Here We Go Again: Souza and Saylor Make Another Attempt at Council Rules For Sanction

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citycatCouncilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor have introduced an item submitted by council that will amend both the “Council Meeting Ground Rules” and “Procedures Manual for Council Members” to add language regarding enforcement for non-observation of the rules.

When they last attempted the new council rules for sanction, they were soundly slapped down by many in the community including Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning arguing that the rules went too far and became tantamount toward stifling minority dissent under the guise of civility.

Now having pulled the item, it returns.  In the background the write:

“In recent weeks, it has become apparent that the existing Ground Rules and Procedures do not include specific provisions related to enforcement or consequences for violation or failure to participate fully within the agreed upon procedures.”

If anything that the last few months have showed the opposite.  The council already possesses a wide range of authority and powers that can be used to sanction members whether it is the removal from commission liaison positions where members serve at the pleasure of the council majority or the harsh glare of public scrutiny, the council seems well-positioned to deal with the occasional flareup.

Here is the language regarding enforcement that has previous drawn criticism of over-reaching.

“It is expected that Council members will conduct themselves professionally and consistently within the ground rules and procedures governing council member behaviors. In the event that behaviors of a member of the Council are judged by a majority vote of the Council to be persistently or egregiously in violation of the ground rules or procedures, the Council may vote to apply sanctions. Sanctions may include but are not limited to:

  • Removal of liaison and committee assignments that are granted at the discretion of the Council.
  • Resolution of public censure citing causes for repeated or extreme disruptive and indecorous behaviors.”

Gone now are the most offensive provisions one that would have allowed the Council by a 3-2 vote to have a councilmember removed by the police and could have imposed criminal and/ or civil law remedies related to treatment of staff or member of the Council.

While that revision is a good start, the further we get away from the January incident, the more it looks like this is completely unnecessary.  The best behavior modifier is the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

The danger the council still faces with these sanctions is that they have made the provisions for liaison removal and censure, both powers they have now and have used without these rules, contingent on majority rule.  That means by a 3-2 vote they can vote to censure a member.  Is that really a powerful statement of censure if the council majority is admonishing a member of the council minority?

At least a four vote requirement would give the action some meaning and mean that the offending councilmember’s actions are egregious.

Frankly the best remedy is what happened that evening.  If tensions flare up, call a recess.  Sit at the dais rather than going out into the public where things can continue.

Restart the meeting after a fixed time.  If tensions flare again, call another recess.  If things cannot be settled down, adjourn the meeting.

What happened after the meeting ended that night is the harsh glare of public scrutiny.  Everyone involved realized that things had gone too far, that mistakes had been made.  That flare up was a long time in coming, but once it happened, things have settled down.

The purpose of having a liaison is not to reward a member for good behavior, it is to have a council member who acts as a go-between between the commission and the council.  I do not believe it is an appropriate sanction to remove someone from being a liaison to a commission for behavior at a council meeting.  There was an incident where a Councilmember was removed as liaison to a commission, but that involved conduct as the liaison of the commission.

The bottom line here is that while I certainly agree with steps taken to revise Item 8 and 9 of the Council Manual.

In particular:

“A member, once recognized by the presiding officer, shall not be interrupted when speaking unless it is to call a member to order.”

Part of what happened in January stemmed from the fact that the Mayor would routinely interrupt a Councilmember while they were speaking.

However, the sanction clause even as modified still goes too far.  It needs to at the very least be a supermajority vote, a requirement of four votes in order to censure.  Again, what weight would a 3-2 censure vote have?  It would look to all the world as though the move were a political move just as a majority party line vote to impeach looks partisan.

Second, the punishment, if it is appropriate, must fit the crime.  The consequence for being rude at a meeting should not be removal from a liaison to a commission.  That makes no sense.

Finally, it seems to me that there are a number of other issues have not been addressed in the rules change.

Frankly it might have been better if these rules were reviewed not by Mr. Souza and Mr. Saylor, but perhaps by Mr. Saylor and Mr. Heystek, who might have been able to provide a more balanced approach to re-examining council rules.

Along these lines, it would seem logical that perhaps after the June elections, two new councilmembers might want to review these rules and try to see how to improve them.

The bottom line is that while clearly removing two sanction provisions improved the docment, the premise is flawed.  And given that the council has operated well since the flare up, I still question the need to revisit this issue.  It is likely to undo some of what has been accomplished in the two months since that January meeting.

—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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20 thoughts on “Here We Go Again: Souza and Saylor Make Another Attempt at Council Rules For Sanction”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    This is all much ado about nothing – nothing but “petty payback” on the part of the City Council majority for an incident created and instigated by their own poor behavior. The new seated City Council after elections in June will not have the same players on board except Councilmember Souza, so sanctions or whatever are not likely to be even remotely needed. If the City Council majority did decide to “sanction” another Councilmember unfairly or unjustly, the public would be free to “censure” the City Council majority during Public Comment at a City Council meeting or in the Davis Enterprise or in the People’s Vanguard.

  2. davisite2

    …a pure “face-saving” measure for political “damage-control”. Saylor, Asmundson and Souza were left with political “egg on their faces” when their plan that they publicly floated to deny Sue Greenwald her seat as mayor went nowhere with the voters. The Council Majority appears determined not to have to wipe this egg off their faces by leaving their outrageous plan permanently tabled and essentially saying, “..never mind” .

  3. Don Shor

    Any decision about how future councils should function should be left to future councils. They have the authority to do everything proposed here already. This issue should be tabled indefinitely.

  4. JustSaying

    Totally unnecessary, as we know from the recent experience and its aftermath. If this is the type of city business for which Don Saylor thinks he needs to stick around, he’s wasting his time and ours for six months. As well as $200,000 to $300,000 of our limited city funds if he decides to require that we have a special election to replace him….

  5. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”Any decision about how future councils should function should be left to future councils.”[/i]

    Sure, but if this council makes a rule which a future council does not want, the future council can change that rule, too. I suppose you feel, because we are going to have a big turnover in the council in the next 9 months, that it is too late for this group of five to take this action. That’s a reasonable thought. But it does not change the fact that any changes, right or wrong, that are made now can be changed by the incoming group.

    As to the actual changes in the text, I don’t think they are unreasonable. David notes that Lamar should have been on the subcommittee. Maybe so. But Don and Stephen seem to have been guided reasonably by the codes used in Berkeley, Brentwood, Inglewood and Mission Viejo.

    The attachment is 86 pages, so I just briefed through it. But it looks like they struck a middle ground, quite similar to what Berkeley has. The language they originally proposed, with criminal sanctions and the like, is all gone and I don’t see this compromise* as a terrible problem, regardless of their motives*.

    In contrast to what they now have, the Brentwood law looks very similar to what they first proposed: [quote] While the council is in session, any person or councilmember who acts in a disorderly, contemptuous or insolent manner towards the council or any councilmember thereof, or who becomes boisterous while addressing the council or any councilmember thereof, which conduct delays or interrupts the due course of the meeting, or any member of the public in attendance who fails, on demand of the Mayor, to comply with any order of the Mayor made in accord with the authority of this chapter, is [b]subject to the criminal penalties of the Brentwood Municipal Code.[/b]

    The city manager may designate such appropriate person or persons to act as sergeant at arms to carry out all orders and instructions given by the Mayor for the purposes of maintaining order and decorum at the council meeting. Upon instructions of the Mayor, it shall be the duty of the
    sergeant at arms, or any of them present, [b]to place any person who violates the order and decorum of the meeting under arrest[/b], and cause such person to be prosecuted under provisions of this code, the complaint to be signed by the Mayor or other appropriate person present.[/quote] *The real problem with the primary sanction, taking away committee assignments, afforded in the new Saylor/Souza language is this: The current council majority, for other reasons, severely sanctioned Ms. Greenwald, by taking away all of her preferred committee assignments after the 2006 election. (I think they did this out of personal animus toward her.) Because of that earlier, unwarranted reprimand, this new language gives the majority little room to further punish Sue. And obviously, all of this is aimed at her.

  6. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”As well as $200,000 to $300,000 of our limited city funds if he decides to require that we have a special election to replace him…. “[/i]

    It seems to me that if the City Council is going to call a special election, the most honest thing to do would be to identify exactly where that money would be spent in lieu of a special election. In other words, say it costs $300,000 to repave B Street from 1st to 8th. Tell us, “B Street will not be repaved for the next 8 years in order that we can hold this special election to replace Mr. Saylor.”

    Then, as potholes grow, cracks widen and deterioration progresses, public works personnel with spray paint can tag each Saylor Surface Sore with “SSS” in shiny, gold paint.

  7. hpierce

    There is NO NEED for a special election. As near as I can see, it is only Ms Greenwald’s concept of “democracy”, and fears of “incumbency” (say, isn’t she an incumbent?) that would “force” a special election. Let’s move on, but choose carefully in June…

  8. Elephantintheroom

    Indeed, “There is NO NEED for a special election.”

    There has never been a special election in Davis’ history when a vacancy on the city council has occurred. As in the past the remaining members of the city council can appoint an interim replacement once Don vacates his council seat at year’s end. That appointment would begin sometime in early 2011 and would then serve the remaining unexpired months of that term until the city council election of 2012 That way no monies are spent on an election, specifically on a costly special election.

  9. Sue Greenwald

    I am going to suggest that we adopt the following phrase from Santa Monica’s ordinance:[quote]These rules shall be interpreted liberally in order to provide for the optimum in the free exchange of information and public debate (without an unnecessary waste of time). [/quote]This is more in keeping with a town with a vibrant, town hall style democracy.

    I would like to point out that although a lot of the cities examined by Saylor and Souza not have a strong tradition of participatory democracy, none has a complete section entitled “sanctions for council members”.

    Attorney Bill Kopper came to public comment recently and pointed out that a city is currently being sued for “publicly censuring” a council member for denying that council members freedom of speech.

    Saylor and Souza are creating the kind of atmosphere that is chilling to democracy. Remember, the council majority was constantly threatening that my tough questions of staff concerning the water/wastewater were “uncivil”.

  10. hpierce

    BTW… for the record, we are not a democracy, we are a republic… if we were a true democracy, we would not have a city council… we would vote on all discretionary items as a whole… not very efficient…

  11. indigorocks

    Would corruption qualify as “disruptive and indecorous behaviors”? If so then Souza, Saylor and especially RUTH should be the first to be censured and ARRESTED!
    But of course, this is yolo county, and corruption it would seem (especially in law enforcement circles) is parr for the course. Right hpierce?

  12. hpierce

    [quote]… and corruption it would seem (especially in law enforcement circles) is parr for the course. Right hpierce? [/quote]
    Indiorocks… if you have evidence of corruption, you should contact the Yolo County Grand Jury… if a) you feel that I am the public sector, and b) if you have ANY reason to believe that I am corrupt, or support corruption, see a). I am unaware of where to report stupidity, so I have no recourse.

  13. Elephantintheroom

    [quote][/quote]

    The Elephant in the Room…..

    I am with Don Shor who states: [quote]“Any decision about how future councils should function should be left to future councils. They have the authority to do everything proposed here already. This issue should be tabled indefinitely.”[/quote]

    Having said that, E. Roberts Musser states: [quote]“This is all much ado about nothing – nothing but “petty payback” on the part of the City Council majority for an incident created and instigated by their own poor behavior. The new seated City Council after elections in June will not have the same players on board except Councilmember Souza, so sanctions or whatever are not likely to be even remotely needed.”[/quote]

    Elaine, with all due respect, I must take issue with your statement, as it is not accurate. Sue Greenwald will be there after the June 2020 election too and furthermore your comment mischaracterizes and ignores the severity of the incident you reference. That incident caused enormous disruption to the city council meeting and the governance of our city and became an embarrassment to our community. The incident was created by Sue Greenwald’s inappropriate outburst and certainly by her actions that followed wherein she displayed bizarre and outrageous behavior towards her colleagues, city staff and the public.

    Let’s be candid, Sue Greenwald’s grossly inappropriate behavior during the January 26 city council meeting and elsewhere over the years is the proverbial “elephant in the room.” This current effort is a direct result of Sue Greenwald’s outrageous behavior at that meeting as well as her unseemly behavior at other city meetings. Although I am in agreement that the current proposal is an overreach let us not forget what precipitated this current effort: Sue Greenwald’s own inappropriate behavior.

    As an eye witnesses to the January 26 meeting stated:

    [quote]“Sue was out of control both on and off the dais as well as on and off camera. Sue called Ruth a liar on the dais multiple times until Ruth eventually fell ill. Sue may have been correct on the issue, but it was a minor point and Ruth likely was not lying, she just didn’t remember. A recess was called to attend to Ruth’s medical emergency but Sue wouldn’t stop her verbal attack. As EMT personnel and city staff attended to Ruth, Sue continued to seek out other people and berate them as well as mock Ruth herself. While Ruth was being helped in the conference room outside the council chambers Sue stood outside mocking Ruth who had fallen ill from an anxiety attack with high blood pressure. Sue at one point in a most sarcastic, mocking and mean spirited voice said out loud, “I’m going to faint, someone call the fire department” implying that Ruth was faking illness. She then called Bill Emlen a “boy” as he was going into the side meeting room to check on Ruth. Sue then turned to Don Saylor and started getting into his space at which point he mentioned he could call the police as she was interfering with emergency personnel trying to assist a person in distress. Throughout the incident Sue’s behavior and statements were to the effect it was everyone else’s fault not her’s. She even blamed Lamar Heystek for not being quicker to defend her on the substantive point, which was not that important to begin with. I have never seen anything like it.”[/quote]

    City councilmembers should act with courtesy, respect and decorum towards their colleagues, city staff and the public. The worst offender to these basic precepts by a long shot is Sue Greenwald. If councilmembers cannot adhere to common courtesy, respect and decorum they should be censored and the voters can deal with them at the next election or through the recall process.

    Sue Greenwald states: [quote]“Saylor and Souza are creating the kind of atmosphere that is chilling to democracy.”[/quote]

    I suggest Sue Greenwald listen to herself and look in the mirror as she does a fine job of this herself.

  14. E Roberts Musser

    Elephantintheroom: “This current effort is a direct result of Sue Greenwald’s outrageous behavior at that meeting as well as her unseemly behavior at other city meetings. Although I am in agreement that the current proposal is an overreach let us not forget what precipitated this current effort: Sue Greenwald’s own inappropriate behavior.”

    I would argue Mayor Asmundson precipitated the incident by mischaracterizing Councilmember Sue Greenwald’s positions in closed door sessions. The further actions of the City Council majority before and during the meeting added fuel to the fire. Councilmember Greenwald lost her cool and overreacted, which she has admitted to.

    Needling in any form will cause a reaction. If someone is needled and overreacts, who is guilty? The victim or the needler? In a professional setting, both are. We expect our elected officials to behave like adults, and they should be up to the give and take of differences in opinion. Four Councilmembers in this exchange showed poor behavior. But why add more fuel to the fire with sanctions, sanctions self-servingly decided upon by the City Council majority? It looks more like a political maneuver than any real desire to “fix things”.

    Bottom line – a new City Council will be seated soon. The same dynamics will not be in play, because two members of the Council majority will be replaced. Ms. Greenwald has been made to look foolish on camera and has abjectly apologized. Anything more at this point is just going to polarize the community that much more and will be counterproductive.

    Elephantintheroom: “City councilmembers should act with courtesy, respect and decorum towards their colleagues, city staff and the public. The worst offender to these basic precepts by a long shot is Sue Greenwald.”

    What you fail to recognize is the bullying that goes on behind the scenes, and not to just Councilmember Greenwald… Furthermore, other members of the City Council than Councilmember Greenwald have shown huge disrespect for/to the public and their collegues…

  15. Siegel

    “I would argue Mayor Asmundson precipitated the incident by mischaracterizing Councilmember Sue Greenwald’s positions in closed door sessions.”

    I would argue that it was inappropriate for Sue Greenwald to raise the issue of closed door sessions during public session. There is a reason why those discussions were in closed session and the subject matter should have remained closed to public scrutiny.

  16. Elephantintheroom

    Elaine, I do not disagree with you that other city councilmembers (excluding Lamar Heystek) have at times shown disrespect and been rude to the public. But that does not excuse Sue Greenwald. No one else on the city council comes close to the level of inappropriate behavior exhibited by Sue.

    I would argue that Sue Greenwald’s behavior will not change with the retirements of Lamar Heystek and Ruth Asumundson. There is a long history of Sue’s inappropriate conduct that has gone on long before Don Saylor, Stephen Souza or Ruth Asmundson ever joined her on the city council. The current make-up of the city council is not the dynamic that is the cause of Sue’s misbehavior. Ask former councilmembers who served with her during her first term, city staff or others in our community about her bizarre actions and rude behaviors, which they have witnessed first hand.

    Over the years, many people in our town have experienced and suffered from the shocking obsessive nature of Sue Greenwald’s controlling in your face attitude, bullying and intimidation towards others that goes on behind the scenes, during phone conversations, during private and public encounters and on many occasions occurs at commission and council meetings. Sue Greenwald’s own psychology and behavior is the dynamic at play here. Her treatment of others has been described as harassment and there are plenty of stories from people who have been her victims. I cannot think of another person in this town who has such a reputation. Several of her own friends describe her as suffering from a “personality disorder.” Unfortunately for our community what occurred on January 26 was not out of character for her.

    Again you ignore the severity of the Sue Greenwald’s behavior over the years and especially that evening. It was not just an inappropriate argument caught on camera during the council meeting when Sue was calling Ruth a liar but despicable behavior off camera during the recess in which Sue mocked Ruth and others and interfered with people trying to help a person in medical distress.

    A commenter on the Vanguard who posted shortly after the incident hit the nail on the head:

    [quote]“I find it incredible how people rationalize this overstepping of civil behaviour by Sue Greenwald. Having a heated argument may be perfectly normal between healthy people. Continuing to shout and argue when a medical problem has intervened is beyond the pale. Sue Greenwald seems to represent a certain ugly side of Davis, the bat-poop crazy side that says any end justifies the means and anything you do in the service of her cause can be excused.”[/quote]

    Sue Greenwald eventually tendered an apology but only after a week’s worth of criticism and pressure from the public. Up until a few hours before her apology at the February 2 city council meeting she was still blaming others for the incident and claiming on this blog there was a “witch hunt” being waged against her.

    Many have described Sue Greenwald the evening of January 26 as “Sue just being Sue.” Without a doubt, Sue Greenwald is the “elephant in the room.”

  17. E Roberts Musser

    EITR: “I would argue that Sue Greenwald’s behavior will not change with the retirements of Lamar Heystek and Ruth Asumundson. There is a long history of Sue’s inappropriate conduct that has gone on long before Don Saylor, Stephen Souza or Ruth Asmundson ever joined her on the city council.”

    If her long history has been as egregious as you say, why does Sue Greenwald keep getting re-elected?

    EITR: “Elaine, I do not disagree with you that other city councilmembers (excluding Lamar Heystek) have at times shown disrespect and been rude to the public.”

    To the public and their colleagues. Remember how Lamar Heystek was treated by the City Council majority when he first came on board? Remember how villianously the Senior Citizens Commission was treated by the Subcommittee on Commissions during the “merger” fight to eliminate the Senior Citizens Commission? With all due respect, I think your memory seems to be very selective…

  18. Elephantintheroom

    [quote]E Roberts Musser:

    EITR: “I would argue that Sue Greenwald’s behavior will not change with the retirements of Lamar Heystek and Ruth Asumundson. There is a long history of Sue’s inappropriate conduct that has gone on long before Don Saylor, Stephen Souza or Ruth Asmundson ever joined her on the city council.”

    If her long history has been as egregious as you say, why does Sue Greenwald keep getting re-elected?[/quote]

    Elaine, good question.

    While many of us have witnessed Sue’s bizarre and at times mean spirited behavior over a long period of time the majority of the voting public until recently has not. Those who follow city council meetings or who are involved in politics and civic endeavours are aware and as time has gone on others too have been exposed to her inappropriate behavior. Sue’s reputation for this type of behavior has been growing. When Sue first ran for election to city council in 1996 and 1998 others and I did not support her due to her self-centered and rude behavior. We saw it and it was ugly. But at the time few people had witnessed or knew about it. Later on, others and I did support her due in large part to our agreement with her on the issues when she was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 finishing in first place. We did this in-spite of our reservations about her personal behavior towards others.

    Unfortunately over the past ten years Sue has displayed those behaviors in many venues and they have increased in occurrence. At the same time, many folks who support Sue have become her apologists who defend and rationalize her inappropriate behavior by making up excuses for it because they agree with Sue on the issues. Many of them will never acknowledge her inappropriate conduct and always blame others for Sue’s inability to cope, as Sue herself does. But some are becoming less and less willing to apologize for her.

    As the years have gone on and Sue’s misbehavior continues and becomes well known she is losing support. During her recent 2008 election Sue lost nearly two thousand votes dropping to a third place finish, as many who had supported her previously did not do so again. She wanted to run for supervisor against Don Saylor, but after her outrageous behavior at the January 26 city council meeting and the negative publicity that followed she was finished.

    It is hard to predict should Sue run for re-election in 2012 whether she would be successful or not. She has her loyal supporters and many are complete sycophants to her, willing to excuse her inappropriate actions no matter what. It will be interesting to see if she has finally worn out her welcome.

    [quote]E Roberts Musser:

    EITR: “Elaine, I do not disagree with you that other city councilmembers (excluding Lamar Heystek) have at times shown disrespect and been rude to the public.”

    To the public and their colleagues. Remember how Lamar Heystek was treated by the City Council majority when he first came on board? Remember how villianously the Senior Citizens Commission was treated by the Subcommittee on Commissions during the “merger” fight to eliminate the Senior Citizens Commission? With all due respect, I think your memory seems to be very selective… [/quote]

    Elaine,

    Regarding Lamar, I agree with you that the council majority at times treated him poorly especially in his first year. But Lamar was able to cope and rise above them, whereby they have not attempted those antics anymore. I have also seen Sue over the years attempt to treat Lamar like a doormat, because in her mind he should be doing exactly what she wants him to do. Lamar’s ability to think independently and work with this dysfunctional group to do the people’s business is one of his great strengths and he will be missed.

    Regarding, the effort by the council majority to eliminate the Senior Citizens Commission and strong-arm other commissions was flat out wrong. I certainly have not forgotten that controversy or others where the public and I did not agree with their actions especially where they attempted to stifle debate.

    But what does that have to do with Sue Greenwald’s inappropriate conduct? Are you saying the actions and conduct of the council majority that you and I might disagree with are an excuse or rational reason for Sue Greenwald’s habitual misconduct towards others, i.e. colleagues, staff, members of the public and those she disagrees with?

    Knowing that Sue Greenwald’s inappropriate conduct is rationalized and excused because she is unable to cope with opposition on the city council or elsewhere, I rest my case.

  19. E Roberts Musser

    EITR: “But what does that have to do with Sue Greenwald’s inappropriate conduct? Are you saying the actions and conduct of the council majority that you and I might disagree with are an excuse or rational reason for Sue Greenwald’s habitual misconduct towards others, i.e. colleagues, staff, members of the public and those she disagrees with?”

    You claimed Sue’s behavior was far worse than that of others in the City Council. I pointed out to you that other City Council members have acted just as badly – yes, just as badly (far worse from my perspective – a lot that went on behind the scenes in regard to the “merger” fight was not made public). Yet you repeatedly single out Sue as the worst, which is a skewed view IMHO.

    Furthermore, any attempt to publicly sanction a Councilmember for “inappropriate behavior” is an invitation to stifle debate by a tyrannical majority, which we have already had more than enough of a taste of…

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