Beyond the Dais: Insights into Local and Regional Governance

Davis-Robb-HS
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis

by Robb Davis

Several weeks ago David asked me whether I would be willing to write a regular (monthly) article for the Vanguard. Though I quickly agreed, afterward I realized I was unsure about what issues I could discuss that would be most valuable to Vanguard readers.

After some reflection I decided to try to use this space to provide a broader view of the work of City Council members that extends beyond what is readily apparent from the most visible issues and stories. The Vanguard and The Enterprise (and, less frequently, The Sacramento Bee) provide a valuable service to the community, but they report on a relatively narrow range of issues that come before the Council. That is not to say the issues upon which they focus are not important—for they certainly are.

However, a variety of public processes permit a vetting, discussion and analysis of issues of importance to the Davis community. Indeed, many issues that find their way to the City Council begin in other forums in which public input is invited and used to refine and bring them to a point at which Council can act on them. Not all these processes are as “visible” as what occurs on Tuesday evenings in Community Chambers.

When I started my term on the Council last July I was aware that I would be called upon to act as a liaison to a variety of city commissions and represent the city on regional boards. And while I have very much enjoyed this role, I was not prepared for the breadth of issues I would be asked to deal with in these venues, nor was I cognizant of the decision making power I would have in them.

I would, therefore, like to use this regular column to share some of the issues before these entities, discuss the implications for Davis, and invite questions about them. The articles will include the following:

  1. Highlights of the work of various city commissions, their charges and key issues they are addressing.
  2. The role of various county, regional and joint powers authority (JPA) boards and the key issues before them.

In addition, I would like to use certain articles to highlight key decisions made by the City Council that may have slipped by unnoticed. Typically these are issues that appear on the Council’s “Consent Calendar”. Such items may be as critical as any on the regular agenda but because they are considered “routine and non- controversial, require no discussion and are expected to have unanimous Council support” they may not receive the attention they deserve.

I look forward to sharing my learning about these things with Vanguard readers and am open to suggestions about items that you might be interested in having me cover.

To prepare for the articles I would like to share the list of commissions and boards in which Council members participate.

RDavis-graphic-2

In an upcoming column I would like to focus on the work of the Water Resources Association in light of recently passed legislation mandating sustainable groundwater management practices in California. Lucas and I will also be authoring an article on the Capitol Corridor and our work on the JPA Board—to which Lucas was recently elected Vice-Chair.

I am open to suggestions from readers about what I might cover in other upcoming articles.

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11 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    Rob,

    First, I want to thank you for accepting this role. I am very excited about the opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of our city from someone in a position to know.

    It almost, but not quite, goes without saying that I would like to hear more about how the city interfaces with the county, private volunteer groups, and businesses with regard to issues of public health and safety.

  2. SODA

    My thanks too Rob. It will be interesting to hear how you view the role of a CCperson with  these groups. I was a board liaison to working committees of a professional assn a number of yrs ago and there was a fine balance between letting the committee run on tangents or vear far from the Board charge VS taking too much leadership and stifling dialogue.

  3. Anon

    Looking forward to your articles on issues not necessarily seen in the regular media.  I think it will give the public a better flavor for all that City Council members do; and a better appreciation of the myriad number of concerns that are regional, not just local.

  4. DavisBurns

    I, too appreciate your efforts to keep us more informed about the city government.  I don’t know if anyone else can read your chart…I can’t but it looks informative.

    We have a new city manager and I’d like to share something Mr. Pinkerton did that I thought was outstanding.  The newspaper was full of budget crisis stories and he set out to explain the budget problems to as many local groups as he could interest.  I read about a lunch for  business owners (I think) in February 2014.  I showed up along with about 20 others. Someone had bought pizza and drinks for which we donated a couple of dollars. I suspect these little meetings had a lot to do with passing the half cent sales tax increase that June.

    Mr. Pinkerton passed out a one page sheet on city budget which I still have:

    How the budget is structured

    General Fund Expenditures

    General fund revenue assumptions and projections

    Current and Long Term Expenditure Challenges

    Current and Long Term Revenue Challenges

    Potential Solutions

    Economic Development efforts

    Half cent sales tax measure

    He proceeded to discuss the handout and answer questions. He told us the reason he was doing these meetings was to explain the budget problems, face to face, with as many people as possible because it’s a dry subject that most people really don’t understand or pay attention to except during a crisis. People tend to throw up their hands and find someone to blame.

    I think that happens a lot on this forum–blaming decisions by previous councils, unions, employee benefits, failure to anticipate rising cost of employee’s medical  benefits…we have to look at our history to know how we got here. Tom Elias had an excellent article about public employees salaries and benefits recently in the Enterprise if anyone wants a rational perspective on how we went from public employees being paid less than the private sector and balancing that with better benefits to voters realizing public workers were earning more than them and getting  better benefits. The fact that private sector wages fell, retirement funds were looted by bankruptcies during the hostile takeovers of the 80’s and benefits in the private sector never recovered for the rank and file worked IS NOT THE FAULT OF PREVIOUS CITY COUNCILS or our current employees. People should bitch that private sector salaries have fallen and their benefits disappeared.

    For most of us, the city manager is someone we never meet. I was impressed Steve Pinkerton used his lunch hours (cause, I believe that is how he was finding time to do this) to talk to every citizen group he could interest in hearing about the budget.  That is outreach and I hope we get some version of that from Mr. Brazil and our current city council members.

    1. Dave Hart

      Davis Burns:  Very good point and a seldom articulated perspective that public employees are simply the latest group to be identified and targeted for austerity cuts.  Private sector compensation has been easily reduced by employers who have little to no resistance to their desire to maintain or increase profits at the expense of labor.  This is why public unions are increasingly the target of employer groups and misguided supporters who think the only way to lift their situation is cut someone else down:  unions are at an all time low to the satisfaction and joy of people who profit from labor.  Governments need to be mindful of how tax dollars are spent and labor expenses are legitimately part of policy discussion.  But the playing field for wage and salary earners has been so egregiously tilted away from labor that even a decent standard of living is now resented by not just employers, but by many workers (wage and salary earners) who are fed a steady stream of hate for unions as the source of all evil.  If minimum wage had kept pace with productivity since the late 1960s, it would be about $17 on the national level.  That is where we as a nation should be headed, not in a race to the bottom which benefits none but the most wealthy, none of whom live in Yolo County.

      The discussion is how do we treat our public employees in a way that shows that we value their contribution in a just and fair way?  It’s a very tough problem in light of the forces that are largely beyond the control of local and state control.

      1. DavisBurns

        I am amazed at how well the proganda  machine has done their job.  White collar, blue collar (the few we have left), support services workers and the poorest among us nave swallowed the right wing lies that say america can’t afford to pay living wages or provide a safety net because we need to ensure the obscenely wealthy have every opportunity to become even wealthier.

        Given the demands put on city governments by the state government, we can’t maintain the medical benefits and the early retirement we are locked into especially for the safety workers.  We need retirement age to be in line with the social security and we need universal health care and a legal way to end the city’s responsibility for medical benefits but those are things we can’t change at the xity level and generally, the state government hasn’t been the friend of cities.  Proposition 13 hurt cities more than the state.

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