By David Greenwald
In the course of business before the Davis City Council, the selection of commissioners is generally arduous, but relatively non-controversial as these things go. But that changed on Tuesday, as several long-time commissioners were not recommended for reappointment, leading to charges and machinations.
One of the three at issue, Alan Pryor, who had served on the Natural Resources Commission, accused the council in a guest commentary in the Vanguard on Tuesday of “biased behavior,” arguing that he, Matt Williams and Todd Edelman “were active opponents of the recently-defeated Measure B on the November ballot in Davis” and accused the council subcommittee of “bias and retribution that has never before been seen in the Commission-appointment process in Davis.
“This behavior smacks of both retaliation and favoritism and is akin to Trump’s and Mitch McConnell’s dishonest efforts to stack the courts. It is certainly not becoming of the leadership of the host City of a major, world-class university,” Pryor wrote, perhaps implicitly underscoring an unspoken reason why the council may have looked elsewhere.
The council would largely support the subcommittee recommendations of Dan Carson and Gloria Partida, their first go-round after Lucas Frerichs and outgoing councilmember Brett Lee served for a number of years in that capacity.
Dan Carson explained their thinking in the selections.
“When we were assigned this duty last month, we both (he and Gloria Partida) talked about the fact that we wanted to make a very serious effort at outreach,” he said. “We wanted to make our city government more inclusive. We wanted more people of color, more women, other underrepresented groups, people with different points of view who haven’t had a presence on commissions.”
He said, “We took that seriously.”
In fact, several of the council members noted that the pool of applicants was by far the most diverse they have had and the ones selected will bring far more diversity to the commissions.
“We were successful in that,” Carson said. “By my count… I count 60 applicants in all seeking positions.” He added, “I think we took a good step forward towards the goals we set for ourselves.”
Carson said of the 23 new commissioners being recommended are six people of color, 11 women, and five students, as well as “very many people who brought new talents and perspectives to our set of commissions if you approve these selections.”
He pushed back against criticism: “There were no political agendas. We were very careful in our interviews to focus on what people were hoping to accomplish in commission life.”
“I knew when I took on this subcommittee, that there would be tough choices that we would have to make,” Mayor Gloria Partida, who also served on the subcommittee, said. “The city has a treasure trove of qualified people to serve on commission—and it’s always difficult to choose from this qualified group of people.”
She reiterated Councilmember Carson’s point, “This year we made a concerted effort to cast a very wide net in recruitment of commissioners. We were successful in recruiting a very large and diverse group of applicants.
“I think that it’s important to open the door to people who are underrepresented,” she said. “People at the margins of our community have a hard time seeing themselves reflected in even the most mundane city activities.”
But with these choices came exclusions—in some cases of long-time, prominent and even controversial citizens.
In addition to the commentary by Alan Pryor, there were a number of citizens complaining about the selection process—and particularly the omission of Pryor, Williams and Edelman.
Todd Edelman found himself the subject of controversy earlier this year when three commissioners resigned from the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC) for what they cited as his conduct during the meetings. They demanded his removal from the commission at that time.
The council ultimately opted for a middle ground approach, suspending Edelman for February and March which, along with the resignations, left the commission without a quorum.
Despite this history, in a statement Edelman focused on opposition to Measure B—the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Center.
“All three of us were critical of the DISC project and supported No on B,” said Edelman. “Commission Pryor—as a citizen—led the No on B campaign, Commissioner Williams was critical of the financial benefits and also traffic impacts, and I was on the BTSSC’s sub-committee on DISC, which found significant, negative or non-mitigated transportation aspects of the project, and I personally spoke against it repeatedly in my own comments to the EIR and in the local media.
“From what I saw of the communications campaign, Partida and Carson were two of the most strident supporters of DISC in the community,” said Edelman. Partida and Carson—as the council’s sub-committee on DISC—also refused to meet with the BTSSC’s sub-committee on DISC.
“My initial reaction to my extraordinary dismissal was extreme curiosity,” said Edelman, “But I quickly concluded that it would be naive to think that there was only a coincidental rejection of the Commissioners who had the same position on DISC.”
Heather Caswell, the owner of The Wardrobe, also submitted a comment to the Vanguard on Tuesday, critical of the move.
An opponent of Measure B herself, she wrote, “I was alarmed to discover that today’s recommendations for advisory committees systematically deny reappointment to Alan Pryor, Matt Williams and Todd Edelman, highly qualified commissioners who, like a clear majority of voters, actively opposed Measure B.
“I regard this as an unethical retaliation by Council members against commissioners who disagreed with their support of DISC.”
Matt Williams, for his part, attempted a different tactic. Acknowledging the stated need for more diversity, he withdrew his application for the Utility Rate Commission and endorsed the candidacy of former council candidate Kelsey Fortune.
She was not selected, however, but will get a second chance perhaps as soon as January, as another spot vacated on November 18 was mistakenly omitted by council.
Brett Lee, who previously served on the subcommittee, defended his colleagues’ selections.
He said, “We heard some public comment around this notion that there was some sort of litmus test in support of or in opposition to a recent city measure; as I look at the recommendations that the subcommittee has made, I think a closer examination shows that it does not appear to have been predicated on some sort of litmus test.”
He added, “I don’t think any of those comments had direct merit in terms of what you were hoping to achieve with your recommendations.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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