Mayor Davis Critical and Concerned about Future of Community as He Exits the Council

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Mayor Robb Davis laid out the city’s fiscal position at the State of the City Address in January 2017

Mayor Robb Davis presided over a time that will be remembered in part for its turbulence in the wake of the election of Donald Trump and the multitude of protests, the hate incident, the Iman incident, the Gandhi statue controversy, and, of course, the Picnic Day incident.

On the other hand, his council will likely be remembered for tackling a number of big issues, from the passage of Nishi to addressing student housing shortages to starting Community Choice Energy to approving a new police oversight process.

The Vanguard asked Mayor Davis to weigh in on his term as he heads out the door, and he pulled no punches, per his norm on council.

What was your greatest accomplishment while on council?

Robb Davis: No one CC member can claim individual accomplishments since we make decisions together. Few if any of our actions could be called “great.” But, in the past four years we have focused on the nuts and bolts of making the City more fiscally and socially healthy. We have worked to solve longstanding problems related to infrastructure backlogs, housing shortages, and homelessness. In these we have, arguably, made modest progress.

What do you see as the biggest missed opportunity?

Robb Davis: There were many. One could take any of the issues I named in response to question one and point out how we missed opportunities to do more in relation to each one. Others may wish to opine, but I leave with a sense of many things left to do.

How has the council and community changed since you’ve been on the council?

Robb Davis: We seem to be growing older as a community, more change averse, angrier, and more cynical. There is very little celebration of what is good in Davis. I find that sad. Litigation on nearly every project we approve is the norm. It does not feel healthy to me.

Accusations of wrongdoing and that we lack concern for citizens’ needs are an almost daily experience for a council member. We are frequently told that we caused harm to community members. I can’t count the number of times people have accused us of lying or hiding the truth.

Matt Williams publicly accused us of a Brown Act violation and of dishonesty in what we put forward about Nishi. Alan Pryor has stated more than once in public comments and in the Vanguard that we have misled on City fiscal issues (Alan also told me, in front of the entire CC, that I had “sold out the city”). Roberta Millstein referred to the new IPM [Integrated Pest Management] policy process as a “shitshow” on my public FB account (we passed the new policy). Alan, Roberta, and Matt are not just random people—they are sitting commission members. Their accusations and statements have weight. These three examples represent the public voice of what we read in emails and letters from others. It is discouraging because we feel we have been honest, forthcoming, and transparent; that we have paid attention to process.

At a certain point one begins to question whether any effort can suffice.

Despite these things, the CC has managed to work well together to address challenges. Arguably, in our representative democracy, we have done what we were elected to do: try to represent Davis’ citizens to make decisions (collectively) in the long-term interests of the City.

What do you see as the biggest challenge going forward?

Robb Davis: I think the challenges when I arrived on the CC are largely unchanged; proof that change is slow and incremental. I am most concerned about crumbling social capital and increased ideological tribalism that divides not only Republicans and Democrats, but also divides natural allies along smaller, and ever less meaningful, fracture lines. I had hoped to use my skills to bring people in conflict together to solve problems. Sadly, I have witnessed more division, not less. I often wonder what I might have done differently.

What piece of advice would you give to Gloria Partida and Dan Carson as they come on the council?

Robb Davis: Best wishes. In these days of increasingly angry rhetoric, remain calm and civil. Be decent to your colleagues, staff, and community members. Apologize when you need to. Respond truthfully, directly, and with patience. Study the issues and solutions to problems so that your decisions will be informed, and so everyone will know why you voted the way you did.

Most importantly, have hope. Hope is never a fully formed plan, but rather a commitment to walking forward to face challenges directly; believing that in a community like Davis, with our wealth of human, physical, and social resources, we can find solutions to our problems.


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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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8 thoughts on “Mayor Davis Critical and Concerned about Future of Community as He Exits the Council”

  1. Matt Williams

    I too am very thankful for and respectful of Robb’s service.  Two recent comments in the Vanguard sum up my thoughts well.  Michael Bisch said, The man was an outstanding mayor.” and Tia Will said I admire [Robb] for his honesty, integrity, and willingness to always, always do what he considered to be the best for our community after exhaustive and painstaking evaluation of the issues.”

    To round out the picture, I would add to those two, a statement by Robb himself … “I had hoped to use my skills to bring people in conflict together to solve problems. Sadly, I have witnessed more division, not less. I often wonder what I might have done differently.”

    Robb’s words appear to say that the division “divides natural allies along smaller, and ever less meaningful, fracture lines.”  However, each of us view that division differently.  The fracture lines “witnessed”  in the DWR sale “division” were anything but small, with multiple public deliberations by the Utility Rate Advisory Commission culminating with a unanimous recommendation for further third-party independent evaluation of the issues on one side of the fracture and closed session deliberations by the Council and staff on the other side.

    The DWR sale, the Yes on Nishi ballot argument, and the Employee MOUs last Tuesday all have a similar theme.  The problem is/was not in what was said, but rather in what was not said, and then the fully-formed “decision” was delivered to the public.

    On Tuesday Council and the staff report presented a summary calculation of the fiscal impact, but no supportive documentation of how they arrived at that calculation.  The sad thing is that one need go no further than the Forecast section of the last two City Budgets to know that Council and staff can do better.  If Tuesday’s MOU staff report disclosed and informed like the Budget Forecast does, the community dialogue would have been very different.

    When the questions about the Yes on Nishi Ballot Argument were made public, again the issue centered around what was not said more than what was said.  Instead of embracing the confusion over the Statement wording and bringing the people together to discuss it (and how the word limit imposed by Election rules may have helped create that confusing wording), “ideological tribalism” prevailed, and there was only radio silence.  What was not said dominated what was said.

    Those three examples are ones that I personally experienced.  I also experienced how the fracture line that produced Project Toto brought people together.  Council embraced that public dialogue and directed staff to change the Budget so that it included more than just a single year view … with the Forecast chapters of the past two Budgets as a result.  I also observed the fracture lines that arose over the Ghandi statue and the fracture lines that exist in how we police our community.  The ones that have worked best are the ones where the decisions are not rushed, and if there is risk of “ideological tribalism” it is dealt with out in the open (the Ghandi statue and Police Oversight are good examples) with the kind of full disclosure epitomized by the Forecast chapters in the last two Budgets.

    With that said, Robb is often his own harshest critic.  It is worth repeating Michael Bisch’s and Tia Will’s statements one more time …  The man was an outstanding mayor,” and I admire [Robb] for his honesty, integrity, and willingness to always, always do what he considered to be the best for our community after exhaustive and painstaking evaluation of the issues.”

     

  2. Alan Miller

    > Most importantly, have hope.

    Despite the outwardly optimistic advice conclusion, the interview reads as if his time on the Council all but quashed the hope he had when he began.

  3. Jeff M

    We seem to be growing older as a community, more change averse, angrier, and more cynical. There is very little celebration of what is good in Davis. I find that sad.

    First let me say that I think Robb Davis was a good leader for the city during his time of Council service.  I thank him for that service.  He is leaving having made the city better than it would have otherwise been.

    It is just my observation, but I think this quote above requires more self-reflection from Mr. Davis.  I think maybe he has a professional history of having a position of respected servant of those in need and is used to accolades and not so much criticism.  However, the other perspective here with respect to the job of Davis City Council member and Mayor, is that the greater the criticism was likely indicative of greater good was likely being done.  Leadership is lonely and no good deeds go unpunished.

    I also think that Robb is a bit blind to the impact of his focus, words and messaging on social issues.  I wish I knew why people are different in their wiring around these things, but some are prone to amplification for what they see as human trauma, tragedy, harm and unfairness.  There is great goodness in this as it motivates a call to action to provide help and assistance to those unable to care for themselves for every reason.  However, it can also cause a very negative and depressing story when leaders make that the common theme… basically preaching to the rest of us that we are missing all the trauma, tragedy, harm and unfairness and we are not doing enough to remedy it.

    As leaders our words are amplified already… it is extremely important how we see the landscape of our domain and how we communicate it to our constituents.  If the messaging is most about the heartache of human trauma, tragedy, harm and unfairness… that is a negative drift.  It is not uplifting.  Despite the intention, it has a guilt-trip consequence that can be demotivating and generate a reaction of defense.

    My recommendation to any and all City Council members is to dig deep to find the good and to reflect on it.  Abstract out the problems to their root causes, and come up with idea for making things better.  Sell the positive vision of a future where these problems are less or gone.   That is what you are there for… it is the job we elected you to perform.  There are already plenty of people that can preach to us about the mess of the human condition. Instead, focus on incremental steps we can take to make it better.  Sell the benefits of change, not brow beat us for the harm we are causing by not changing.  There will be plenty of people out there selling the harm caused by the change, so we need a very loud and consistent counter to that.

    Leadership must be uplifting to be effective in keeping constituents uplifted.  Nevertheless, I think in times of great problems that much be solved, all political leaders should expect to stir the pot and cause criticism.   You should pat yourself on the back if you are pissing people off.

    1. Alan Miller

      > You should pat yourself on the back if you are pissing people off.

      Amen to that.

      And frankly, because you are, you must have severe tendonitis in both arms from the sheer quantity of your own self-inflicted back patting.

  4. Alan Pryor

    Robb – I certainly acknowledge that I publicly and forcefully challenged the Council on disclosure matters on a number of occasions and sometimes left manners at the door. One point of clarification, though – I believe the incident that you specifically referred to above was immediately after the Council vote that approved putting Nishi 1.0 on the ballot. In public comments on that item prior to the vote I very forcefully stated that Nishi should be held to the new defacto “LEED Gold”  standard developing elsewhere the City . Tim Ruff had said he didn’t want to be held to but could do it, if demanded. Much to my surprise, however, the Council vote of approval only required “LEED Silver” equivalency. Immediately after the vote a recess was called and I marched right up to the dais and said directly to you , “You just sold out the environmentalists in the City”. Only Dan Wolk and Lucas were present. Rochelle and Brett had already stepped down. I admit that I had steam shooting out of my ears at the time and it was not my finest moment. I owed you an apology because I directed my ire specifically at you but the vote was unanimous by the Council. Belatedly, I apologize now for overstepping myself and pinning everything on you.

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