slaughterhouses that would be levied on the basis of each animal slaughtered.

    Washington’s mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, has proposed a “streetlight user fee” of $4.25 a month, to be added to electric bills, that would cover the cost of operating and maintaining the city’s streetlights. New York City recently expanded its anti-idling law to include anyone parked near a school who leaves the engine running for more than a minute. Doing that will cost you $100.

    The “accident response fee” idea could spread, too. A company in Dayton, Ohio, called the Cost Recovery Corporation specializes in setting up collection systems for municipalities that bill for police and fire responses. (The company keeps 10 percent of billings.) Inquiries have tripled in the last year, says the company’s president, Regina Moore.

  9. Get Real

    Who’s kidding who? It is not the public who takes up too much time at City Council meetings. Nor is it Sue Greenwald. Most of the time it is Don Saylor or Ruth Asmundson, blathering on about inanities. How many times did Ruth waste hours telling us about her trips to foreign countries? Saylor almost never has anything to say that hasn’t already been said before. If the meetings are running long, it is because Mayor Imelda has no idea how to control a meeting in such a way that everyone is given a chance to be heard, but no one is allowed to blather from the dais.

  10. Hold Mayor & Pro-tem Accountable

    I predict that Saylor will be even worse than Ruth. It’s hard to believe, but he will be worse.

    I’ve always asked and I’ll ask again, why do they run if they need to get home to go to sleep? Democracy is time consuming. It is their job to hear the public and to have council meetings. If they don’t like it then why did they run for office? Did they think they could just hold the position with no accountability to the public? Being in office is more than just having coffee with people, traveling, and attending Rotary meetings, or walking around Nugget market endlessly to talk with voters. There is actually work involved.

    The answer is simple: if they don’t like it then can step down?

  11. Hold Mayor & Pro-tem Accountable

    I predict that Saylor will be even worse than Ruth. It’s hard to believe, but he will be worse.

    I’ve always asked and I’ll ask again, why do they run if they need to get home to go to sleep? Democracy is time consuming. It is their job to hear the public and to have council meetings. If they don’t like it then why did they run for office? Did they think they could just hold the position with no accountability to the public? Being in office is more than just having coffee with people, traveling, and attending Rotary meetings, or walking around Nugget market endlessly to talk with voters. There is actually work involved.

    The answer is simple: if they don’t like it then can step down?

  12. Ryan Kelly

    Ruth should retire from politics if she can’t handle a meeting that lasts longer than 3 hours. I am trying to recall anything of importance that Ruth has championed and ferried through the City’s legislative process – what will be her legacy. I just can’t come up with anything. All I can remember is her travels abroad and receiving recognition for her success in becoming mayor; her moves to weaken/dismantle the commission structure; and, of course, Covell Village. I had high hopes for her, but find myself disappointed.

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