On Monday night, all five Davis City Council candidates met in the Sanctuary of the Davis Community Church at the Community Values Forum where the council candidates were asked a different set of questions.
According to the billing, “This forum was a big success when it was first held, before the last city council election in 2012. It is a unique opportunity to engage with the candidates themselves before our upcoming election. Questions will focus on the candidates’ understanding of the values held by the greater Davis community, as well as the personal characteristics the candidates possess for leading our fair city. Questions will focus less on specific issues and more on underlying values and priorities that guide each candidate’s decision-making. Example topics may include: social justice, conflict management, communication, social ethics and leadership style.”
Question: Please describe for us how your own personal values and/ or spiritual life motivate your professional and how these values translate into actions that set you apart from other candidates?
Sheila Allen: I grew up in a very small town, rural Wisconsin where literally everyone was my family and that is the kind of place where you knew your neighbors and you took care of your neighbors and it was family, even if you actually weren’t related to them. Even though I long left that town as I went off to Madison for undergraduate school, I keep that in my heart that my neighbors are like my family. When I decided to run for city council and I had my kitchen table discussion and brought together some people, I thought what should the theme for my campaign be… A theme in my life is about caring and about neighbors. That’s what my campaign has been about.
Robb Davis: Rather than focus on values in general, if you allow me to focus on a value that I hold very dear, to demonstrate how I’m bringing it into the work of the city council. A value that is very important to me is a fundamental belief that we are all gifted in different ways. And that the gifts that we have, we have for the common good. We have the opportunity to serve and share who we are with the gifts that have been given to us, but it’s imperative that we give them to one another… How that works out in my work around the world and what I hope to achieve on the city council is that if we’re fundamentally all gifted, then when you’re on a team of five, you begin to seek out the gifts of the others to begin to complete your own gifts. You build trust in the reality that they’re going to bring something that you won’t bring, that they’re going to help solve a problem that you don’t have the full answer to.
John Munn: I want to be clear that I’m running for city council to work together for fiscal sustainability. There are people who can’t afford to live here and there is no other hidden agenda. The primary value that I would bring to the city is openness and transparency. So we all know what’s available and what’s needed… My personal values come from my 1950s rural upbringing. They are typical to the point of being a stereotype of that time and that place. Characteristics that I value that I hope to possess include honesty, truthfulness, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, and the American Way. I share these values with the other candidates I’m sure, I’m not unique… I think a person’s true values are reflected in the way they live and conduct themselves.
Daniel Parrella: My values are a byproduct of this town. It was at this nursery school that I learned the value of this community. To this day it’s still a parent cooperative. Parents come in to help out with arts and crafts and mathematics. It’s a wonderful way of a child being raised by having a whole bunch of people coming together. It was at Fairfield where I learned, we had a garden plot at Fairfield Elementary school and that’s where I had a strong bond with the environment. It was driving down Pole Line road where I first saw solar panels for the first time and my father and I hopped the fence to take a look at it. It’s a big reason why I eventually started my own business in solar industry. It was at the high school when budget cuts were happening and my favorite teachers were being pink-slipped that we went to the school board… protesting the decision made. At the time we really didn’t know what was going on, but it was still powerful for me to realize that a group of people can be more influential than just one person acting by themselves… He said he wanted to influence change in the community, “and if you want to influence change, you have to be willing to step up to the plate and do it yourself.”
Rochelle Swanson: Like all of us, where we come from has a lot to do with what our perspective is. I was raised in Ashland, Oregon. One of the things that really sticks with me is it’s a community that cares about each other really focuses on being non-judgmental and being open to people of all walks of life… It’s not a big leap to understand why I came to Davis to go to school. I looked around at schools and I went down Russell Blvd. and I was hooked because it felt like home. As far as my professional life, being raised that family is incredibly important and learning to give back to your community, I purposely carved out a professional life where I mostly worked out of my home, I telecommuted a lot, that’s been true whether it’s San Francisco, or Washington or any other state. So that I could always be volunteering… It hasn’t always been easy when you have that flexibility, it’s kind of a false sense of flexibility. It means you actually can work 20 hours a day sometimes because you’re not punching a clock.
Question: In the absence of complete information about your constituents’ beliefs and opinions, how do you decide how to vote? And when might you vote against a strong vocal subset of your constituents?
John Munn: I’m going to start again by stating that I’m running for city council to help get the city’s financial house in order. I think it’s also relevant to this question to repeat that I’m not running with a hidden agenda, the voters are going to get what I said and what I appear to be. As an elected official, my votes would first be based on the positions I’ve taken as part of this campaign which voters are relying on to decide how I’m going to vote on. And then on principles that I have expressed that are implicit in the remarks and conduct that I’ve taken on during the campaign. I think what I am and what I stand for is pretty well known in Davis, I’ve been here for a long time. I think my record shows that I’m not dogmatic about solving problems. This makes it less likely that subsets of my constituents are going to think that I actually am voting against them if they know what to expect in the first place.
Daniel Parrella: The first part is the best question of them all, that’s basically when do you vote against the majority… I thought long and hard about that. I always think of myself as the swing vote on the council… it’s two against, two for… it’s one of those issues where you can see both sides of the argument, which way do you vote? I would say that I would be willing to vote against the majority if I believe that fifty years from now my decision would make Davis a better place to be.
Rochelle Swanson: It is true, there is always a vocal – not always opposition, sometimes it’s support – a lot of very well-meaning people. The first part of your question is trying to look at what your decision-making (is) even if you can’t relate. While that’s true, you never know what’s coming before you… It’s completely different when you’re there, so how someone makes a decision is important. You do have to look beyond the people that are the audience… She went on to discuss her decision making process on affordable housing and how it was rooted in her own experience.
Sheila Allen: I have had a number of tough decisions during the time I was on the school board, and I was trying to decide which one I was going to talk about. I’m going to talk a little bit about the closure of Valley Oak. It’s not something that I voted for. I thought it was the wrong school to close because it affected the most vulnerable children in our whole school district. There were some other schools that could potentially be closed, but there was very loud, vocal groups of parents who said not our school. Nobody wants their school closed, it was a very difficult process to go through… It was a 3-2 vote and I was on the losing side and I knew which direction we were going but I knew that in my heart that I had to take a stand for those kids who were going to have a harder time going to school… When making tough decisions, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t but the most important thing is to really listen carefully to the community and then also listen to your heart, I vote with my mind also but I do listen to my heart, and then if it doesn’t turn out as you would like to have, that it’s the smoothest transition possible for the community that’s affected.
Robb Davis: Making decisions with incomplete information is the way it always is. I don’t think I’ve ever made a major decision where I’ve had absolute clarity and all the evidence I needed. That’s just the way life is. Three things come to mind as to how to deal with this issue. First, the expression of opinions, the expression of positions of very vocal one, the first thing that I by default – this comes from conflict resolution – people hold positions but underlying the positions are needs, are interests, and so the very first step as an elected official is to first attempt to understand, what’s the need underlying this… Second, I will use evidence and I always have used evidence in decision-making – again evidence is always limited. Two recent decisions that I’ve taken heat for in this campaign – the Fifth Street Redesign and the Downtown Parking Task Force, in both cases the way I used evidence was to ask what is the end we’re trying to achieve… The third thing that comes to my mind is that when a decision is made I should be prepared to give the rationale and reason I made the decision. That I commit to do. If we disagree, I will tell you this was the basis of my decision.
Question: The term social-justice generally refers to institutions that enable people to lead a fulfilling life and be active contributors to their community, the relevant institutions can include education, health care, social security, labor rights as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equality of opportunity and lack of gross inequality of outcome, what do you think is the number one social justice issue facing Davis right now?
Rochelle Swanson: I would say social justice, while I respect that you listed a bunch of institutions, it’s really about people to people. We have a lot of fine people in this city, I would wager I’m the only person sitting up here who awoken to have a racial slur in whipping cream in the front yard on the walkway from Margarite Montgomery. A lot of people don’t want to see that’s also part of Davis. It’s a tough part of Davis, we feel good about certain things. People will say one thing during public comment and then pick up the phone and say can we meet for coffee, I’m really disturbed about downtown, disturbed about the homeless. I’m disturbed that we let these people do things. That to me is our number one social justice, it’s about looking towards ourselves, we’re all born with biases, we’re all human.
Sheila Allen: Social justice is about the right service at the right time. I don’t necessarily believe that government is the answer to every individual’s ill-will. But I do believe that it is part of the solution and that really the solution comes from the community. As elected officials we should be community leaders and hopefully are working in tandem with people in the community. But the ability to address whichever social deficit, social need comes before us, I can’t choose a priority but I can tell you homelessness is very important, the shear lack of drug and alcohol treatment in this county is just horrendous. Nationally the deficit for care for the mentally ill, those are the first three that come (to mind) – social services is another thing. We need to grapple with those not necessarily through government only – granted we do have budget issue. I’d just like to point out that a budget is a statement of our values.
Robb Davis: I think fundamentally justice is about the way we don’t use power appropriately. It’s an inappropriate use of power that’s detrimental to the health and well-being of the people. I think as elected officials our power is within the budgeting process. Our power is also about the way we talk about things, challenges in our community and begin to seek solutions together. Whether it’s a strictly state provided solution or whether it’s a state mobilizing resources of volunteers and others to achieve certain ends. To me the greatest injustice we face in this community and many communities that I’ve been in, is the injustice of not valuing the narrative of the most vulnerable in our community. Of not wanting to know the story. Of not wanting to bothered with what we might see. Of being afraid of even staring into our own brokenness when you look into the brokenness of another person. So we push down, we push out, we don’t want to hear the stories.
John Munn: I’m sure we have lots of issues in Davis, I can think of lots of issues in Davis that would qualify as social justice issues. But when I think of how to solve them, what I keep coming back to is once again that I’m running to try to solve the city’s fiscal problems. How does that relate to social justice issues? A simple statement that ties it together is that a state, that’s going broke can’t provide the safety net programs that we need in order to address social justice problems. In my view we need to get our own house in order so that we reach out and help other people.
Daniel Parrella: Most of the time when people think of substance abuse issues and mental health issues, they think of homelessness. I think of students. I think that we have a massive student populace in town that have a lot of the same issues as the homeless population. I view them as the single most pressing social justice issue we have in this town. The 5000 more that we’ll have by 2021, we don’t really have room for them, we don’t have the resources to deal with their many needs. Similar to the homeless issue, they have very little political influence. For the most part, there’s a large portion of the Davis population that kind of views them as a nuisance – they get drunk a lot, urinate in public, they’re noisy.
Question: I’m sure you’re all aware of the work that local faith communities have done and continue to do in providing for otherwise underserved populations, please tell us about one group of people or animals that you believe is currently in need of an advocate in our community and you propose to address this.
Robb Davis: I think people who have experienced long periods of on and off incarceration, many of them with specific mental health issues and broken relationships that have led them down a path, who may and probably are self-medicating, I think there’s a lot we can do – it’s interesting that you used the word advocate – there are communities around the nation who are using the word advocate in the idea of someone coming along side, not someone defending, not an advocate who waves a flag for them, but someone who comes along side to walk with them. That’s the kind of advocacy I think we’re really on the cusp of being able to develop.
John Munn: The question is I think, what group needs an advocate. If I had to choose, this is mainly because we have talked about this before… is homelessness. That’s a problem that we seem to facing an increasing degree now in Davis which may have things to do with the economy, which may have things to do with the way that the prison population has been shifted from state facilities to local facilities. Whatever the reason, we do seem to be having a growing population of homeless people that are in town and we need to figure out a way to be taken care of… What the city needs to avoid is getting in the way.
Daniel Parrella: The people I would I like to be an advocate for are the people who can longer afford the tuition at UC Davis. I had to take a break from my college education because I couldn’t handle the debt anymore. I didn’t want a minimum wage job so I decided to start my own business… I think with tuition rising, with rent rising, there are thousands of people in Davis who meet a similar description as my own, who can no long afford the tuition at UC Davis and have to try to find a job in a job market that usually depends on a college education in order to find a really good job. The solution for that is to really focus on the jobs ends of things. I really believe there are jobs out there that you do not need a college education for.
Rochelle Swanson: For me it would be mental health and I think the answer is an ombudsman, we have an ombudsman who works with the police department. I think there are a lot of groups that can come together in town, it doesn’t necessarily need to be city funded. I believe in partnerships, I believe there are a lot of great groups in the county and the city that could help to a partnership to cover that… We have a lot of issues that have come down and been left at the local city level and it’s very unfortunate because a lot of these choices that are made at the state and the federal level, fall into our hands and we don’t get enough funding.
Sheila Allen: I have some ideas regarding older adult services that I’m hoping that organizations like the faith community or other ones can help. I’d like to see an adopt-a-grandparent… That helps both young children to see older people and the wise information and the wonderfulness of grandparents. That helps in an isolating time if an older adult is here by themselves… She also mentioned adult-day care and with the older tsunami we need to have another site in Davis.