Preventing the Council Selection Process From Becoming A Circus

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The council will make a crucial choice in the next two months that will determine to a large degree the future of our community.  On Friday, I laid out the stakes that we face in the next two months.  We have already discussed the pension/ retirement crisis in alarming detail.

The Council in December, by a 4-0 vote, determined that they will go forward with an appointment process to fill Don Saylor’s spot.  Given the issues of cost and timing, I believe this is the best approach, though I do understand those who would prefer an election.

The advantage of an appointment process is that it is expeditious and relatively inexpensive.  The disadvantage is that it is less than fully democratic to have four individuals, rather than the voters, select a public official to fill 18 months of a council seat. 

However, the biggest danger is that this could become a public spectacle.  The Brown Act requires the selection occur in public.  That could potentially mean a long line of people throwing attacks and support for various candidates.  In short, it could devolve into a circus, the likes of which Jerry Springer may be better equipped to handle than Joe Krovoza.

It behooves the council to select methods to reduce the possibility of this becoming a circus which would be a disservice to both the process and ultimately the community.

The Council will wrestle with these issues on Tuesday at their first Council meeting after Mayor Don Saylor has been sworn in as County Supervisor.

One thing that the Council should look into is the last time an appointment was made and that would be the appointment of Keltie Jones to the School Board.

The school district had a relatively straightforward process to fill the vacancy.  First they had an application process with a form with background information and various questions.

After the application deadline, there was an information session for all of the candidates, who sat in with the administration team.

There were some public sessions similiar to candidate forums, with the opportunity for people to complete evaluation forms and public feedback forms that were provided at the District Office for anyone to submit.

The process finally culminated with a public interview by the board and then they voted in an open session.  The candidate with the fewest votes was eliminated and they re-voted until there was finally a winner.

One thing the staff report suggests is a way to narrow the field so they do not go into the public session with more than 10 candidates.

They suggest a number of ways to achieve this, some of which involve the rank-ordering of candidates, which seems perhaps premature.  Staff recommends that each councilmember provide their top five choices, and a repetition of that process with fewer names selected until they reach just ten candidates.

“Staff recommends [this] option as the one to use to reduce the candidate field, if necessary. It is straightforward and does not involve the precise ordering involved in the first option. It also ensures a minimum of five candidates in the field,” the report states.

The application process would include background information, a submission of Form 700 which is the basic statement of economic interests, and the application statement.

Among the concerns I have about a public voting process is how a required public comment session would operate.  While public input is always important, there is a chance that a skillful candidate will simply pack the room and create a sense of overwhelming public support for a given candidate.  To me that is not helpful input into the process. 

The council has a very important and difficult decision to make and the best candidate may not be the one who can mobilize the most people to come out on a given night.

Creating reasonable limits are important.  Preventing a public session from devolving into a negative campaign is vital.  The Brown Act permits a reasonable limitation on the amount of time allotted to public comments and the ability to limit the length of such comments.

Unfortunately, these issues are not discussed in the staff report.  Councilmember Stephen Souza at the December meeting talked about wanting to have the process an election in everything but name.  But that is not reasonable.  You cannot have an election in everything but name because an election has several non-replicable components.

We don’t have secret ballots.  We do not have a way to accurately gauge public support for a candidate.  The majority of people will not come out to council.

More than that, the council really needs to make the right decision, even if it might not be the most popular one. 

Along with public comment, there is concern about venue.  The Community Chambers are generally a good venue with easy television access and a good dais.  But, the downside is that the capacity of the chambers is relatively small and it might end up being standing room only with people forced outside. 

Such an alternative location as the Veteran’s Memorial building might be a better location, if we anticipate there is going to be a huge audience expected to participate in the public process.

Finally, the staff report discusses timelines.  They are looking at an expedited process to allow for a Council appointment as early as February 15.  However, at the same time they mention the League of Women Voters being comfortable with a February 7 date, with staff awaiting confirmation on a February 16 date for a Public Forum.

February is important because there is a fail-safe point of the end of the month if council cannot find three members to agree on a candidate.

All of this needs to be discussed early on so that there are no surprises.

The better this event is planned and concerns are mitigated, the smoother the process will be, and more people will accept the result as legitimate.

—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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14 thoughts on “Preventing the Council Selection Process From Becoming A Circus”

  1. hpierce

    “Much ado about nothing”… I just don’t see the selection of a councilmember to replace Saylor as either a “sea-change” or life changing event, for 85.27% of Davis citizens’ lives. Let’s avoid a farce, but K.I.S.S.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Creating reasonable limits are important. Preventing a public session from devolving into a negative campaign is vital. The Brown Act permits a reasonable limitation on the amount of time allotted to public comments and the ability to limit the length of such comments.”

    Not everything can be controlled, and some unexpected things are sure to happen. However, I trust the current CC will manage to select someone w/o too much fuss…

    I am far more concerned about the city’s fiscal health, or lack thereof…

  3. Rifkin

    [i]”The Community Chambers are generally a good venue with easy television access and a good dais. But, the downside is that the capacity of the chambers is relatively small and it might end up being standing room only with people forced outside.”[/i]

    My expectation is that the Chambers are more than capacious enough. However, I would be pleasantly surprised if I were proved wrong.

    [i]”Such an alternative location as the Veteran’s Memorial building might be a better location, if we anticipate there is going to be a huge audience expected to participate in the public process.”[/i]

    If it is the case that there is a reasonable chance that too many people will show up, then moving it to the VM sounds like a good idea to me. Davis Wiki says ([url]http://daviswiki.org/Venues[/url]) the capacity at the Community Chambers is 105. It says that next door the capacity at the MPR of the Senior Center is 350, same as the capacity at the multi-purpose room of the Veteran’s Memorial.

  4. Rifkin

    FWIW, my expectation is that the 3/4ths of the council which voted yes on the latest round of labor contracts is going to select a like-minded person.

    My fear is that no one who really has a handle on what is going on with the city’s budget will apply.

  5. hpierce

    FWIW, even if Rich’s expectation is wrong, existing MOU’s will probably not be re-opened… have no sense of what is going on for negotiations with DCEA is going, but sense that the City has hired a consultant to be the professional negotiator, but the negotiator has produced invoices, but no action.

  6. Dr. Wu

    [quote]My fear is that no one who really has a handle on what is going on with the city’s budget will apply.[/quote]

    I hope Rich is wrong but fear he could be right.

  7. hpierce

    Not sure whether this is “on-thread”, but am reading the Emptyprize articles about Don Saylor… well on his way to being a “triple-dipper”? As I recall, he retired from State employment, with the pension/retiree benefits that accrue from that… after more than 5 years of service with Davis, as I understand it, he is entitle to retiree medical (which the Council voted to shut off for new/recent hires) & potentially more PERS or PARS… on top of those, he will be entitled to greater compensation and perhaps more benefits as a County employee… will DMG be reporting on this? … or, just call for lower salaries/benefits for City &/or County workers?

  8. Rifkin

    hpierce, I don’t think that is right. Don worked for the state, so his pension is with CalPERS. Davis and Yolo County are also affiliated CalPERS agencies. So he won’t get 3 different pensions. He will get one pension, all from CalPERS.

    What I don’t know (or really care to know in his case*) is how much, if any, his CalPERS pension will increase due to his small income ($8,033/year) from the City of Davis. As a supervisor, his salary ($59,000 per year) will be more substantial, but I still don’t know if that will trigger his pension to increase by much. I doubt it.

    *In my opinion, the public policy question with regard to Mr. Saylor’s money is the large amount we will be giving him in cash for a dubious “car allowance” plus a medical cashout ($27,000 combined) plus two offices and a full-time staff of two people ($117,000 in salary plus full benefits and pension costs and retiree medical, etc.). When it is all added up, each Yolo County supe costs the taxpayers $306,305 each year, and that does not include the unfunded retiree medical liability for 15 people (which could be as much as another $300,000 a year in net present value).

  9. Dr. Wu

    [quote]The fallout from Borders Group Inc.’s decision to halt payments to some publishers began over the weekend, as a leading distributor said it would temporarily stop shipping books to the retail chain. Bloomberg News[/quote]

    Should we ask the new mayoral candidates about this?

  10. hpierce

    Rich… second thoughts… if he got 5+ years more of services credits, it would be at his highest (or average of highest 3 years) salary… much higher than his salary as a councilmember…

  11. Rifkin

    hp, I will take your word for it on that. I don’t know anything about how CalPERS adjusts pensions when one of its retirees comes back to work. … I would imagine Avatar knows this stuff.

  12. Rifkin

    I found a CalPERS’ booklet ([url]https://www.calpers.ca.gov/mss-publication/pdf/xRQP6CYZBRS8t_employment-after-retirement-pub-33.pdf[/url]) which explains the situation Mr. Saylor is in. Here are some excerpts from it: [quote] A retiree can work for a CalPERS employer without reinstatement (1) as a temporary “retired annuitant” employee with certain restrictions or (2) [u]if the position is specifically exempt from restrictions by CalPERS law[/u]. As a retired annuitant, [u]you do not accrue service credit or otherwise acquire any additional retirement benefits[/u] from the retiree employment. …

    [b]Elective Position:[/b] you can serve in an elective office without effect on your retirement allowance unless all or a portion of your retirement allowance is based on previous service in the same elected office. …[/quote] It sounds to me that

    1) Don Saylor, as a CalPERS’ retiree (who worked in the juvenile justice system), can legally work full-time as an elected official; and

    2) that he will accrue no new service credits for that post-retirement work.

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