Commentary: Moving in the Right Direction?

council-appointment

The Davis City Council has a tough choice to make tomorrow.  They have to decide among ten candidates, most of them very good and well-qualified, and they must determine which one is the best fit for the Davis City Council.

Before we go too far afield, it is worth noting just how much things have changed since the beginning of the year.  A lot of things have changed both policy-wise and personality-wise.

It is not necessarily that former Councilmembers Don Saylor and Ruth Asmundson were bad people, but their interactions and personalities tended to clash with some of their colleagues.  This helped to produce a toxic brew that led to years of infighting and discontentment on the council.

Since the beginning of the year, once Joe Krovoza took over as Mayor and Rochelle Swanson as Mayor Pro Tem, we have started to see the change that we envisioned back in June, both in terms of polices and also in terms of climate.

Suddenly we have a council that gets along.  We do not see the hostility and the fighting.

On two huge policy fronts we see the change.  First, for the most important issue facing the city, the council finally at least laid out a proper policy position and is taking steps to really address unfunded liabilities and pensions.  We have acknowledged problems with past practices and are moving in the direction of tackling these issues in future meetings.

However, watching the progress on the Railroad Fence Issue is a crucial change on a more subtle policy area.  It starts with leadership.  Mayor Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson joined members of the public back in December to protest the building of the fence.

Since that time, the council has unanimously forged out a policy to push the CCJPA and Union Pacific on an issue where the city has no direct authority.  Council leadership pushed the staff to work proactively and force Union Pacific to pull their request for public funding.

The unified force of the city means, even though Union Pacific is talking about finding private sources of funding, it is unlikely they will build without good discussion.

The next step is to push for an at-grade crossing, something that we were told last month is impossible, but may not be.  None of this would have happened without the strong leadership by those on the council, who brought their colleagues and staff along with them.

Last year at this time, the fence would have been a done deal, with public funding.  Now because of the changes on council, the fence may not happen without city buy-in, which would necessarily include some sort of reasonable crossing.

The most amazing thing is that these changes occurred largely in benefit to the most economically disadvantaged group of residents in Davis.  These community members would have been cut off from the city with the advent of a fence, forcing them to journey far out of their way into more unsafe crossings.

One of the questions that we must ask is who is ready to be on the council.

We will avoid naming names, as to not imply the endorsement of any candidate, which would violate our clear mandate as a public interest non-profit.  However, we have previously questioned the commitment of some of the candidates.

After all, one of the tests of the new councilmembers is how much they are willing to work.

On Monday, I noted that the council candidates this time had an extremely short turnaround.  As I stated on Monday, I am a bit concerned about the entire field.  While a number of individuals bring interesting skills and experiences to the mix, most lack the kind of particularized knowledge of Davis government that are needed to run the city.

The process is so truncated that there is almost no time to really learn.  One opportunity was to go to the last council meeting where several critical issues were discussed, as we have discussed on these pages in the last few days.

That concern, about lack of working knowledge of Davis government, is tremendous but largely unavoidable unless we do what the City of Woodland did last night, when they named former Supervisor Tom Stallard to replace Jeff Monroe on their council.  We did not have a former officeholder sign up, and so everyone was going to be met with a huge learning curve.

The process did them no favors, and that they could not control.  The learning curve  here is just tremendous. 

I once again hearken back to my first meeting with Joe Krovoza, back in November 2009.  He was obviously a bright guy, as most of the current applicants are, but he lacked working knowledge of the Davis political system and city government.

However, he then ran a seven-month campaign, in which he learned a ton and met with numerous people in the community and wasn’t seated for another month.  These candidates do not have that eight-month period to learn before taking office.

At the same time, watching the candidates respond to questions and think on their feet was reassuring.  While there is a steep learning curve for them to learn specifics of the job, it appears most of them are perfectly capable of learning fast.

It is thus in the context of change that the council faces its most crucial decision to date.  And it is here that they must show vision, leadership, and, yes, caution

They have a chance to enhance what they have accomplished this year in facing down the demons of unfunded liabilities and unsustainable compensation packages.  They have the chance to change the perceptions of the city council as a dysfunctional body, wracked with in-fighting and bickering.

They need to find the right mix of a good personality that can add something to the mix while at the same time finding someone who is compatible policy-wise.

That is a tall order for a group of four operating in limited time and with limited information.  Tuesday night will be a huge test for the future of this council and the City of Davis.  We will all be watching to see how it works out.

—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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20 Comments

  1. hpierce

    [quote]It is not necessarily that former Councilmembers Don Saylor and Ruth Asmundson were bad people, but their interactions and personalities tended to clash with some of their colleagues. This helped to produce a toxic brew that led to years of infighting and discontentment on the council.[/quote]Again… you don’t mention any current (nor, any former, other than Don and Ruth) council members who contributed to that “brew”. One would conclude from your comments in this and other writings that Don & Ruth were the “culprits”… other(s) were innocent victims… I believe, “NOT”…

  2. Dr. Wu

    [quote]most of them very good and well-qualified, and they must determine which one is the best fit for the Davis City Council.
    [/quote]

    Let us hope they are well-qualified, but many of us are underwhelmed so far…Let’s hope they find the best candidate.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    You know why: because right now they are not a problem. That leads me to believe that there is nothing inherent about a situation, it is only a matter of how things are handled and the interaction of personalities that becomes the problem.

  4. biddlin

    JoeKro and Co. will no doubt pick someone that they feel will support a common agenda, whether that will be the case can only be told down the road. That said, with a solid majority, the council could steer Davis down routes that are bumpier than the ones already known.

  5. Crilly

    Autocrat: “A person who behaves in an authoritarian manner; a domineering person.”

    The reason that DG didn’t mention any current council members should be readily apparent. If the animosity and clashes have disappeared, then it’s pretty clear they weren’t the fault of anyone currently on the council. Remove the autocrats and the autocracy collapses.

  6. Paul Nicolas Boylan

    [quote]with a solid majority, the council could steer Davis down routes that are bumpier than the ones already known.[/quote]

    That is more or less the point and the problem, Biddlin. The road ahead – especially if the City Council Members are really serious and committed to solving the growing problem of unfunded mandates, which I honestly believe they are – is likely going to be bumpier than anyone can anticipate for the simple reason that the necessary foundational assessment has not yet been done. It is like anticipating the trials and tribulations of surgery before a comprehensive diagnosis has been performed.

    Part of the problem, from my admittedly “pre diagnosis” limited point of view, is that, in the past, the obvious charms of smoother, less bumpy, less contentious routes got us where we are now. Nobody is at fault here, and pointing fingers would be materially counterproductive. But the causes of our current predicament need to be understood before a comprehensive solution can even be envisioned.

  7. Rifkin

    Today, being a federal holiday, is a good time to bring up this point about City workers in Davis: they get way, way, way too many paid holidays (though of course Davis is typical of all government institutions in that regard).

    The minute a person is hired to work for the City of Davis, he gets 3 weeks of paid time off for “holidays.” In the private sector, the norm is 5 paid holidays.

    For those City workers who are not cops and firefighters, this is too much, but its dollar-out cost to the taxpayers is not all that great. (Much more expensive is the immense amount of paid vacations, often cashed out years later.)

    The city electrician, for example, will work four days this week instead of five. If he has 40 hours of electrification to mind to, he will have to pack that into the days he is on the job.

    But for cops and firefighters, who already have tremendously generous compensation packages, so many paid holidays from the taxpayers is costly on a cash out basis. If I am reading their contracts correctly, every cop and firefighter working today (as well as any non-sworn civilians) gets time and one-half for working on a holiday. Because the gonifs and wifebeaters and child molesters don’t take Presidents’ Day off, neither do our police officers. So in place of one force, today we are paying for a force and a half. All of this at a time when we cannot afford to fill many city positions and most have to take furloughs and our streets cannot be maintained. (And as an aside, all cops are getting a 3.5% pay increase come this July 1. The firefighters, who generally make more money than the cops, are getting a 1% raise in salary on July 1, though that salary follows a substantial cut in pay back on December 16, 2009.)

  8. David Suder

    [quote]Nobody is at fault here, and pointing fingers would be materially counterproductive.[/quote]
    That is a very generous point of view, Mr. Boylan. IMHO, those councimembers who supported unsustainable compensation policy and “negotiation” teams rife with conflicts of interest have significant culpabilty for the situation in which the City finds itself today, as do former city managers and staff who downplayed the City’s financial situation as the problems expanded (in some cases, to their personal gain).

    It’s not like our current fiscal problem fell, unanticipated, out of the clear blue sky. Councilmember Sue Greenwald and columnnist Rich Rifkin (to name two) have been warning of the consequences of imprudent City fiscal policy for years. Unfortunately, the majority of the previous several Councils apparently embraced the “obvious charms” and more publicly palatable head-in-the-sand approach that served only to accelerate the problem in which we find ourselves today.

    I understand the reason for your reluctance to assign blame given your current status as an applicant for the fifth Council position, and agree that “pointing fingers” would, indeed, be unproductive in the Council’s current deliberations. However, voters should certainly consider the past actions (and inactions) of some of our local politicians at the next election.

  9. Avatar

    Rich ,

    “””” If I am reading their contracts correctly, every cop and firefighter working today (as well as any non-sworn civilians) gets time and one-half for working on a holiday. “””””

    Why don’t you and David have a meeting with the police and fire chief , your accuracy might improve .

  10. Rifkin

    [i]”Why don’t you and David have a meeting with the police and fire chief, your accuracy might improve.”[/i]

    Bobby, if you know of any inaccuracies in my words, please feel free to correct me. You might also enjoy reading my piece on Libya ([url]http://lexicondaily.blogspot.com/2011/02/libya-end-of-road-for-kaddafis-tyranny.html[/url]).

  11. civil discourse

    The kids should have come first. Publicly slandering them was a very poor choice for a coach in a position of authority. Especially since they were innocent. Things like that change a young persons life. In this case they’ll learn what jerks adults can be, which will make them stronger in the long run.

  12. Paul Nicolas Boylan

    [quote]I understand the reason for your reluctance to assign blame given your current status as an applicant for the fifth Council position[/quote]

    Forgive my bluntness, but you do not understand. Allow me to elaborate for the sake of enhanced clarity:

    I am not reluctant to assign blame because I am kissing up to the City Council members that are going to decide whether or not to appoint me to the City Council. Neither reluctance nor my desire to fill the vacancy factor into my advice to avoid casting blame for our current predicament. I base my recommendation on many years of experience negotiating difficult labor issues. My experience teaches me that it is a bad idea and poor initial strategy to cast blame for the kinds of problems Davis is facing. Pointing fingers causes people to vehemently defend their positions, decisions and actions, and when that happens any attempt to negotiate an agreement to fix the City’s unfunded mandate problems will fail. Period.

    My advice to avoid casting blame is based in the pragmatic reality that the longer this problem lasts, the more difficult, expensive and painful it will be to solve. Assigning blame wastes time. If I have any say in the matter, the very first thing I will attempt to do will be to assist the various stake holders to avoid either casting or being the target of blame. Then, and only then, can the problem be squarely confronted.

    I realize this isn’t emotionally satisfying. I am hoping a higher goal is perceived. Our goal isn’t emotional satisfaction. The job at hand is to avoid a looming disaster so that we can keep our parks open, our roads repaired, continue to develop our downtown and maintain if not improve the Davis quality of life. None of that can or will happen if we fail to effectively address the unfunded mandate issues – and choosing not to cast blame maximizes the chances of success.

  13. hpierce

    Paul… right or wrong (and I’m thinkin’ right, as I can “dumb-thumb”), one of the conventions on this site is we don’t focus on spelling, nor grammar [harder for me to deal with]…
    Emergency services personnel have weird hours… http://cityofdavis.org/cmo/hr/pdf/fire-mou.pdf shows the provisions for time worked on ‘holidays’. http://cityofdavis.org/cmo/hr/pdf/DPOA-mou.pdf is the Police MOU. There are a few other operations that need to be staffed 24/7/365(6). After all, you all expect the brown/yellow stuff to be removed from your home and not wind up (un-treated) in the Bay when you turn the little handle on the ceramic throne. Other employees who work on “holidays” get “in-lieu” time, which doesn’t necessarily have a ‘premium’ attached. All MOU’s governing conditions of employment are on the City website.

  14. Rifkin

    [i]”In the short time I’ve been participating here you misspelled ‘parallel’ twice.”[/i]

    Well, okay, but as you know, the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer is parallax.

  15. David Suder

    [quote]Forgive my bluntness, but you do not understand. Allow me to elaborate for the sake of enhanced clarity:[/quote]
    PB, you certainly know your own motivation better than anyone else can.

    However, there’s an ocean of difference between “not pointing fingers” and “nobody is at fault.” I’m fine with you not pointing fingers, whether or not you are appointed to the Council.

    What I’m not OK with is the premise that nobody is to blame for either failing to mitigate, or perhaps exacerbating, the deterioration of our city’s financial problems. As pointed out in my previous post, the problems were identified and warned of long ago. Yet previous Council majority members and our previous city managers continued to make optimistic projections, tell us everything is OK, and pat themselves on the back while failing to take the steps that could have at least partially avoided the situation in which we find ourselves today.

    Do you agree that those who represent themselves as being qualified to make financial decisions on behalf of the citizens of Davis should be held accountable for those decisions?

  16. E Roberts Musser

    DS: “IMHO, those councimembers who supported unsustainable compensation policy and “negotiation” teams rife with conflicts of interest have significant culpabilty for the situation in which the City finds itself today, as do former city managers and staff who downplayed the City’s financial situation as the problems expanded (in some cases, to their personal gain).

    It’s not like our current fiscal problem fell, unanticipated, out of the clear blue sky. Councilmember Sue Greenwald and columnnist Rich Rifkin (to name two) have been warning of the consequences of imprudent City fiscal policy for years. Unfortunately, the majority of the previous several Councils apparently embraced the “obvious charms” and more publicly palatable head-in-the-sand approach that served only to accelerate the problem in which we find ourselves today.”

    Nicely said. If we don’t hold politicians accountable for what they do/don’t do, then we get what we get, to put not too fine a point on it. To hold politicians accountable for what they have done also gives us a better idea of what standards should apply to current City Council members in deciding whether they are making good faith attempts to address current problems. Assessing responsibility is an important part of the assessment process for both City Council members and voters…

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