Upon Further Review: Civility at Davis City Council Meetings

Ron Glick was the only community member to speak in support of the developer's proposal.  He got into an exchange with the audience over his views.
Ron Glick was the only community member to speak in support of the developer’s proposal. He got into an exchange with the audience over his views.

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

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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25 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I am in agreement with David’s perspective that respect and courtesy need to go both ways. The speaker should invariably address comments, even those disrespectful of members of the audience, to the council. The entire episode would have been avoided had Mr. Glick chosen to address the council rather than taking on directly a subset of the audience namely residents of Wildhorse.

    Having now watched the tape, I feel that the council also could have been more proactive by pointing this out to Mr. Glick before the audience became fully engaged. They could also have been more even handed in their comments about appropriate speaker, audience interaction ….. namely, there shouldn’t be any.

    Finally, the audience should remain silent. I appreciate how very difficult this can be when one is being publicly vilified over a very controversial issue since I have breached this code myself. However, the audience should strive to remain silent when other opinions are being expressed no matter how erroneous or even vindictive one may feel them to be. Responses can always be made here, or in letters to the editor, or requesting the issue be further addressed by council by sending an email. There are many ways to do this other than disrupting a council meeting.

  2. SODA

    I hold the Mayor responsible for maintaining order when need be. I don’t think he admonished Mr Glick when he turned and addressed the audience and this happened  several times.

    And he could have admonished the audience sooner and more forcefully for their reactions to Mr Glick.

    He also allowed Dave Taramino to continue long after his initial time.

    I find it odd that the DV does not call out the Mayor on his role.

    Dan cannot please all the people all the time when Mayor!

    Is there still a timer on the podium? It did not appear to be in effect on Tues night.

    1. Davis Progressive

      there is a timer on the podium, wolk simply refused to cut people off.

      “I find it odd that the DV does not call out the Mayor on his role.”

      i don’t find it odd, the vanguard made the point without having to state it explicitly.  my guess is that dan wolk is probably more receptive when he’s not being hit in the head by a two-by-four.

      “He also allowed Dave Taramino to continue long after his initial time.”

      yeah, the vanguard didn’t cover taormino’s comments complaining about the public not getting equal time and dan wolk politely reminding him they got 15 minutes and they can never get equal time with the public.  but on the other hand, dan wolk allows taormino to shove his foot into his mouth and he didn’t have to get down into the dirt to do that either.

  3. ryankelly

    No excuses. The chuckling at the beginning was not bad, but Rodney’s heckling and the groans were rude.  This is why people don’t come to the City Council meetings and speak unless they have a large group supporting them.  I think that Ron Glick hit it right on the head with his comment that the neighbors didn’t want a house built next to them.  People can laugh and heckle, but this is the issue that started it all.

    1. hpierce

      I imagine, unless someone is used to public speaking, their anxieties and reactions would be amplified if they perceive they are a “voice crying out in the wilderness”, and be prone to reacting to a hostile environment as a defensive measure.

      There are some “frequent flyers” at CC meetings who would benefit from professional counseling/meds.  Mr Glick isn’t even close, but another mentioned in the article probably is.

      1. Davis Progressive

        for a long time, glick was a radio host on public radio here in town, not sure if he still does it, but he clearly was very comfortable with the crowd and played that to his advantage.

    2. Davis Progressive

      but glick did it looking back at the public as though getting in a dig.  i think you agree with glick and therefore that colors your judgment of his conduct.  i agree the heckling by rodney and the groans were rude and unacceptable, but glick egged them on and needed to be called on it.  i thought this was fairly even handed.

      1. ryankelly

        I’m glad that you agree that the heckling was rude.  It doesn’t matter that they feel that he egged them on.  This is not high school.  Adults should be able to control themselves or don’t attend.

        1. Davis Progressive

          except that there are some rules, one of which is you address the council with your comments, he not only addressed the audience (mockingly) but turned around to do so and he did that before any heckling.  in short, he started it with a rules violation.

        2. ryankelly

          I explained why i was less judgemental toward Glick, than the person who heckled him while he was speaking. It is not the audience’s job to correct the error made by a speaker.  I have seen people talk past their allotted time, address staff, address people in the audience, speak off topic, outright threaten the Council, yell and scream at the Council, and blatantly lie without any response from the people in attendance.  It is up to the mayor to deal with these errors, not people in the audience.  That Glick addressed his comments to the audience is still not an excuse or leave for the audience to start heckling him.

  4. PhilColeman

    Very interesting and useful discussion and comments. I’ve seen the entire spectrum of how public participation meetings can unfold. Berkeley City Council meetings back in the 60’s were about as riot-inciting as you could imagine. Perversely entertaining, if you had no emotional investment.

    We had an occasional pot-boiler in Oakland, but the tenor was typically civil, despite the city’s celebrated diversity. Among the many suburban government meetings I witnessed and participated in, all had a standard of human decency and civility.

    Coming to Davis much later I expected it to be the celebrated “Berkeley North,” and did hear the same repetitive rhetoric and see the usual melodramatic posturing.  But personal attacks were rare and controlled. An occasional fresh thought and perspective from either side usually salvaged the otherwise wasted evening’s discussion.

    Whenever a public speaker keeps his/her body pointed forward towards the Council, it makes a huge difference. The audience remained disengaged because it feels the remarks are not personal, and they see only the speaker’s back.  As soon as a speaker turns shoulder or head sideways–game on. It is imperative that the Mayor immediate stops any speaker who “plays to the audience.” That’s when control is lost, and acrimony is often the result. There has been past city councils that allowed this to happen.

    We must also recognize the fact that a handful of our citizenry live for the moment of public notoriety, whenever the chance arises. The rest of their lives are lost or unfilled, which is sad. But that gives them no entitlement to practice personal therapy at the cost of representative government.

    In closing, I totally agree with the comments made multiple times about Davis citizens being intimidated by the “tone” of City Council gatherings. When people who want to be heard–and have some something constructive to offer–but don’t out of fear, that is democracy’s greatest loss.

  5. Anon

    IMO one of the problems is that Mayor Wolk has allowed clapping to creep back into the City Council chamber.  That has set the stage for the sort of ugly interchange that took place at last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.  Some thought former Mayor Joe Krovoza was being overly autocratic in not allowing clapping, but laxity on this issue has resulted in things starting to go south with incivility rearing its ugly head.  I would urge Mayor Wolk to tighten up a bit to stop clapping, hooting or any other audience reaction.  Sad to do, but necessary.

    I do agree with Phil Coleman’s comment: “As soon as a speaker turns shoulder or head sideways–game on. It is imperative that the Mayor immediate stops any speaker who “plays to the audience.” That’s when control is lost, and acrimony is often the result. There has been past city councils that allowed this to happen.”  Had Dan reminded the speaker to talk to the City Council and not the audience, it might have resulted in a better outcome.  Easy to Monday morning quarterback I know, but in the future, Mayor Wolk needs to keep a tighter rein on the proceedings, both audience and speakers.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think you’re right on as well.  i don’t view this as monday morning quarterbacking, but rather discussing issues that are going to be important going forward and learning from them.

      1. Anon

        The reason I added the Monday morning quarterbacking comment was because in general I think Mayor Wolk does a great job running meetings.  It is difficult sometimes to figure out what to do on the spot.  Hopefully he will tighten up on audience and speaker response, to keep decorum in check.

  6. Alan Miller

    Wow.  An “incident” is declared over a mildly entertaining audience exchange over minor violations of public speaking etiquette orchestrated by a frequent speaker known for enjoying the goading of known majority Davis politics.

    Makes me want to don a purple hat and pound my fist on the podium.

    Respect is great.  Conflict can be entertaining.

    “it’s nice that things have gotten more lighthearted and folks can laugh and clap.”

    I could not disagree more.  I despise clapping, unless boo-ing is given equal time.  I heard Barry Manilow say on the radio yesterday, “Success can be more destructive than failure”.  Similarly, clapping can be more destructive than boo-ing.  Two ends of the same stick.  And clapping has a much harsher sound quality.

    “we feel the need under further review to throw the flag on both Ron Glick and the audience”

    I cannot wait for future council meetings where David steps out of his media role to hold up flags and throws them on people when council meeting etiquette slides slightly off of God-like perfection.

    I look forward to installment number two of “Groan Gate”.

    1. Davis Progressive

      given your proclivity to don the purple hat and banter absurdities, i’m not surprised by your take.  i do wonder if you recall a time when conflict in davis was less entertaining and more a death showdown

      1. Alan Miller

        “given your proclivity to don the purple hat and banter absurdities, i’m not surprised by your take.”

        DP,  DP, DP  (Deep Purple?)

        I purposefully mentioned the purple hat to get a rise out of you, as you are the one person on the list so disturbed by it that you have more than once mentioned that particular skull cap.  Your slightly derisive post was as predictable as the audience’s response to Glick, which I’m sure he orchestrated, just as I orchestrated your response to this forum.

        I may take to wearing “ol’ purple” around town for a few weeks until I see someone running away at the site of it (in order to break your anonymity).

        “i do wonder if you recall a time when conflict in davis was less entertaining and more a death showdown”

        Greenwald vs. Asmundson – Greatest civic WWF match ever.

        1. Davis Progressive

          “Greenwald vs. Asmundson – Greatest civic WWF match ever.”

          and very destructive for years after that i would tell people i was for davis and that’s the only thing they remembered.  fortunately the pepper spray came along and washed us a bit cleaner.

  7. Barack Palin

    Looking at the tape in my opinion Glick was trying to get a rise out of the crowd and he got exactly what he was looking for.  It should’ve been ruled off setting penalties with both the crowd and Glick getting flagged for misconduct.

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