It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the regular crowd shuffled into the Davis Community Church library at 11 am to hear a discussion on MOUs – only in Davis, right?
For those who missed the discussion, Bob Fung from Civenergy videoed the two-hour discussion and should have it ready to be posted both on the Civenergy site as well as on the Vanguard by Monday or Tuesday.
As I have stated a number of times on this subject, at the end of the day we may all hold very strong feelings on whether the council made the right decision in agreeing to a 3 percent COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment). However, the biggest concern we had was the lack of public discussion and transparency of the process.
Some have suggested that this whole thing is a tempest in a teapot – while I respect that view, I see it very differently. Davis is an active and engaged community. There are people who deeply care about the future of our community and wish to have a voice in those decisions. We can argue, debate and, in the end, we can agree to disagree if we believe the process was fair and open. And the problem that I saw was that the process was not open and therefore not fair.
Davis politics at times is a contact sport and so my first comment is to thank Councilmembers Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs, along with Finance and Budget Commission Chair Jeff Miller, for taking two hours out of their Saturday to participate in the act of civic engagement.
Second, I want to thank Councilmember Rochelle Swanson for agreeing last week to go on the record and be interviewed about this process.
Third, I want to thank Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who showed up as an audience member for part of the forum, for having the courage to stand up for what he believed in on this issue in the face of four opposing views. His views on this substance of the vote very closely align with mine.
While the specifics of the discussion will wait for another day, I wanted to lay out a few general thoughts.
First, both Councilmembers Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs acknowledged in hindsight that they should have pulled the item off consent. Both appear to support the notion that MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) in the future should be put on the agenda as open items that would be discussed.
I think it is commendable of two public officials to acknowledge mistakes and vow to do better in the future.
Second, as Brett Lee put it, he expected the item to be pulled. When it wasn’t, it caught him off guard but if he had had a few extra minutes at the time to have processed this fact, he said he would have pulled it. Councilmember Frerichs likewise said that he had expected Robb Davis – who he knew opposed the item and ultimately registered a no vote – to pull the item off consent, and he too was caught off guard.
Both Councilmembers Lee and Frerichs also made it a point not to place the blame on Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who was standing in the back of the room at the time. They stated that it was on them to have pulled it.
In my opening remarks, I noted, as I have in several columns, the unfortunate timing of this as a consent item coming right after Thanksgiving. Councilmember Lucas Frerichs stated unequivocally that there was no conspiracy here. Councilmember Lee noted that had the item been a full discussion item, the issue of timing would have been less important.
It is important to reiterate here that I do not believe that the timing of the item was intentionally done to hide the issue from the public. I think what happened was a number of unfortunate confluences of timing and decisions to place the item on consent (as it has been placed in the past), along with the decision not to pull the item off consent, that led to the appearance of lack of transparency.
The specifics of the vote decision will be best left to the video release later this week. I would note generally that both councilmembers seemed to acknowledge that, while the fiscal situation has improved in Davis, perhaps greatly so, there remain challenges ahead with infrastructure, including roads as well as health care and pensions. However, they believed that the COLA was a small increase, that the contracts were short-term (18 months) and that as such it was reasonable to give the employees a small raise.
One issue that has come up is the idea that perhaps the COLAs should not have been across the board, where low-wage employees and high-wage supervisors got the same compensation increase.
In the end, the councilmembers seemed to believe that, because the increases were small and the challenges were large, the increased compensation in the big picture would have only a marginal impact on the city’s fiscal state.
I disagree with this conclusion, as I think Robb Davis would as well.
However, the great thing about democracy is that, at the end of the day, we can agree to disagree on policy decisions. The key is that we have transparency so that the public who wishes to know what happened can do so, and then they can make an informed decision about whom they wish to see making those tough decisions in the future.
Again, I would like to thank Rochelle Swanson, Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs and Robb Davis. I think we have placed all of their thoughts on the record (Robb Davis has participated in the comments and discussion on the Vanguard and certainly been very forthcoming with his views and beliefs).
So I am now satisfied that transparency has been achieved – perhaps delayed, and certainly it would have been better to have had it at the time of the decision on the public record – but nevertheless, anyone who wishes to understand what took place, and why, can now do so.
We now move on to other issues and challenges. The council this week has critical decisions to start to make on revenue measures, as well as the innovation center.
—David M. Greenwald reporting