One More Time — Anonymity and the Vanguard and Questions to the Mayor

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by Matt Williams

Exactly two months ago I posted an update on the eleven questions that had been delivered to Mayor Dan Wolk at his early March incarnation of Morning with the Mayor (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/03/anonymity-and-the-vanguard/ ).

As noted in that follow-up article, the Mayor raised the concern that all the questions (with one exception) were submitted by anonymous Vanguard commenters, and expressed a strong desire to receive the questions, either through direct e-mail to him or other means of the submitter’s choice, from citizens who felt the question(s) they were submitting were important enough to the Davis community that they would attach their actual name to the question.

I then reached out to the Vanguard readers to either submit one or more questions (either from the original eleven … reprinted below … or ones that the reader(s) personally have).  The submissions could be directly to the Mayor at his e-mail address (dwolk@cityofdavis.org), or by giving non-anonymous life to the question(s) here on the Vanguard by attaching a non-anonymous name to one or more of the questions.

What happened? Nothing.  Not a single non-anonymous person stepped forward to state that any of the questions were meaningful.

Barack Palin did ask as the first comment in the article, “Was it the anonymity or the fact that the questions are tough and hard hitting?  I can see where Dan Wolk might want to dodge some of those questions.   What difference is it if a name is attached if the question is good and appropriate?”

The answer Barack Palin got to that question was, “BP, when Dan and I used the few remaining minutes of that Friday Morning With the Mayor, he read the questions, and said spontaneously after reading them, “These are all really good questions.” He then expressed his concern about anonymity, followed by his suggestion that receiving them directly in his e-mail or from non-anonymous posters would very quickly and effectively eliminate the anonymous submission issue. I did not get the sense that he was trying to avoid any of the questions. My interactions with him since then have given me no reason to doubt the accuracy of my initial feelings.”

Even with that clear indication that the Mayor wanted to answer the questions, no-one stepped forward to give a single one of the questions you see below a non-anonymous legitimacy.

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• What is the procedure for enrolling children in the summer Parks and Rec programs? Do City of Davis employees, and their friends and family members, still get first choice?

• When do you anticipate addressing the issue of roads and infrastructure?

• Do you think the city is economically viable without adding innovation parks, the hotel conference center, and/or Nishi?

• Since you are concerned with pricing families out of Davis, do you anticipate adding either housing, workforce housing, or affordable housing in the near future?

• Would you support mixed use at the innovation parks?

• Do you anticipate raising salaries for employees between now and the end of your term as Mayor?

• Will you actively support extending the joint management of the Davis and UCD fire departments?

• Are you concerned about the 0.3% apartment vacancy rate, and, if so, what the current council might be doing to address that?

• I would like our City Council members to take the time to explain their thoughts on the CFD. Especially how providing $12 million to the developer is in the best interest of the city. Looking at our roads I wonder how $12 million might address the condition of our roads?

• Do our City Council members think that the CFD will impact the new residents of the Cannery project when voting on parcel taxes? Much of what Davis provides to its citizens is included in the parcel taxes.

• Has the City considered selling the DACHA homes so the State, City and DJUSD would start getting property tax and parcel tax revenue from them (because city, state and UC owned property does not pay property taxes or parcel taxes)

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Yesterday, Davis Progressive asked, “Matt Williams – Did you ever try to restart the previous conversation [with the Vanguard readers]. Perhaps people are more engaged now.”

So my question to y’all is … are you more engaged?

While I have your attention (if I have it) …

How would you prioritize the eleven questions above in terms of their importance to the community … and are there additional questions that need to be asked?

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About The Author

Matt Williams has been a resident of Davis/El Macero since 1998. Matt is a member of the City's Utility Commission, as well as a former Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission (FBC), former member of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC), former member of the Broadband Advisory Task Force (BATF), as well as Treasurer of Davis Community Network (DCN). He is a past Treasurer of the Senior Citizens of Davis, and past member of the Finance Committee of the Davis Art Center, the Editorial Board of the Davis Vanguard, Yolo County's South Davis General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, the Davis School District's 7-11 Committee for Nugget Fields, the Yolo County Health Council and the City of Davis Water Advisory Committee and Natural Resources Commission. His undergraduate degree is from Cornell University and his MBA is from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He spent over 30 years planning, developing, delivering and leading bottom-line focused strategies in the management of healthcare practice, healthcare finance, and healthcare technology, as well municipal finance.

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15 thoughts on “One More Time — Anonymity and the Vanguard and Questions to the Mayor”

  1. Daniel Parrella

    Matt,

    Thanks for doing this. You can attach my name to the .3% Vacancy question. Have him and the Chancellor ever talked about it during their weekly meetings?

    Daniel Parrella

    1. Matt Williams Post author

      Daniel and Don, your question has been non-anonymously submitted to the Mayor, and per Robb Davis’ comment, all five Council members and Dirk Brazil.  Combining the original question with Daniel’s addendum, the wording of the question was:

      Are you concerned about the 0.3% apartment vacancy rate, and, if so, what the current council might be doing to address that? Have you and the Chancellor ever talked about this issue during your weekly meetings?

  2. Robb Davis

    We have a “weak Mayor/strong City Manager” form of government. Why pose these only to the mayor?  Why not ask all CC members?  The Mayor is one among equals, serves at the pleasure of other members, and has no ability to set policy without at least two other votes.

    But please

    1) Prioritize them and give us the option of responding via video or audio.

    2) Be willing to live with nuanced answers (that is not just because we are being “political” but also because the issues are complex and often “it depends”).

    3) Don’t claim you know the motives behind our responses.

    4) Give us the opportunity to say “I don’t know” or I’m not sure”.

    5) Don’t get upset if we all don’t answer everything or if some don’t answer anything (we all have full time jobs , family, and the need for down time).

    6) Don’t expect sound bites or facile answers.

    1. Matt Williams Post author

      Robb, the simple answer to your first question is that the Mayor has announced and conducted Morning with the Mayor events, which became a logical conduit for submitting the questions. For better or for worse, no other Council member has established that kind of formalized communication venue. The original article I wrote on 2/15/2015 reaching out to the Davis community can be viewed here

      Bottom-line, the questions are pertinent to the Mayor, the Council members, the City Manager and any people who are considering candidacy in the June 2016 Council election. We haven’t excluded anyone and welcome all comers.

      Now with regard to your suggestions, since I am no longer on the Vanguard Editorial Board I am going to defer to David and the other Board members to formulate the Vanguard’s answers to your 6 points. But with that said, as a citizen of Davis my personal responses would be …

      1) Absolutely and absolutely.

      2) Again absolutely.

      3) Okay. Seems fair.

      4) I’d rather hear those answers than something that is half-baked … or not even ready for the oven (to torture the metaphor).

      5) See 1) above.

      6) I would hope not.

        1. Matt Williams Post author

          Thank you for your deep and insightful comment Alan. Is it correct to assume that you believe all eleven questions are jokes as well?

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    Only a politician would consider an anonymous question to be less “legitimate” than a question asked by an anonymous poster. Questions stand on their own merits, no matter what language they are asked in, how loudly they are asked, whether they are written in ink, carved on golden tablets, or spray-painted on a government building. Oink!

    1. Matt Williams Post author

      In a sense you are 100% right Napoleon … both with respect to the consideration of an anonymous question and the formulation of an anonymous question. Politics is a very dirty business, with very few “rules.” On need go no further than the November 2014 Ami Bera vs. Doug Ose Congressional race to see dirty politics in action. It is very easy to imagine one politician’s “team” using the cover of anonymity to ask a question whose only reason for being was/is to damage the Politician to whom the question is being posed.

      As is seen in courtrooms daily, a lawyer asking a question (that is objected to, with the Judge sustaining the objection), has “rung the bell” in the minds of the jurors, and no amount of verbal and/or legal gymnastics is going to unring that bell.

      As a result, politicians simply don’t go there … which is a political calculation on their part.

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        Matt’s response is good and makes strong points. However, politicians are not the only barnyard critters smart enough to recognize “gotcha” questions, so I reckon that anyone wanting the privileges of the Porcine Pinnacle needs to straighten up their backbones and take on all comers. Oink!

        1. Matt Williams Post author

          However, politicians are not the only barnyard critters smart enough to recognize “gotcha” questions

          That is a reasonable assessment in concept Napoleon; however, in practice it becomes problematic because the criteria applied by the politician in deciding which questions to answer and which questions to label as “gotchas” is subjective. That leads to perceptions of inconsistency and/or political considerations on the part of the politician . . . and god forbid that our politicians get accused of being political.

        2. Barack Palin

          None of the questions that are being submitted are “gotcha” questions.  They’re questions that any council member should have to answer because for the most part they are important to Davis and its citizens.  If a council member sees anyone of these questions as a “gotcha” then obviously they aren’t comfortable with their past actions or opinions on these matters and are afraid to stand by their convictions.

          1. Matt Williams Post author

            Well BP, if none of the questions are “gotcha” questions, then why are no non-anonymous Vanguard readers willing to associate themselves to the questions.

            BTW, I agree with you that none of these questions are “gotcha,” but the principle Dan has laid out is a global one rather than a question-by-question one. It’s a pretty straightforward binary decision . . . one that avoids the question-by-question search for the hidden agenda within the question (or the follow-up question it engenders).

  4. Napoleon Pig IV

    “. . . the principle Dan has laid out is a global one . . .”

    Yes, but it is also global in setting the stage for more easily monitoring and tracking those barnyard critters more likely to question the porcine authority than others.

    If there is any lesson of the last few hundred human generations, it is that no government should ever be trusted further than absolutely necessary. Politicians owe citizens answers. Citizens owe politicians nothing more than benign observation. Oink!

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