By David M. Greenwald
Last month a group of citizens, citing a number of “alarming instances of secretive action, shortsighted planning, and disconnect between community and leadership priorities,” called on the city of Davis to improve the city decision-making process by making it more transparent.
On Tuesday, a number of public commenters came forward to push for the city to take up reform efforts to help improve decision making in the city.
Johannes Troost, speaking during public comment, said that “the proposal should be taken up soon.” He was hopeful it could be taken up by October 6.
Scott Steward Ragsdale asked “that the council continue to embrace the policy work that has come out of this working group. This group has been [dedicated] to an objective in capturing key experiences from City of Davis planning, utility, natural resource and other commission volunteers to develop a comprehensive decision-making policy for Davis.”
He reminded the city council of what drove the need to improve the city process, “Davis with a proud legacy has suffered from recent mishaps and misunderstandings such as the BrightNight pending solar lease and the Bretton Woods residential development.”
He said, “Some believe that these projects as conceived are unnecessary and costly.”
Ragsdale added that they are not pointing out problems without noting solutions, and so they are pushing for an improvement to the decision-making process.
“I am encouraged by the positive reception to the decision-making improvement process provided by our council and our city manager Mike Webb,” he said.
Dillan Horton, a candidate for city council, also spoke during public comment.
“I was proud to join many former and current commissioners in bringing this to the city council for consideration,” he said. “The proposal aims to make the city’s process more transparent, improve the involvement of many city commissions and decision making and improving communication between the city and the public on city initiatives.
“Ultimately I hope the city council accepts these proposals, but most importantly I hope that Davis residents stay engaged on this,” he said. “I believe that this proposal is yet another step in an effort to create a more transparent and accountable city government.”
Larry Guenther, also a council candidate, called on the council to hold public hearings on this matter.
“I believe that this proposal would lead to more robust community engagement and therefore would achieve better outcomes for the city and less divisiveness,” he said.
He also requested that the city allow commissions to appoint interim commissioners to avoid long-term vacancies that are leading to lack of quorums.
The proposal, dated July 23, noted, “An unparalleled level of civic engagement and civic pride is one of Davis’s greatest strengths. Over 120 Davis citizens participate on city commissions.”
Because of their role as conduits between the government and residents, “commissioners are sometimes referred to as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the city council. Unfortunately, distance has grown between the city’s eyes and ears and its core executive bodies.”
Their concern is: “Council and staff routinely make major decisions following only cursory consultation with relevant commissions.”
This, they argue, has led to, “in the most egregious cases, such as with the BrightNight lease option agreement, that relevant commissions are not consulted at all.”
They argue, “When commissions do have the opportunity to give input, commission perspectives are often given less weight than staff perspectives. This is evidenced in part by the fact that staff representatives regularly participate in council deliberations on key items, but commission representatives are rarely invited or allowed to participate.”
The group highlights three key concerns. First, that the council provides little information about the nature of closed sessions. Second, there is conflicting guidance from city staff that makes it “functionally impossible for different commissions to collaborate on topics of mutual interest.” And third, “the city provides almost nothing in the way of commissioner onboarding and training.”
The group has laid out a series of proposals to improve transparency in public engagement.
—David M. Greenwald reporting