Guest Commentary: Biased behavior and retribution in the Davis Citizen Advisory Commission appointment process

Microphone opposing Measure B cost three sitting Commissioners a reappointment recommendation

By Alan Pryor

This Tuesday, December 1, the City Council will consider recommendations made by a subcommittee of Mayor Gloria Partida and Councilmember Dan Carson for seats on various City Citizen Advisory Commissions.  Their formal recommendations to the Council can be found here. This article discusses bias by that subcommittee in their recommendations made for reappointments to these Commissions.

Mayor Gloria Partida and Councilmember Dan Carson were also both on the Council subcommittee who negotiated the deal with the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus (DISC) to put it on the November ballot as Measure B. Both then also signed the Argument for the Measure on the ballot and both strongly promoted Measure B itself during the campaign.

The City’s website notes that its supposedly-independent citizen advisory commissions “have a critical role in the City of Davis” by providing an “important avenue for determining the community’s feelings about an issue.”

But three sitting commissioners who applied for reappointment to 3 different commissions were all denied a reappointment recommendation:  Alan Pryor (Natural Resource Commission), Matt Williams (Utilities Commission), and Todd Edelman (Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission). What do all of us have in common?  All three were active opponents of the recently-defeated Measure B on the November ballot in Davis.

But all other Commissioners, save one, who requested reappointment received favorable recommendations including some of whom had termed out. None of these recommended commissioners had publicly opposed Measure B and many were ardent supporters of Measure B as evidenced by Letters to the Editor in the Davis Enterprise or other means, including:

  • Patrick Huber – Open Space and Habitat (termed out after 2 full terms)
  • Elaine Roberts Musser – Utilities Commission (within 3 months of termed out)
  • Gerald Braun – Utilities Commission (within 3 months of termed out)
  • Dillan Horton – Police Accountability Commission
  • Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald – Police Accountability Commission

Further, all of the Planning Commissioners who voted to put Measure B on the ballot were unanimously recommended for reappointment including Stephen Mikesell, Darryl Rutherford, & Emily Shandy. Additionally, Michelle Weiss was newly appointed to the Planning Commission over numerous other very qualified applicants. Ms. Weiss was previously Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission that, with her support but on a sharply divided vote, accepted the strongly-contested City consultant’s rosy financial analysis for the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus (DISC) project.

The circumstantial evidence is fairly conclusive that recommendations for Commission reappointments by the Council subcommittee members were strongly influenced by an applicants’ demonstrated fealty to the Council as evidenced by their prior public support or opposition for Measure B.

Systematically dismembering the non-partisanship of the Citizen Advisory Commissions by purging people who otherwise publicly share the broader view of the City’s population, in this case opposition to Measure B,  is the type 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.

Is it any wonder that so much distrust of our City government and City Council exists such that Measure B was soundly defeated despite receiving unanimous endorsement by the Council?  To see these same Councilmembers now pulling these unseemly shenanigans in blocking Commission reappointments of those who fail to do their bidding and oppose their views only reinforces those doubts. If you agree that this behavior is not conducive to good governance, please let your opinions be known by writing the City Council at CityCouncilMembers@cityofdavis.org


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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41 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “Systematically dismembering the non-partisanship of the Citizen Advisory Commissions by purging people who otherwise publicly share the broader view of the City’s population, in this case opposition to Measure B,  is the type 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.”

    Comparing the appointment of Citizen Advisory Commissions in the City of Davis, with limited terms, to lifetime appointments of Federal Judges reflects a level of self importance that far exceeds the role  individual commissioners play in civil society.

  2. David Greenwald

    I am not sure what Measure B has to do with all of this.  For instance, the recommendation of the only two people of color to the police accountability commission seems like a gigantic leap.  Also, Emily Shandy’s quote was utilized heavily by the No on B campaign, it seems strange that Alan Pryor would be suggesting now that she was pro-DISC and yet using her quote during the campaign.

    1. Keith Olsen

      David, as someone who started a blog over the actions of a city council towards a commission and some of its members don’t you find this somewhat troubling?

      1. David Greenwald

        I don’t find it troubling largely because I think Alan’s analysis is flawed. I think this amounts to three people not being recommended for appointment by the council subcommittee largely because of individual conduct rather than their viewpoints.

        1. Ron Oertel

          What “individual conduct” did Matt Williams engage in?

          And why was Alan previously allowed to serve for a long period of time, prior to his involvement with Measure B?

          Why is Patrick Huber being recommended for continuation, despite having termed-out?

          1. David Greenwald

            Ask the city and school district how much time they spent after Matt Williams put out the piece on the DISC benefit to the school district. That’s just one example.

            “And why was Alan previously allowed to serve for a long period of time, prior to his involvement with Measure B?”

            I’m not really privy to why he wasn’t selected. I know personally, that I caught him making several provable errors that I documented during the campaign without him acknowledging them. I have no idea if that is ultimately why they decided not to recommend him. But look at the tone of several of his guest pieces as well as some of his public comments. It was perhaps a case of totality of the circumstances. Or perhaps they found new people who they thought might be better. I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Ask the city and school district how much time they spent after Matt Williams put out the piece on the DISC benefit to the school district.

          How does that relate to “personal conduct”?

          Actually, he did not point out a “benefit”. He pointed out that it depended upon other factors.

          If there was nothing to Matt William’s article, why would the school district spend time and effort disputing it? (And again, how does that relate to “personal conduct”?)

          As a side note, do you think it’s appropriate for some of those associated with school districts to consistently advocate for development, based upon self-interest? Do you have any concerns regarding “personal conduct” related to that?

           

    2. Alan Pryor

      Emily Shandy obviously changed her view toward DISC from February when she made the comments because, as I noted in the article, she later voted in June with all of the other Planning Commissioners to put it on the ballot.

      1. David Greenwald

        Actually she didn’t vote to put it on the ballot. As you know, the Planning Commission doesn’t vote to put projects on the ballot. If your belief is that she supported the project, it was dishonest to feature her quote from earlier on the No on DISC page – a point I made earlier this year.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Actually, the point that you made was that Alan shouldn’t have quoted her earlier statement.

          Seems to me that her subsequent comment was that the voters should be allowed to decide, but that she did not further indicate a personal preference.  Therefore, I’m not sure that she’s the best example of someone who supported DISC (unlike Patrick Huber, for example).  Or Gloria and Dan.

          One might argue that you (and the Vanguard) were part of the “campaign”.

           

  3. Keith Olsen

    I often don’t agree with Alan Pryor or Matt Williams but in what world would these two dedicated hard workers not get recommendations to serve on commissions?

    1. Alan Miller

      Thinking the same . . . and how would we ever have got that unique solar roof built over I-80 through Davis had it not been for the vision and tenacity of TE?

    2. Eric Gelber

      in what world would these two dedicated hard workers not get recommendations to serve on commissions?

      Perhaps in a world where there were also other highly qualified and dedicated applicants who might have unique qualifications and experience, and bring diverse perspectives. Without evidence, as opposed to speculation, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions about the basis for the subcommittee’s recommendations.

  4. Alan Miller

    three sitting commissioners who applied for reappointment to 3 different commissions were all denied a reappointment recommendation:  Alan Pryor (Natural Resource Commission), Matt Williams (Utilities Commission), and Todd Edelman (Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission).

    What do all of us have in common?

    Before I read on, let me guess . . . you all deeply research the issues you are passionate about, are loud and outspoken, and are major thorns in the side of City staff and council.

    How did I do?

  5. Ron Oertel

    Patrick Huber – Open Space and Habitat (termed out after 2 full terms)

    Despite “terming out”, recommended for reappointment by the Carson/Partida subcommittee.  You might recall that Mr. Huber submitted an article to the Vanguard in support of DISC.

     

     

  6. Ron Oertel

    Ms. Weiss was previously Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission that, with her support but on a sharply divided vote, accepted the strongly-contested City consultant’s rosy financial analysis for the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus (DISC) project.

    Also concerning, especially if you watch the video in which the FBC reviewed DISC.

  7. Ron Glick

    Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the City Council. People often forget this.

    The only position that I find at all surprising is Matt Williams’.

    Edelman wasn’t removed at the beginning of this year, despite the resignation of other Commissioners in protest over Edelman’s behavior, allowing Edelman to finish his term. So it should be no surprise that he wasn’t recommended.

    Pryor has served 12 years so it should surprise no one that he wasn’t recommended. These are not supposed to be lifetime appointments.

    If people care so much, instead of speculating, they might ask Carson and Partida why?

    1. Mark West

      “The only position that I find at all surprising is Matt Williams’”

      I have no knowledge of the reasoning behind the recommendations, but this one could be a simple matter of residency.  If you have qualified resident applicants there is little reason to select someone from outside unless they bring specialized knowledge or other unique qualification.

      1. Ron Oertel

        One would have to examine the “timing” of his (removal?) from the finance and budget commission, as well. And, the claimed reason for that.

        From what I’ve observed, there appears to be some kind of animosity between Dan and Matt, dating back to the time that they were both on the finance and budget commission (which Dan chaired).

        Certainly, Matt has specialized knowledge and qualifications. And, he is not necessarily what I would label as a “slow-growther”.

        There is no requirement that one must retain residency to be on a city commission.  Just as there is no residency requirement for city staff.

        Unless the criteria are specifically spelled-out, any “explanation” (including any provided by Dan and Gloria) has nothing to back it up.

      2. Keith Olsen

         unless they bring specialized knowledge or other unique qualification.

        IMO Matt brings just that, years of public service and he seems very knowledgeable on several different fronts.  I would think people like Matt are exactly the kind of people that should be sought out to serve on city commissions.

  8. John Hobbs

    A perfect example of the puerile “I didn’t get my way so you guys are all poopie heads” Davis attitude toward politics and why you’ll never get out of the downward spiral in which you find yourselves.

    1. Bill Marshall

      More truth in that than I would like to admit, in the vocal community… but it’s been that way for 20+ years… one of the reasons (minor) I retired early…

      Mr Pryor was a ‘de facto’ member (participant) in NRC, long before he was appointed… abrasiveness, zealotry, intractable, are not traits we need on commissions, at least in my view…

      1. Richard McCann

        abrasiveness, zealotry, intractable

        I’ve sat with Alan on the NRC the last 2 years and I have not found him to be so in those meetings. We have worked toward compromise at times, he has been far from immovable.

  9. Don Shor

    The council had:

    8 new applicants for the BTSSC

    6 new applicants for the Human Relations Commission

    9 new applicants for the Natural Resources Commission

    5 new applicants for the Open Space and Habitat Commission

    9 new applicants for the Police Accountability Commission

    8 new applicants for the Planning Commission

    Working well with others is a useful characteristic in a commissioner.

  10. Tia Will

    The circumstantial evidence is fairly conclusive that recommendations for Commission reappointments by the Council subcommittee members were strongly influenced by an applicants’ demonstrated fealty to the Council as evidenced by their prior public support or opposition for Measure B.”

    I apologize if everyone is tired of me saying this. Having strong opinions on causality is fine. Pretending that one can read the minds of others and speak authoritatively as to their motives is not fine. As Ron said:

    If people care so much, instead of speculating, they might ask Carson and Partida why?” 

    You might find their motives were very different from those postulated.

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      Alan Pryor provided the email address for the council in his article, for anyone who wants to know “why”.

      Of course, that assumes they’d even respond to individuals (which normally isn’t the case, from what I’ve seen).

      Maybe it’s the other council members (other than Carson and Partida) who would get a response as to “why”. Perhaps it’s their job to do so.

    2. Ron Oertel

      But in the absence of challenges, you’ll know “why” proposals like DISC (and others) may reappear, with “unanimous support” by commissions (which would then be subsequently pointed out by the Vanguard and others).

      That’s one reason “why” it’s important.

  11. Bill Marshall

    There is no requirement that one must retain residency to be on a city commission.  Just as there is no residency requirement for city staff.

    True, as stated… however,

    Anyone 18 years of age or older, who resides within the Davis Joint Unified School District area and/or owns a business in Davis, may apply to serve on a City commission. Individuals employed by the City of Davis may not serve on a City commission. [source:  Commission Handbook | City of Davis, CA]

    Not sure what point was intended by referring to City staff…  just weird… city employees do not have to live within DJUSD boundaries, nor own a business in Davis… like trying to equate apples to armadillos…

    Implication in quote is much broader than truth… I could not be a Commissioner, once I moved to Woodland, Yuba City, UT, etc.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Not sure what point was intended by referring to City staff…  just weird… city employees do not have to live within DJUSD boundaries, nor own a business in Davis… like trying to equate apples to armadillos…

      I guess you’d have to examine the underlying reason/justification for differing requirements for those roles.  Both are in an advisory capacity.  Some might believe that city staff should have a stake in the outcome (beyond their own jobs), regarding what they recommend for the city.  And if they live on the other side of Sacramento (for example), then they may not care as much about what occurs in Davis as a result of their recommendations.

      I don’t necessarily agree with that, though it’s pretty clear that some city staff jobs are “dependent” upon a continued stream of development proposals, as they are in any city. Some staff time is actually reimbursed by development interests. If anything, THAT’s what causes me some concern.

      Bottom line is that I don’t think it’s a “weird” comparison at all.  I think it’s “weird” to focus on that one comment.

      As a side note, it seems to me that DJUSD “knows no boundaries”, regarding poaching students from other districts (for its own sake).

      Seems to me that Matt “qualifies”, regardless.

       

       

  12. Don Shor

    Michelle Byars was vice-chair of the Downtown Davis Plan Advisory Committee Meeting. That seems like a very useful perspective to have on the Natural Resources Commission at this time.

    I have known Dr. Tom Rost since taking plant anatomy classes from him in the botany department in the 1970’s. He is extremely well-organized, listens well, and has had an amazingly diverse career since retiring. He will bring a wealth of knowledge and skill sets to the Natural Resources Commission. We are lucky to have individuals like Dr. Rost willing to give their time for this type of work.

    http://www-plb.ucdavis.edu/labs/rost/

    Keara Tuso brings a strong academic background to the NRC and looks like a great addition: https://epm.ucdavis.edu/blog/epm-alum-keara-tuso-announced-2020-ca-sea-grant-fellow 

     

    These all seem like excellent, highly qualified appointments for this commission.

  13. Bill Marshall

    I guess you’d have to examine the underlying reason/justification for differing requirements for those roles.  Both are in an advisory capacity.  Some might believe that city staff should have a stake in the outcome (beyond their own jobs), regarding what they recommend for the city.  And if they live on the other side of Sacramento (for example), then they may not care as much about what occurs in Davis as a result of their recommendations.

    This quoted post shows an incredible lack of reality… many levels…

    Limitedly true, in that staff and commissions can only recommend “policy”… the parallel fails in that commissions cannot direct implementation/interpretation… staff can, and constantly do… reality…

    The poster slurs city staff, whether residents or not, with,

    Some might believe that city staff should have a stake in the outcome (beyond their own jobs)…

    Some might?  Very cute P-A, Ron… just say “I”… would be more honest (if capable of that)… I am/was, a conscientious civil service employee… my job was to serve the best interests of the public… it was not a ‘job’, but rather a ‘calling’… on occaision, that meant making decisions that dis-benefitted me but was for the greater good… you might not understand how professinal folk can do that… more is the pity…

    In my 36+ years as a public employee, I always strived to live within the jurisdiction I served… for 5 work days, I did not meet that (Davis apt. wasn’t ready to move in to… landlord failure)… 5 days of 36+ years… OK, my bad…

    [edited]

  14. Alan Miller

    AP, MW & TE —  Look at the bright side . . . they now call Brett Lee “Former Mayor Lee” — you all can now be known as “Former Commissioners Pryor, Williams & Edelman”.   What an honor!

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