When the Vanguard first started to cover Davis City Council meetings, they really were in many ways blood sport. There was palpable anger and frustration in the community over the way the council meetings were conducted, policy differences on the council quickly became personal and laced with accusations, and the tenor in the room could quickly turn ugly fast.
As Councilmember Rochelle Swanson reminded us on Tuesday, those days are gone. While at times the council may be accused of going too far in the other direction to avoid conflict, when conflict is sometimes needed, it is overall a refreshing change.
However, as land use policies begin to creep back into Davis politics, we are likely to see passions flare.
We set the stage now for what happened at the end of public comment. One resident, as it turns out, spoke in favor of the developer’s proposal. That was Ron Glick.
He stated that he remembers the battle over Wildhorse, “and some of the people in this room were totally against Wildhorse. In other words, they didn’t want you to have your homes.” He added, “You laugh [in response to chuckles] but it sounds like you don’t want someone else to move next to you.”
As Mr. Glick continued, he began to be heckled by some in the audience. “Go ahead laugh at me, someone’s got to do it, someone’s got to speak the truth,” he chided the audience. “The truth is there’s one tree that might be Swainson’s Hawk [habitat], that’s all you got?”
“I really feel sorry for the Taorminos,” he said, as the audience groaned. He noted that the land was for sale and purchased on the open market, and “they’re coming up for a plan for their property. If you value it that much, why don’t you buy it? You live in Wildhorse, I imagine you could probably come up with the money.”
At one point Mayor Dan Wolk cut in to note to the audience that so far this has been a respectful dialogue. Mr. Glick quipped, “Yeah, well, they’ve all been on the same side.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson admonished the audience. “The tenor reminds me of when I first got on council and it was a really different time in our community. I think it’s very important that we respect everybody’s views no matter who they are and there’s no place for boos or laughing or those kinds of comments.”
She expressed pride that the last two councils have had “really great tones” which has allowed people who used to not come to those chambers to feel they can participate. “They feel it’s a safe environment that’s well regulated,” she added. “I would just respectfully request that we treat the people at the podium the way we would like to be treated.”
We appreciate that Councilmember Rochelle Swanson spoke up and addressed the issue at the time. That was the right thing to do, but in evaluating what happened, Mr. Glick was not a complete innocent in the exchange.
He set the tone early with his reference to Wildhorse and “the big political battle over Wildhorse.” When he said “some of the people in this room were totally against Wildhorse. In other words, they didn’t want you to have your homes,” he violated one of the key principles of public comment because he turned from addressing council to addressing the audience. This really was a comment that instigated the audience response, especially when he added, “You laugh [in response to chuckles] but it sounds like you don’t want someone else to move next to you.”
Again, he turned to audience, which again is in direct violation of council rules, and those rules are established to avoid the kind of speaker-audience interaction that would follow.
Mr. Glick continued it with a series of sarcastic “oh’s” and “you know’s,” as though he were talking down to the audience. He then derided the neighbors’ concerns over the trees by arguing that the trees are “not native” and not well maintained.
At one point he said, “The Canary Island Pines are not native.” Live at the meeting, you heard a voice in the audience respond, “You’re not native,” and it was the distinctive voice of Rodney Robinson. Mayor Wolk admonished, “Rodney.”
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the chain of events was set for this early on. When Ron Glick made the comment that some in the room were totally against Wildhorse, that was probably in reference to Rodney Robinson. Mr. Robinson, of course, was notoriously and controversially involved in the opposition to Wildhorse.
At this point Mr. Glick chided that “they’re not even pruned well,” and then “you know, what are you preserving?” And it’s not just the words, but the sarcastic and derisive voice. He coudn’t help but add, “I know, I know, laugh at me, go ahead.”
“Soneone’s got to do it, someone’s got to speak the truth,” he added.
This took him into arguing that the truth is that there is one tree that might be Swainson’s Hawk habitat, to which he retorted, “That’s all you got.”
The audience at this point was reacting to Mr. Glick’s sarcastic remarks and they were starting to respond in kind.
So here are some thoughts.
First, the response here was less antagonistic and more humorous and lighthearted. But it was just as inappropriate and it has the potential to backslide.
Second, Ron Glick is not an innocent party in this – although he asked for an extra 30 seconds because he was interrupted. He then said, “I really feel sorry for the Taorminos,” which elicited audible groans from the audience – which is clearly not an appropriate response by the audience, but he was egging them on the whole time and, in fact, in the video you can see he again started to turn away from the dais and toward the crowd, because that’s really whom he was addressing.
So, while we think the right thing to do was for Councilmember Swanson, following public comment, to admonish the audience, no one admonished Ron Glick.
I exchanged texts with Rochelle Swanson after the meeting and she wanted to make it clear that she feels strongly that the audience, speaker and council members all need to respect each other during public comment. And she rightly pointed out that, not that long ago, there would be comments or eye rolls on the dais.
Again, this is to reinforce the point that Ms. Swanson made, but she acknowledged that she missed the opportunity to more clearly address the issue of speaker respect as well – respecting the chamber.
She said it’s nice that things have gotten more lighthearted and folks can laugh and clap, but things clearly backslid on Tuesday.
Then again, compared to how things were in, say, 2006 to 2010, this was a Sunday School Picnic. Nevertheless, we feel the need under further review to throw the flag on both Ron Glick and the audience and we thank Mayor Wolk and Councilmember Swanson for stepping in to keep things from getting worse.
You make the call, here’s a video clip of the entire incident:
—David M. Greenwald reporting