Vanguard Analysis: Swanson Votes to Abstain on MRAP

Mayor Wolk clarifies the vote on the MRAP as Councilmember Swanson and Mayor Pro Tem Davis look on
Mayor Wolk clarifies the vote on the MRAP as Councilmember Swanson and Mayor Pro Tem Davis look on

For a vote that did not change the outcome of the council’s decision one way or another, Rochelle Swanson’s vote on the MRAP decision by council to return the vehicle continues to generate discussion and intrigue.

Under Robert’s Rules of Order, a member has the ability to change their vote after the fact so long as no one objects. What has been less clear is what actually transpired on Tuesday night.

We provide a video clip below, but this is what we see as happening:

  • Dan Wolk calls the question
  • Rochelle Swanson appears to mouth “aye”
  • At the end of the vote Mayor Dan Wolk turns to the councilmember to ask if she voted “no” and Rochelle Swanson laughs
  • Dan Wolk states motion passes 4-1 with Councilmember Lee in dissent
  • Rochelle Swanson then calls for a break
  • Mayor Dan Wolk talks about process
  • Seven minutes later the video comes back on
  • Dan Wolk says “I want to correct the record.” He then says “I think I misheard Councilmember Swanson’s vote, but Councilmember Swanson intended to abstain on the vote that we just took”
  • At this point only three councilmembers are on the dais – Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee have not come back from break
  • Dan Wolk then asks City Attorney Harriet Steiner if that’s sufficient – we cannot see on the video what she says, but from the mayor’s reaction, she is all right with the process
  • Rochelle Swanson then briefly explains her abstention

There is some confusion at a several points here. The first is whether Councilmember Swanson voted “aye” initially. One of her colleagues told me that they thought they heard her say “aye,” but Councilmember Swanson says she said “um.”

Second, she did not appear to dispute Mayor Wolk’s declaring it a 4-1 vote. The simplest way to have handled it at that moment was to state that she was abstaining. Mayor Wolk appeared confused even at the time, asking the councilmember whether she was a no and at that moment she laughed rather than clarifying her vote.

Third, she did appear to call for a break.

Mayor Wolk declined comment and directed the Vanguard to speak with Councilmember Swanson. Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, the only other councilmember there, also declined comment.

Rochelle Swanson expressed her dismay that a procedural question would linger on such an important issue for the community, and told the Vanguard:

There seems to be a lot of speculation regarding my abstention. I did not feel comfortable supporting the motion as I feel we have yet to fully assess the underlying issues that led to the procurement of the MRAP. The process has been poor for this entire issue and I feel we, as a Council, need to right the ship by providing deliberations and a full hearing of the issues. This item was rushed to be the first item back from recess due to the surprise nature of the procurement. Further, I did not want to vote against the motion and be characterized of supporting the retention of the MRAP. I did not vote yes or no. Only three voices are recorded voting yes. There was a misunderstanding by the Mayor I voted yes and we quickly moved forward. I immediately requested a break and caucused with the City Attorney as to the appropriate remedy. At the return from recess the proper vote was recorded and I reiterated my frustration and displeasure of the process.

Watch the full video below and decide for yourself:

—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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61 Comments

        1. David Greenwald

          Because people had been talking to me about it all day on Wednesday and Thursday – on the street, in emails, text messages, and phone calls. There was enough confusion that I thought it was the best idea to write a clear and precise account as to what happened and let people hash it out, which is basically what happened.

    1. BrianRiley429

      The community of Davis is predominantly White, so that’s going to carry over to the City Council membership:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis,_California#Demographics

      Not many people are aware about this, but the City of Davis has an “original sin” associated with it from the time the University Farm was established more than 100 years ago. After the decision was made to locate the University Farm in Davis, an effort was made to push out most of the Mexican-Americans that were here (and maybe other groups as well). This was a very sad chapter in the history of Davis that has effects that last to the present day.

          1. wdf1

            Could you provide that reference to support the statement, “not allowed to return to Davis according to a recent article in the Enterprise.” I’m well aware that Davis doesn’t have a proud history on this, but there is record of Japanese Americans returning to Davis.

            Jeff Hudson’s article from 11/5/2013: Yolo at war: Internment changed many lives

            There is this about the Nishi family, for instance:

            The list of Davis internees included members of the Nishi family, who had been active in agriculture. Records indicate that Shizuo Nishi (born in 1891), Kikuyo Nishi (1896), Ellis Nishi (1919), Dick Nishi (1921), Aiko Nishi (1923), John Nishi (1927), Edward Nishi (1928), Goro Nishi (1930) and Bessie Nishi (1931) were sent first to a relocation center in Turlock, and then to an internment camp at Gila River, Ariz.

            Alice Nishi was born Alice Shigezumi in San Francisco; she was a freshman at UC Berkeley when she was sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah. It was after she returned to San Francisco following the war that she met her future husband, Dick Nishi.

            “We met in church; I was a member of a Japanese Presbyterian Church,” Alice recalled. “We got married in 1947, and moved to Davis.”

        1. BrianRiley429

          I’ll try to find a reference, Alan, if you can be patient. It shouldn’t be too much of a revelation that something like this would occur. Racist things like that were pretty much commonplace then. In fact, it wasn’t until the late date of *1952* when the US finally opened up the naturalization process to non-Whites. See:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_and_Nationality_Act_of_1952#Provisions

          Of course, the US still has not today come to terms with its racist history.

        2. Tia Will

          Alan

          You have the proof of this chapter in Davis history living across the street from you.
          I suggest you speak with my neighbor’s daughter for the historical proof as her parents and grandparents lived through it.

          1. BrianRiley429

            It’s on topic in the sense that Offering Balance (August 29, 2014 at 7:04 am) made the claim that the membership of the City Council was not properly diverse. That does to the issue of the moral fitness of the City Council to decide on the MRAP issue.

  1. Tia Will

    I agree that in this case, where there was no change in result, that this is a non issue.
    However, would anyone see it as a non issue had it made a major change in policy concerning a highly controversial issue? I was in attendance at this meeting and it was clear from comments from those surrounding me that there was surprise that “Rochelle did the right thing”, obviously in the opinion of those speaking who were in the majority. This kind of misunderstanding would have the potential for creating major discord in our community and emphasizes the need for complete clarity prior to calling the vote.

  2. Barack Palin

    She had an ample opportunity to correct Wolk at the time that he announced the 4-1 vote. She kept quiet. In my opinion what you see here is a council member who is intimidated by the crowd and that assertion I feel is backed up by her nervous laughter when Wolk asked her about her vote. I wasn’t there but I take it the crowd had dispersed making it easier for her to change her vote. Like I have been saying, the crowds intimidate the council members and policy shouldn’t possibly be determined by as Michelle Millet stated who’s the loudest.

    1. Alan Miller

      Y’know, I really think we need to pass a law in this town that the crowd be less intimidating to Council members and members of the public who are not part of the crowd. We really have a major City problem with this.

      1. Barack Palin

        Nobody is saying that the people shouldn’t have a say or that they be less intimidating, what I’m saying is that the council members should make their determinations on facts and what they feel is right and not by feeling intimidated by the number or loudness of the speakers.

    2. Tia Will

      BP

      This is one instance in which I agree with Frankly’s oft stated position that it is important to avoid “hypersensitivity”.
      Council members know, going into this very public position, that they may well have to take positions that are unpopular. It is the responsibility of the individual council member to make their own decision independent from the
      “numbers” or “who’s the loudest. Each individual member of the public’s right to express their opinion on a subject should not be sacrificed to the sensitivity of a council member to popular opinion.

      This is not the first time that we have seen public officials even openly acknowledge that the “numbers” have swayed their opinion on a subject. Because I was on the “losing” side in the fluoride controversy, I remember quite clearly the comments made by multiple council members that their opinions had been swayed by the numbers. Rochelle even stated that the comments coming in had been “7 to 1” against.

      I think that there is a fine line between considering the opinion of the majority of the speakers or authors and choosing what one honestly believes is right for the community. I respect the courage of Rochelle and all of the council members in having made the tough choice to serve our city in such a highly visible and controversial position.

    3. BrianRiley429

      No, BP. If you were paying close attention you would have seen that she was momentarily confused as to the meaning of part 1 of Robb’s motion. So it makes sense that there would be a voting slip-up.

      I’m pretty sure that it’s a fairly common thing to object to the way a vote was marked and it’s quite do-able, according to Robert’s Rules, to lodge an objection directly after the fact, before progressing to the next item on the agenda, in order to correct the vote count.

      1. Barack Palin

        Then why didn’t she say something to Dan Wolk when he announced the vote as 4-1 and why didn’t she do more than just giggle when Wolk asked her about her vote?

        1. Alan Miller

          Could be she was in a daze after listening to dozens of people testifying and trying to figure out what had transpired between the multi-layered motions and the proposed and accepted amendments.

      2. BrianRiley429

        Dunno, but those are details that are left to the judgment of the participants involved, who then have the prerogative of objecting to the vote change. They didn’t, so the vote change was allowed.

        1. Barack Palin

          Yes true, but we’re also allowed to have our own opinions as to why she conducted herself in the way she did and in my opinion she was intimidated by the crowd.

          1. Tia Will

            BP

            Whether or not anyone was or was not intimidated, what difference would that make ? The “crowd” did not do anything intimidating unless you consider expressing similar ideas to be intimidating. With the exception of a couple of comedically hyperbolic statements, which had even Rochelle laughing there was a respectful tone in the room with many commenters expressing their appreciation and respect for the police just as clearly as they were expressing their dislike of this acquisition. Intimidation, like beauty, might well be in the eye of the beholder. Then what would be your suggested remedy so that council members would not feel intimidated in the future ?

  3. Michelle Millet

    For me it’s about process. It was my understanding that the mayor repeats the vote count in order to clarify that he heard it correctly and that it gets recorded correctly. I thought it was at that point that a mistake was supposed to be corrected. I did not realize that misunderstandings could be corrected by caucusing with the city attorney during a break. I appreciate the clarification.

      1. Michelle Millet

        I personally don’t have a problem with the vote being changed. I was curious about the process of changing a vote once it had been recorded. I appreciate it being clarified.

        1. Jim Frame

          I appreciate it being clarified.

          I’m not sure it’s really been clarified. Despite the fact that in Tuesday’s instance no substantive change resulted, what if it had been a different situation? Consider the following:

          The vote is 3-2 to ditch the MRAP, with Robb, Lucas and Rochelle voting in the majority, and Brett and Dan voting “no.” During the break Rochelle decides to change her vote to “no.” Dan gavels the meeting to order while Robb and Lucas are still in the break room and calls for the change. Neither Dan nor Brett object. Is the change effective, reversing the result of the earlier recorded vote? Would Robb and Lucas in the breakroom be able to prevent the change even though they weren’t present to object? IMWTK.

          1. BrianRiley429

            I think it doesn’t actually count as being “passed” *until* the chair (mayor) moves on to the next item. At that point, it’s too late to fix a previous error. However, they could put a new motion on the floor to reverse the prior decision.

          2. Jim Frame

            I think it doesn’t actually count as being “passed” *until* the chair (mayor) moves on to the next item. At that point, it’s too late to fix a previous error.

            According to Robert’s Rules:

            A member has the right to change his vote up to the time the vote is finally announced. After that, he can make the change only by permission of the assembly, which may be given by general consent; that is, by no member’s objecting when the chair inquires if any one objects. If objection is made, a motion may be made to grant the permission, which motion is undebatable.

            I interpret this to mean that the change can be made at any time during the meeting in which the vote was held, and that it constitutes a changed vote of one member rather than a new vote by the entire body.

          3. BrianRiley429

            OK, but that doesn’t address the other aspect of what I was alluding to, which is that members have the opportunity to object to something that just happened.

            Say, for example, if the correct procedure wasn’t followed, then something that just happened could be “un-done” or “re-done”, if someone objects and their objection turns out to be valid.

          4. Jim Frame

            then something that just happened could be “un-done” or “re-done”, if someone objects and their objection turns out to be valid.

            I don’t think so. That would be a motion to reconsider, which can only be made by a member of the prevailing side. In the admittedly bizarre scenario I presented above, the only people who could introduce a motion to reconsider would be Brett, Dan or Rochelle, all of whom voted — after Rochelle’s change — “no” on the motion to ditch the MRAP. Robb and Lucas, who voted yes and appeared to be in the majority after the vote was announced, are now in the minority and are not allowed to introduce a motion to reconsider. So Rochelle’s changed vote flipped the outcome of an announced decision.

          5. Jim Frame

            Here’s the reason I’m still bothered by this matter: in any decision, but especially in important decisions, I think it’s imperative for the council to be clear about the outcome and how it was determined. I think Harriet should have advised Dan to explain in detail, on camera and for the record, that an unusual parliamentary situation had arisen and that a formal process was followed to address it. Instead we got “I think I misheard Rochelle,” which isn’t what happened. As soon as Dan announced 4-1 and gaveled the item closed, Rochelle was no longer in “wait, you misheard me” territory — she had to formally change her vote, which happened but without proper explanation.

          6. Barack Palin

            I totally agree Jim, Wolk even asked her again how she voted before he announced the 4-1 decision. She had ample opportunity to straighten things out right then and there. The only reason some people are willing to let this pass is because they got their way and her changed vote didn’t affect the outcome. Now if the vote had been 3-2 and then a council member later abstained making it 2-2-1 you know the tank deniers would’ve gone bat shit crazy.

  4. Brett

    After the vote we took a break, at the break Rochelle clearly stated to me she had not voted “yes”. I wasn’t sure what the correct protocol was and I suggested she talk to Harriet ASAP.

    There have been several votes where I have been trying to make up my mind which way to vote seconds before the vote is taken…sometimes the vote has been taken before I have been ready, so I can see how it’s possible for this type of situation to occur.

    -Brett

  5. tj

    It’s my understanding that it’s improper, shall we say, for there to be discussion about an item or the vote on the item while taking a “break”. Such discussions are secret from the public.
    I’m told it doesn’t matter whether 5 council members are present in the break room, or whether only 2 members talk about an item, or the vote on it. It is still a violation of open meeting law.

    There must be a better way to handle it when members haven’t completely made up their minds. Perhaps asking for more discussion would give a member more time to think it through. Personally, I like hearing council members explain their reasoning when they vote, even if it takes an extra couple of minutes. There’s also the possibility of “passing” while other members vote, in order to have an extra moment to clarify one’s position. We don’t want really long meetings, but members shouldn’t be rushed too quickly to vote.

    1. Anon

      I believe Dan called the question, and no City Council member objected, which forced the vote then and there. If Rochelle did not feel the record reflected her true vote, she had every right to correct it.

      1. tj

        Yes, I agree. Rochelle had not only a right but an obligation to correct the record of her intended vote. But it should all have been done out in the open, not in the break room. I wonder what the city attorney’s position is on this.

  6. Alan Miller

    “Like I have been saying, the crowds intimidate the council members and policy shouldn’t possibly be determined by as Michelle Millet stated who’s the loudest.”

    I guess I have to come clean here. You have discovered my secret, so I might as well admit it and come clean: I intimidate the City Council. Each and every one of them. Lucas, Rochelle, Dan, Brett, Robb — all of them. In fact, that’s why Rochelle initially voted yes. My intimidation. She must have come out of the spell when she left the chambers. Now you know my secret.

    PU-LEEEEEEEEEEZ.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Alan intimidating? No. Entertaining? Yes.

        For the record I don’t believe council members are intimidated into voting one way or another by crowds. But I do feel they can at times be unduly influenced by them, believing that the crowds viewpoints reflects those of the majority of the community.

          1. Alan Miller

            I stayed.

            If I “intimidated” Rochelle, BP, then she would have kept her vote as a yes.

            You guys don’t give Rochelle much credit, do you?

          2. Barack Palin

            I think you give yourself too much credit Alan, I’m not saying you alone intimidated anyone. The shear numbers of the crowd being 50-3 against is very intimidating.

          3. Alan Miller

            Nice job dodging the accusation.

            And yes, I do give myself much credit, too.

            And yes, you did say “I” am the intimidator. Do you often run into things while backing up?

  7. Alan Miller

    Wait a sec, didn’t someone say it’s OK for two members to talk, but now Brett says he talked to Rochelle, and I believe Dan also did, or were those separate conversations of 1-1 so that’s OK?

    OK, it is a non-story, yet oddly amusing.

    BTW, I thought Rochelle’s written statement was well written and expressed her viewpoint well.

    Thought I must say voting “um” is one of funniest things I’ve ever heard — well, regarding parliamentary procedure anyhow.

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