Sunday Commentary: Asleep at the Switch, Yet Blaming Others

Share:

City-Budget-FlyerIn Bob Dunning’s column this morning, he accuses the city of Davis of breaking the law, calling an insert placed into the public’s April 2014 utility bills a “campaign piece.”

Mr. Dunning writes, “It’s no surprise that city officials want us to vote ‘yes’ in June on the proposed half-percent sales tax increase that is mistakenly being billed as a half-cent sales tax increase.”  He continues, “As such, members of the Davis City Council are free to write op-eds or letters to the editor or one-sided ballot arguments or offer their opinions at forums, coffees and neighborhood gatherings. They can even send out glossy, full-color brochures if they wish.”

“The only thing they can’t do is spend your dime or my dime on such activities,” he writes.  Mr. Dunning uses someone named Bill as a surrogate here, arguing, “The city’s mailing may violate Fair Political Practices Commission rules against using public money to advocate for ballot measures.”

Mr. Dunning continues, “In other words, while the city is free to use public dollars to send out basic information, it can’t advocate on one side or the other for something that people will be voting on.”

We have been through this issue before – as long as the city or any government agency does not state, Vote Yes on Measure O, there is no violation.

Mr. Dunning argues, “One of the measuring sticks the FPPC uses in determining whether a public agency has stepped over the legal line is the use of ‘argumentative’ language.”  He then writes, “For my money, given that we’re within two months of an election, any mailing from the city detailing what will or won’t happen if Measure O does or doesn’t pass is highly suspect.”

But notice that Bob Dunning shifts from the legal line (without citing policy or case law) to arguing his own point of view.  Recall that during the Measure I campaign he was certain that courts would throw out the rate structure on the basis of his analysis, while Judge Dan Maguire specifically pointed out the flaws of Mr. Dunning’s analysis.

Mr. Dunning then goes on to argue, “If city officials wish to convince us that Davis will become Woodland if we don’t vote ‘yes’ on Measure O, they should form a campaign committee, solicit donations and send out as many doom-and-gloom scenarios as they wish.”

Believe they have done that.  But the question here is whether the city has an obligation to educate the citizens on the facts.

Mr. Dunning counters, “While the city will no doubt claim the mailer deals simply in facts, many of those ‘facts’ scream for a rebuttal from those who oppose this measure.”

City-Budget-Flyer-2 City-Budget-Flyer-1

The city’s piece notes, “As stewards of public funds, we are committed to maintaining financial responsibility for public services. A tool to achieve this is an adopted balanced budget. However, despite spending cuts and reductions over the last few years, projections show a budget shortfall for the general fund. Over the next few months, Council members will deliberate a proposed budget with potential solutions to help close the gap.”

These are all facts – the city has a budget shortfall and this past week council deliberated on what the budget cuts might look like, with the tax measure passing and without.

The city then explains what the budget is, how it is structured, and what the general fund is.

Finally, it discusses what the budget challenge is.  They write, “What is the City’s budget challenge? Projections show a $5.1 million general fund deficit for 2014-15 growing to a $7 million shortfall in 2018-19. While the City continues to improve efficiencies, the City must secure additional revenue streams to avoid cuts to services like police, fire, parks and recreation and infrastructure maintenance.”

That is a statement of fact.  The city is not allowed to run a deficit so they either must secure additional revenue streams or they must make cuts.

The city then explains how it got to this point where we need to cut.

Next they talk about what the city is doing to balance the budget.  “The City created a budget plan based on input from a citizen focus group and various community organizations. The plan includes reduction steps, a proposed sales tax measure (Measure O) and increased economic development strategies compatible with Davis values. City Council is also considering a proposed parcel tax for the November ballot.”

Here they told the residents what the city is proposing.  That proposal includes Measure O.  Nowhere do they tell the voters they should or they have to vote for Measure O.

Finally, the city provides the language of Measure O and presents the facts for what Measure O will do.

The city writes, “Proposed Measure O will add funds for community services.”

They write: “This June, the ballot will include a proposed sales tax measure called Measure O. The proposed measure will ask voters to extend Davis’s existing half-cent sales tax and approve an additional half-cent increase through 2020.

“Projections show the proposed half-cent sales tax will bring in an additional $3.7 million annually. The City will use the additional revenue to fund services like parks, landscaping and street maintenance. If voters reject Measure O, the City Council will need to make cuts to address the shortfall.

“Of the current 8 percent sales tax, the City receives 1.5 percent of the tax with the state and county receiving the remaining 6.5 percent. If Measure O is approved, the Davis sales tax will be 8.5 percent with 2 percent going to the City.”

Nowhere here does the city say vote for Measure O, all they do is explain the shortfall, explain what Measure O does, and explain what will happen if it does not pass.  This is almost by the books.

Bottom line is that the city has the right to do that, and anyone who attempts to challenge them will be smacked down by a court of law.

The concerning thing here is that basically Mr. Dunning is arguing that any attempt to inform the public at this stage of the process is suspect.    Again, as he argues, “For my money, given that we’re within two months of an election, any mailing from the city detailing what will or won’t happen if Measure O does or doesn’t pass is highly suspect.”

That’s certainly not the legal standard.  The city has not only the right to educate the public, but the obligation.

For my money, Mr. Dunning has every right to complain about the city using its resources to educate the public on the fiscal crisis because he has done such yeoman work in doing it himself.  After all, he has presented us column after column highlighting the dangers of runaway labor costs, the influence of the firefighters’ union, and long term costs implications of unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health.

Oh wait, that was Rich Rifkin.  I do not actually recall Bob Dunning writing anything on these problems.  A google search for Bob Dunning and unfunded liabilities turned up nothing that he had written on the matter.  I couldn’t find him laying out the dangers of deferred maintenance, calling out previous councils for their bait and switch balanced budgets.

It seems that The Wary I has been just as asleep at the switch as the citizens of Davis as to our fiscal crisis.  And after completely failing the public on this issue, he is now attacking the city for belatedly attempting to educate the citizens in areas where he has completely failed.

Without the work of Rich Rifkin, the Enterprise’s readership might be completely unaware of this problem.  How Mr. Dunning could simply ignore a crisis of this magnitude is frankly mindboggling.

How Mr. Dunning can bring up PG&E and the $1 million for the POU when we are facing tens of millions in unfunded liabilities for pensions and health care, and into the $100 millions for roads, parks, and other infrastructures.  Again, none of these have been covered by Mr. Dunning over the years.

At some point one must ask, why is that?  And why does he protest this after missing so much bigger problems in the city over the years?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

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.

Related posts

37 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Asleep at the Switch, Yet Blaming Others”

  1. Tia Will

    “Again, none of these have been covered by Mr. Dunning over the years. At some point one must ask, why is that?”

    I would propose one possible answer to that question. Mr. Dunning is a humorist.

    Unlike Mr. Rifkin who actually writes about real world problems and potential solutions using an evidence based approach ( whether or not we are in agreement with his conclusions being irrelevant), Mr. Dunning is almost invariably pointing out his personal perception, often free of any corroborating evidence, data , or “facts” in what many appreciate for its humor or “snarkiness” depending on one’s point of view.

    What is of interest to me is that there seem to be a number of members of our community who do not seem to be able to differentiate between these two forms of communication. They seem to accept Mr. Dunning’s musings with the same degree of belief that they would give to Mr. Rifkin’s or Mr. Greenwald’s attempts at reporting and analysis, and potentially more credibility than they would give to the communications of the CC. Amazing !

    1. Don Shor

      Mr. Dunning is a humorist.

      Well, except that on the water project Bob wrote dozens and dozens of columns during the discussion leading up to the council and public votes. They weren’t, largely, humor columns. And it was pretty clear which side of the issue he was on. He has expressed support for the right of Harrington et al. to sue, but never, to my knowledge, questioned the merits of their suits.

      1. Tia Will

        Don

        I agree with your point that this particular set of articles tended to be humor free. However, they were still largely based on his point of view rather than a factual or evidence based approach.

        1. Davis Progressive

          do you believe he should write whatever he wants because he is a humorist and not be held accountable for when he is wrong or the damage he does?

          look, everyone has a first amendment right to speech, but exercising that right should mean that they have to be held accountable in the marketplace of ideas?

          1. Tia Will

            ” exercising that right should mean that they have to be held accountable in the marketplace of ideas?”

            Absolutely ! And I think that is exactly what you and I are doing here this morning. Unfortunately, Mr. Dunning has a regular soapbox on which to speak to the entire community where as you and are limited by our career and life choices to a much smaller “soapbox”.

            There are many times when I have missed having a countering voice to that of Mr. Dunning in the Enterprise, and indeed, countering his and similar opinions was one of the reasons I started posting on the Vanguard.

          2. Matt Williams

            We had that in iPadGuy, and drove him away. Makes you wonder if we really do want a contrarian voice.

    2. Davis Progressive

      “Mr. Dunning is a humorist.”

      while i respect you tia, i’m sick of this notion that dunning is a humorist. he can be a humorist, but there is no doubt that he crosses the line of humor into issue advocacy often with poorly constructed arguments, thin research, and overutilization of his own views. he has cost the city and school district large amounts of money at times. he makes accusations such as today that are not rooted in humor. and whenever someone calls him on it, we are told that it’s funny. sometimes it’s funny, but sometimes he’s mean, vicious, and irresponsible.

      1. Tia Will

        DP

        I was not making this comment to in any way exonerate or excuse Mr. Dunning from the adverse consequences of his style or writing. I agree with your characterization of him fully and feel that his comments frequently affect the conversation negatively with serious consequences.

        My point was that his columns ought not to be taken seriously….and unfortunately are, if one gives credence to the number of people who paraphrase him to strengthen their arguments on various issues.

        1. Davis Progressive

          but they are being taken seriously. harrington put his water stuff into the lawsuit. harrington and dunning were wrong. granda filed suit on the half-cent when hundreds of localities including the attorney general’s office use that term. now you have an allegation by dunning that the city violated the law and his own basis was his own view. you are right, it’s just that he is.

          1. Tia Will

            We seem to be on a roll of agreement this morning. I even, inadvertently parroted the expression you used ,”nitpicking” in my comment entered slightly after yours in response to Barack Palin.

    3. Alan Miller

      “What is of interest to me is that there seem to be a number of members of our community who do not seem to be able to differentiate between these two forms of communication . . . and potentially [give] more credibility [to Dunning] than they would give to the communications of the CC.”

      Ironically, the most visible member of our community that does this is the writer of this blog. Just sayin’.

  2. Davis Progressive

    dunning makes a lot of accusations about impropriety. his last set of allegations induced granda to sue the city. fortunately granda was incompetent and the cost was minimized, but dunning wrong on the law in terms of half-cent/ half-a-percent

    second, under the law, the city has the right to present the facts, tell the voters the challenges faced, what the measure will do and even what the consequences are if it does not pass.

    what they can’t do is tell the voters how to vote or that if they fail to vote for measure o there will be consequences.

    bob dunning’s judgment here is questionable. you have the example of his misunderstanding of prop 218 law, and the half-cent. his arguments clearly caused granda to sue the city, fortunately granda was incompetent and failed to properly file or do so in a timely manner which minimized the cost.

    in this case, dunning either doesn’t understand the law or makes up his own law.

    for my money he argues the latter when he writes, “For my money, given that we’re within two months of an election, any mailing from the city detailing what will or won’t happen if Measure O does or doesn’t pass is highly suspect.”

    the city of course has the write to educate the voters on what measure o does and why the city needs additional revenue as long as they never cross the line into telling the voters they should vote one way or another. the city doesn’t even enter a gray area here and it’s clear that dunning’s standard is his own view, not the view of the law.

    which gets us to david’s main point which is that dunning has been negligent on the issue of the fiscal crisis. he was asleep at the switch for all of those years where this was ramped up. he was more concerned with making sure the city and other government entities properly punctuated their statements rather than properly funded employee benefits. so he’s responsible and yet playing bait and switch and distraction games again.

      1. Davis Progressive

        because his column came out and a few days later granda filed the suit almost word for word. in the water law suit, harrington actually quoted dunning.

          1. Davis Progressive

            who cares???? it’s my opinion that i’m writing. i’m not a journalist, i’m an anonymous poster. quit nitpicking and worry about you’re own crap.

          2. Barack Palin

            Well, you’re all over Dunning for not being factual then you want to post something as fact when in fact it’s not a fact. Don’t you think that’s crap.

  3. Tia Will

    Barack Palin

    While induced may be too definitive a word, I think that it is clear that this particular line of thinking ( erroneous though it may be legally speaking) is clearly shared by Mr. Granda, Mr. Harrington, and Mr. Dunning with Mr. Dunning serving as the mouthpiece for this point of view in what is arguably the “biggest voice in town”, the Enterprise.

    Whether one considers this “inducement” or merely “stage setting” I think is a matter of linguistic nit picking.

  4. Frankly

    I agree with Dunning in general here, but there is a problem in that the budget issues are complex.

    Here is how I would frame the issue. It is a symptom of lazy journalism.

    If journalists and their editors and media bosses would do the difficult work to research and report on these complex issues in a succinct and accurate way, then the politicians would not be stuck having to come up with creative ways to inform the voting public.

    Dunning might not be the one to blame for this given his role in the business… but his business is certainly to blame for the lowered standards of journalism that have me asking the question do we really have journalists, or is everyone working for the entertainment industry.

        1. Tia Will

          Frankly

          I agree with you that Dunning is not to blame here. I lay the blame on anyone who agrees with his position uncritically. Please do not read this to mean that you are doing so. Although we often disagree, I believe that your positions usually ( although not always) are well thought out and at least based on some data. This is frequently not true of Dunning. Where I place the blame is on those who blindly accept his “sound bite”, “humorous” brand of writing as something to be weighed equally with actual reporting, news analysis, and the informational pieces issued by the city.

          1. Frankly

            Tia:

            Dunning has been against things that I supported, and has been against things that I have not supported. In fact, Dunning is reliably against most things that he writes about. I see it as being part of his shtick… a humorous contrarian.

            But I think more times that not, Dunning’s views are in conflict with Davis’s liberal progressive views. So, I understand the irritation he causes Davis’s liberal progressives, because conservatives like me develop the same from the national mainstream media… otherwise known as the lapdogs of the Democrat party.

            It is really irritating to see facts ignored or changed to suit a specific political tilt against what you know and what you know to be accurate.

            I’m at least happy to know that Dunning helps you and DP get to experience a tiny bit of what I consistently experience.

            Speaking of the media being the Democrat lapdogs… I am reading a good book “FDR’s Funeral Train” and it accounts how the press corps protected him by not reporting any of his infidelity. Same with Kennedy. So it is true that the press/media has been more reliably in support of the Democrats and ideological left. I think the reason this had been largely overlooked is/was that Democrats enjoyed the underdog party consideration. They are the Party supposedly for the little guy, the underdog and the worker… i.e., the underpowered. But with the explosion in the growth of government and the same in political power from public employee unions… combined with a flood of poor and uneducated immigrants that the Democrats have done well to empower and program to vote Democrat… no longer is the Democrat party the underdog. And now the left-tilt of the main media is a real problem related to political balance and fairness. Now it is corruption.

            The problem as I see it… it is not just irritation anymore. People are really getting pissed off about the role of the media in politics and the lack of separation between state and press.

            We need a revolution of higher expectation for the once noble profession of journalism… one that justifies the exceptional benefit of constitutional protection provided. If you are entertainment or a tool of politicians, you are not entitled to the same. If you are truly the independent press (news media) then you should be held accountable to a professional code of ethics, but then provided the utmost protection for your role.

            I see Dunning as not beholding to any party or ideology. He might be divisive and irritating, but he is completely independent in his thinking, and that is exactly what we should value and demand.

          2. wdf1

            Frankly: Speaking of the media being the Democrat lapdogs… I am reading a good book “FDR’s Funeral Train” and it accounts how the press corps protected him by not reporting any of his infidelity. Same with Kennedy. So it is true that the press/media has been more reliably in support of the Democrats and ideological left.

            If that’s the case, then perhaps you can point to equivalent major non-Democrats of the day whom the press was all too willing to out for equivalent infidelities?

            I suspect that rather than necessarily being evidence of favoritism toward Democrats and the political left, it was the nature of the “respectable mainstream” press to turn a blind eye to extra-marital dalliances without regard to political orientation.

          3. Frankly

            Republican presidents apparently did not have the same problems with infidelity as Democrats have.

            But you can just look at the attention given to Nixon compared to any Democrat. Obama’s IRSgate issues are orders of magnitude more damaging and corruptive to our democratic system than was anything Nixon was connected with. But the mainstream Democrat lapdogs know where their bread is buttered.

          4. Don Shor

            one that justifies the exceptional benefit of constitutional protection provided. If you are entertainment or a tool of politicians, you are not entitled to the same.

            Not true. The First Amendment isn’t an “exceptional benefit.” It protects practically every form of speech you can think of, including massive amounts of campaign cash. You seem to have a strange and narrow view of the Bill of Rights.

          5. Frankly

            It seems that the passing of the Fairness Doctrine demonstrates that you are the one with a narrow view of this topic. Reagan repealed it, and Nancy Pelosi attempted to resurrect it again during the Bush Presidency and due to the fact that Cable and radio news still had not converted to Democrat lapdogs and appear to be the only thing blocking a complete take-over by the left.

            From the perspective of original intent of the framers that we were talking about periodic pamphlets and newspapers and not 24×7 electronic information and that a free press serves the republic with a wide dissemination of information from diverse and even antagonistic sources (and not a giant, aligned propaganda tool of one party over another)… essential to the public welfare and to a healthy democracy… the extent and scope of protection is absolutely subject to ongoing debate and court review.

            Freedom of the press was established for the primary reason that it perform as the forth branch of government to keep Democracy checked and balanced. If the media becomes corrupted to one side over the other, then it no longer serves that intended purpose and will be subject to justified challenge no matter that you disagree because that corruption suits your ideological bent.

          6. Don Shor

            But “Pelosi” did not succeed in what you call her “attempt to resurrect it” so your argument is moot. And in case you hadn’t noticed, there is no monolithic media or press. There is a greater diversity of viewpoints and editorial perspectives available to any consumer of news than at any time in our history. We don’t have ” a giant, aligned propaganda tool of one party over another.”

            Obama’s IRSgate issues are orders of magnitude more damaging and corruptive to our democratic system than was anything Nixon was connected with.

            Only in the fervid imagination of the far right is there any equivalence.

            But you can just look at the attention given to Nixon compared to any Democrat.

            Or, say, Bill Clinton. Oh, but that disproves your point. Sorry.

          7. Barack Palin

            Frankly:
            “But I think more times than not, Dunning’s views are in conflict with Davis’s liberal progressive views. So, I understand the irritation he causes Davis’s liberal progressives”

            There you have it. Dunning doesn’t always toe the local liberal line so in my opinion they now attack him and try and make him irrelevant in Saul Alinsky like fashion. Some seem to have an obsession with him, it’s very laughable at times. Keep up the good job Mr. Dunning, many of us enjoy your work and love how you rile up the local liberals.

  5. Barack Palin

    “Whether one considers this “inducement” or merely “stage setting” I think is a matter of linguistic nit picking.”

    I see it as Dunning expressing his opinion. If Dunning, Harrington or anyone else in the community happen to have the same opinion on some issues it doesn’t mean or make it fact that any of them were induced by the other. You often agree with David but I don’t think it was necessarily because his articles induced you to agree with him, I think you have a very intelligent and capable mind of your own and are able to form your own opinions. Would you not say the same thing for Granda and Harrington?

  6. Tia Will

    BP

    “I think you have a very intelligent and capable mind of your own and are able to form your own opinions. Would you not say the same thing for Granda and Harrington?”

    I agree with this statement as written. And I do not believe that it has anything do with the point I was making.

    I do consider Dunning to be a spoke person for a given point of view in our community. I do not know, or frankly care whether or not that “induces”, encourages, or in any way affects their choice of whether or not to engage in their “free speech” exercise which I fully support, or their legal antics designed to obstruct, which I do not support.

  7. DavisBurns

    Is Dunning a “journalist”? I don’t think he is and if that as how he thinks of himself he should take a couple of journalism classes because he isnt very good , in my humble opinion. Is he a commentator, a humorist or a sports writer? Seems like the column used to be humor and over the years he began writing occasional opinion pieces that combine his opinion with the negative perspective that dominates his”humor”. That combination is simply devisive. I thinkthe opinions he expresses and the effort he puts into them deserve to be found in the letters to the editor. His columns are simply negative rants that do the community a disservice. I avoid the column now but when I did read it, I don’t recall him supporting anything, ever.

    If time, money and energy IS spent (POU, outreach concerning anything like the info in the utility bill) he complains. Lack of outreach? He complains those in power have failed to inform the public. Probably, they were trying to put one over on us. What a loser. Ive heard him called an. “Institution”. Sometimes an institution needs to be demolished, renovated and/or repurposed. About time, I’d say. The opportunity for a Davis utility is an opportunity for us to become more independent, smaller and more responsive to our energy needs as well as save a substantial amount of money. In this time of financial shortfall we need to plan for our future and our energy future will be solar and renewables. PGE will fight that future. We should be independent. We need to raise revenue. While we may be overpaying police and firefighters, our real employment problems are due to PERS deciding for us that we should pay a higher portion of medical and retirement. We get less pass through funds than in the past. We lost redevelopment funds. I believe we get a smaller share of the gasoline sales tax than in the past which used to be the source of road repair funds (sorry I’m not certain about how that money is shared with the city). Money gets tighter and tighter for cities across California. Davis ‘s problem is not a one off. We scramble for funds to operate, budgets aren’t simple and solutions aren’t simple. Is it too much to ask the simple minded to butt out? Or try to be constructive rather than obstructionist .

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for