Monday Morning Thoughts: Strange Decision on Commissioner Punctuates a Strange Night for Council

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City Hall

On a night when the centerpiece council item was a wireless ordinance and the bulk of the public commenters were talking about the dangers of 5G, perhaps the oddest item turned out to be a decision by the council whether to oust BTSSC (Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission) Commissioner Todd Edelman.

Three commissioners had submitted a letter to council requesting the removal of Mr. Edelman, claiming that he “shows a lack of respect for the Chair, commissioners, and all involved by consistently prolonging meetings, derailing discussions, failing to yield the floor, and not accepting the decisions of the Commission.”

The council then attempted to split the baby so to speak – instead of ousting Mr. Edelman, they suspended him for two meetings, February and March, with some sort of conflict resolution process.  That was not enough for the three commissioners who all resigned, leaving the commission short of a quorum.

Here’s the thing, I rather like Todd.  Those who have read his long and rambling posts wonder what he’s getting at, but while I don’t always agree with him, I do agree with one of his core principles – the need to move away from automobile centric transportation and the ability of the city to reduce parking as the result of changes in ridership.

While the council did what this council does – attempt to parse the issue by going the suspension route rather than ouster – I think this illustrates the weakness as well as the strength of this council.  In the end, the middle path resulted in the same outcome that I think a more assertive path would have.

From my perspective, I think they should have left the matter alone other than to perhaps pursue conflict resolution – if the sitting commissioners wanted it.  But they didn’t.

I do think the comment in the Enterprise at the start of their article was a bit much: “The bicycling capital of the nation has a problem: The commission that oversees bicycling and transportation safety in the city of Davis doesn’t have enough members to hold a meeting.”

The bicycling capital of the nation does have a big problem all right, but it is not lack of a quorum for a couple of meetings on the advisory commission.

The much bigger problem is that, while we have focused very heavily on the shortfall of funding for roads, we have as big if not a bigger problem for bike paths.  This in the town that practically invented a network of bike paths for riders to be able to safely traverse the city.

Yet here we have 51.7 miles of bike paths with an average PCI of 52.  Nearly 15 percent of the bike paths in town have “failed” while another 46.3 percent are in poor condition.  The city’s target is a 68 PCI.  To fix that, it is going to cost the city about $60 million over 10 years.

The bike commission not having enough members temporarily for a quorum is a temporary and symbolic setback.  The bike path underfunded maintenance is a disaster that has gotten far less attention than this little blow-up.  That’s the real issue.

The council got a lot of pushback during public comment, mainly from regular critics of the council.  In this case, I don’t think they were wrong necessarily, but some were more than a bit over the top.

My favorite was this one: “This is a Coordinated effort by people supporting powerful monied interests in town who are seeking to silence voices of opposition that have risen up against their schemes.”

If that is really what the goal of the council was here, I would probably start with a less obscure, less advisory position.

But I will say as over-the-top as that statement was, I have seen what it looks like for a council to do exactly that.  One has to go only to the start of the Vanguard and the decision by the council to shut down the entire Human Relations Commission because they advocated for Police Oversight against the wishes of the council majority.

Less dramatic but still evident was the overall effort by the council at that time to remove critics of the council majority and install like-minded individuals across the board.

But really, since 2010, that practice stopped.  The council has largely taken its finger off the scale and simply attempted to fill the commissions with the most qualified people – even adopting a process to more formalize it.

Overall, the council could have handled this more cleanly and probably should have had it resolved administratively rather than legislatively.  While I think the comment above that was stated is absurd, this type of action does feed into the hands of those critics who are itching for something to sink their teeth into.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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23 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Strange Decision on Commissioner Punctuates a Strange Night for Council”

  1. Ron Glick

    It is unfair to criticize someone who’s posts are regularly censored on this blog. Whether I agree with the statement or not there isn’t much this person can do to defend himself from your ridicule.

    1. Moderator

      there isn’t much this person can do to defend himself from your ridicule.

      They can contact me to discuss the terms of their participation. If they prefer not to discuss it with me, they can contact David.

    2. Alan Miller

      It is unfair to criticize someone who’s posts are regularly censored on this blog.

      This didn’t make sense to me as I didn’t know the name of the person speaking at the meeting, but I was wondering why the name of the person making that comment wasn’t used.  This is extremely poor ‘journalism’.  I’m not sure how we are supposed to know someone is banned, but now that you mention it I heard a rumor and haven’t seen that person comment here in awhile – very strange not to name the person, now it makes sense but just makes me trust this blog even less.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Or, the commissioner in question could be encouraged to submit an uncensored article with his version of events and dynamics.  I suspect  that he could do so readily.

    I do believe the CC erred.

  3. Todd Edelman

    Three commissioners had submitted a letter

    Refers to an October letter sent to the Council in October 2019, which was was the part of the November BTSSC discussion and thus also part of the January 28, 2020 Council discussion (the Staff Report includes all previous related materials on the matter.)

    In regards to

    That was not enough for the three commissioners who all resigned, leaving the commission short of a quorum,

    Two of the three October-letter Commissioners announced in December that they were leaving in January. The meeting minutes do not refer to any reasons for their departure. The third Commissioner announced their resignation on January 29, the day after the Council meeting.

    Those who have read his long and rambling posts wonder what he’s getting at

    seems to be an exaggeration

    In regards to 

    lack of a quorum for a couple of meetings on the advisory commission

    According to the Davis Enterprise article, the most recent long range calendar from the January 2020 BTSSC agenda, shows that for February 13th there was a scheduled look at ARC – which would be in depth as far as I understand it. There would also be something supplementary for Bretton Woods (WDAAC). Both ARC and WDAAC are listed as “Action Items”, which of course means the Council prefers specific recommendation motions from the BTSSC. For March the plan was only “Discussion” of an update of intersection design & the 2016 Street Standards and reviews of the already-constructed crossings of Covell.

    The March items will almost certainly easily be pushed back – and the one about Covell and L has already been pushed back repeatedly since September 2019. The ARC and BW items seems to require BTSSC involvement and will have to wait until there’s quorum again.

    1. Bill Marshall

      The ARC and BW items seems to require BTSSC involvement and will have to wait until there’s quorum again.

      Incorrect as to “require”… a tad arrogant as to that,…. [edited]

      1. Alan Miller

        WM, not sure why you would focus on the parsing of a word . . . it doesn’t seem wrong or arrogant and I can’t imagine why it means enough to you to pick apart.

  4. Alan Miller

    This was a really unfortunate agenda item and it never should have happened.

    The bicycle, etc. commission was messed up for several reasons, and the main reasons weren’t TE.  I don’t know that I can put my finger on it as I avoided it except when there were issues of direct interest.  Transportation planning is my profession, but I have wanted to pull my hair out after the 3 or 4 I’ve attended in the last couple of years regarding specific issues.  The fact that several commissioners have resigned and TE is still there is in my opinion a good outcome.

    The term used that TE shows ‘lack of respect’ I believe is misguided, and should be reworded beginning as ‘appears to show . . . ‘ at best.  TE is someone who communicates a bit differently than many of us.  He’s passionate, knowledgeable, and wants/needs every “i” dotted and “t” crossed.  If he sees something that isn’t right in his mind, he does not want to let that stand.  That can come across as disrespect, and it can be hard to deal with, I get that.

    Todd is often ‘right’ about issues (in other words, I often agree with him) – but not easily accepting when other forces come into play that derail those.  It’s not that he’s not a team player, but the way he communicates can be difficult for a team.  It isn’t disrespect, and I don’t think it’s the most disfunctional part of the BTTSC.  From the mayor’s comments further into the discussion, it seemed pretty clear he didn’t think the commission as a whole was operating well for about 3 years now, and I don’t think Todd should take the brunt of that or his removal seen as a solution — indeed without his opinion on the commission, I think the city would lose an important voice.

    And then there’s the issue that Todd isn’t going anywhere — if he is off the commission he’ll still be at the meetings stating his opinion and researching the issues probably better than many of the commissioners (speculation, don’t anyone get upset is you did your homework).  As he pointed out, since he moved here he has often been the only member of the public present.

    I think not terminating him from the commission was the right move, and maybe in theory suspension was a middle ground — but what was it supposed to accomplish and how?  Bringing the same personalities into a room to be weakly mediated through, what exactly?  There are some issues that mediation can be good for, but one must have a plan and recognize that mediation is not a ‘solve all’.  (Witness the wasteful and questionable Trackside mediation process.)

    I was surprised this came to CC in the way it did and seemingly without getting there through a process that was vetted.  I don’t think this was anything but a needless embarrassment to everyone involved.

    I joked to TE after the meeting that it would be hilarious if he was suspended during two months when other’s quit and the commission couldn’t make any decisions because it didn’t have a quorum anyway.  Appears that may turn out to be the case here.

    Furthermore, TE’s letter to Council showed that he understood he had not behaved well and would strive to improve.  TE also has a dry sense of humor that I appreciate.  Read his letter to council – admitting commission meetings had been extended by his comments, but he had taken his queues from the Council itself, where meetings often extend past 11pm or later after extended council-remember comments.  How, exactly, does one argue with that?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Furthermore, TE’s letter to Council showed that he understood he had not behaved well and would strive to improve.

      As Yoda quipped, “there is no ‘try’ (or strive), only DO” … we’ll see after he returns to voting status on the commission… I have my doubts, but I do believe folk can learn, and change… TE deserves, at this point, the benefit of the doubt… but it is on him to perform… time will tell…

  5. Ron Oertel

    From article: “The council then attempted to split the baby so to speak – instead of ousting Mr. Edelman, they suspended him for two meetings, February and March, with some sort of conflict resolution process. That was not enough for the three commissioners who all resigned, leaving the commission short of a quorum.”

    A different blog states that two commissioners (Gudz and Andrews) had announced their departure at the December meeting, stating that they intended to resign after the January meeting (apparently regardless of any subsequent action by the council in regard to Todd).

    This appears to be a different version of events than what is reported in the article, above.

    1. Ron Oertel

      From article: “The council then attempted to split the baby so to speak – instead of ousting Mr. Edelman, they suspended him for two meetings, February and March, with some sort of conflict resolution process. That was not enough for the three commissioners who all resigned, leaving the commission short of a quorum.

      In case anyone wants to see the video (below), which shows that the Vanguard’s statement (from the article above) is factually incorrect.

      Ms. Andrews had already planned to leave the commission, prior to the council’s January vote.  Ms. Andrews had already decided to leave, by then.  Therefore, in no way was the council’s decision in January (to suspend Todd, instead of “removing him”) the motivating factor for Ms. Andrews’ resignation.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUnCUhCMljw&feature=youtu.be

      1. David Greenwald

        I saw Ms. Andrews went before the council and state that she had already resigned.

        Nevertheless, it seemed on Tuesday that this wasn’t a done deal and that Brett Lee was acting to prevent the resignations.

        Here is what Anne wrote for the Enterprise: “ That outcome was one that Mayor Brett Lee appeared to be trying to avoid Tuesday evening when he warned his colleagues of just that possibility if the council did not act on the commission’s request to remove Commissioner Todd Edelman.”

        She had the same impression I did watching the meeting.  I wasn’t there at that point, but watched it on video.

        Really if this was all fait accompli by the time the council met, I have even less understanding for the need for them to act.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Regardless of timing of resignations, the CC was “on notice” of the situation well before Jan 1.  Individual reasons I cannot speak to, but some commissioners have spoken to it.

        2. Alan Miller

          Spoken where?  There seems so much unsaid, or maybe there really was no smoking cow . . . so much ‘just trust us, can’t you seem how intolerable this is?’ . . .

          NO, not good enough.  Never heard a convincing argument.

  6. Dave Hart

    As an observer only through the press and this blog, like 99% of the people in this community, I am left with only my own experience to judge the appropriateness of the decision.  I read Todd’s letter and it seems he is genuine about taking responsibility for his commission behavior.  The suspension can be viewed as the Council wanting to show support for commission operations in the sense that they take difficulties in running meetings seriously.  So no harm done, probably.

    What occurs to me that has not been addressed publicly is the orientation process and training that city commission members get once they are appointed.  How many of us really get any kind of formal training on how to work with others in this type of setting?  I rely on my own experience to interpret the reports.  I worked within a union reform movement and as an elected union leader over the space of about 15 years and learned something about meeting procedure, particularly in dealing with highly volatile, highly opinionated, highly passionate members all of whom were volunteering their own personal time to achieve our goals and objectives.  Early on, our core leadership developed rules of conduct, by consensus, for recognizing speakers and getting through agendas within a reasonable time period.  We had meetings that went late.  We had meetings that challenged our notions of democratic decision making particularly when one disagrees with the outcome of a vote. We often needed to restate or revisit the meeting rules that everyone had previously agreed to.  That’s the way people are.  I doubt Todd is that different.

    The city council needs to deal with the “infrastructure” of meeting processes, techniques to channel and make productive the energy of highly passionate members.  It can be done.  I did not hear that was part of the council’s action.  There is a lot of value in having these passionate, caring voices on city commissions, but there need to be clear processes in place around meeting decorum, agenda preparation and decision-making otherwise, we will get “safe” appointees selected because they appear to be pliable or compliant and “nice”.

    1. Matt Williams

      I concur strongly with Dave’s point.  I’ve now served on the Water Advisory Committee, Natural Resources Commission, Finance and Budget Commission, and Utilities Commission, and all four have handled New Commissioner Orientation differently. 

      The Utilities Commission has an outstanding 39-page COMMISSIONER ORIENTATION PACKET, which contains the following chapters.  The WAC gave an equally outstanding orientation to all its members at the first two meetings, which was much easier to do since we all started at the same time.  NRC and FBC were much less structured or thorough in their orientation,

      WELCOME LETTER FROM THE URAC CHAIR …………………………………………………………… 2
      COMMISSION MEMBER LISTING ……………………………………………………………………………4
      UTILITY RATE ADVISORY COMMISSION FORMING RESOLUTION……………………………………6
      UTILITY RATE ADVISORY COMMISSION CURRENT WORKPLAN ……………………………………10
      UTILITY RATE ADVISORY COMMISSION PROCEDURES …………………………………………….. 13
      GENERAL PURPOSE ORIENTATION AND UTILITY SUMMARIES …………………………………… 13
      PREPARATION MATERIALS FOR NEW COMMISSIONERS …………………………………………….23
      WEBSITE LOCATIONS AND NAVIGATION………………………………………………………………….35
      CITY OF DAVIS COMMISSION HANDBOOK AND BROWN ACT GUIDE……………………………….36

  7. Dave Hart

    In an attempt to keep this discussion on a constructive and positive path, I suggest that Todd, himself, agreed he had behaved inappropriately as a commissioner and gave a heartfelt and believable response.  He wasn’t removed, so his voice is not silenced.  The argument of “efficiency” is totally justified when we ask people to give up their personal time whether to chair a meeting or to be a participant.  The real problem is the lack of training in how to both run meetings (commission chairs) and how to be constructively assertive yet respectful for participants when things get “hot”.

    This extends to members of the city council and staff members at public forums.  When there is controversy, or there are passionate participants, there is bound to be friction.  On the one hand, if people do not FEEL completely heard, they will not (one can argue should not) let the meeting proceed if they have the responsibility of a vote.  On the other hand, clear rules and process can establish that everyone HAS been heard and it is time to vote.  It is efficient to make sure everyone is heard.  It is also efficient to have a process so that those who are on the downside of a vote know in what way they can constructively continue to advocate their minority position and also not undercut the democratically determined position of the body.  It can make people act crazy when they feel they are being marginalized, shut out or not heard.  Similarly, those who are trying to get through an agenda can be made to feel just as crazy when a meeting participant just never seems to be satisfied that they have been heard.  There are tools to help people who run meetings as well as participants feel and actually be successful.

    1. Bill Marshall

      There are tools to help people who run meetings as well as participants feel and actually be successful.

      If there is not a “my way or the highway” attitude… if it is honest, open, and willing to listen/learn, you are correct.  That is not always the case.

      Witness the public ‘discussion’ here and other places… a ‘meeting place’, if you will…

      There are strong parallels between what is described in the article, and what happens here…

      1. Alan Miller

        There are strong parallels between what is described in the article, and what happens here…

        No there isn’t.  Disagreement, yes.  Dynamics, not even close.

        1. Bill Marshall

          I acknowledge your opinion.  Perhaps my use of “strong” was a bit too ‘strong’, though…

          Some cannot acknowledge the opinion of others, when it conflicts with their own…

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