I’ve used the word ‘defensive’ a bit lately with regard to the administration and my colleagues. This started about the time Meg Tapucol-Provo published her resignation letter from the Police Diversity Committee. What I’ve tried to explain is that her experience on that committee was not isolated. She was simply reflecting on what is the culture of our current government.

Part of it is understandable. In the conversations I’ve had with long-time staff and the City Manager, they have said that improving morale was a key goal when City Manager Matthias took over. I fully support that, not just as a management-style but as basic good behavior. People deserve to be properly acknowledged for their good work and always understand that their work is highly valued–especially public employees, who serve us all.

However, morale does not come at the cost of oversight. At least half of the job of the City Council is to ask tough questions. The flip side is that it is the job of the administration to always provide their fullest cooperation to electeds. It is literally the administration’s job to convince the City Council that their proposals are in the best the interest of the public (even if it means having to answer to an idiot like me.) That’s one of the downsides of public service–the heightened accountability. It’s a pain. I’ve told City Manager Matthias that I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that for nothin’. But regardless, that’s just the deal. And an elected should not have to earn that cooperation. The office that the elected holds provides all the necessary bona fides. Or… at least, that’s the theory. 😀

Another meeting, another argument…

During my comments at the last City Council meeting I kinda went off on Deputy Mayor Mahoney… just a little bit… about his City Currents article re. pre-announcing a passenger ferry. That’s only the second time I’ve ever responded to an individual Councilmember. I told the truth, but perhaps one could argue that I could’ve been a bit ‘nicer’. Actually, I thought I was being a bit jokey to avoid displaying how truly upsetting it is.

But jokey or not, the Deputy Mayor and the City Manager do not take this sort of thing lying down. In fact, they spent twice my allotted time telling the public all sorts of anecdotal stuff to prove that not only was a passenger ferry a sound decision, but that the public had already been properly informed, fully engaged  and, in fact, love the idea. There were studies. There were surveys. There were talks. There were dinners. Only you, Mr. Harris, seem to have a problem with the plan.

I am all for studies. I am all for surveys. I am all for talks.  I am definitely all for dinners. But since this is public money I am also for disclosure. And survey results. And public comment. And votes. 🙂

Just to recap…

As I said, the only public presentation on the idea of a private ferry took place on December 2019. What the Council saw was a sample of the study yet to be done; not the actual study. Ten months later, on 24 September 2020,  the *City Manager provided an two minute update  to Council (go to about 18:30) where he stated that the study was complete, a survey had been done and the City was planning a Study Session. That Study Session has not happened. Several times over the past months I have asked the City for that data and been denied. I just did a public records request. Hope to get the results real soon. :).

Apart from how shameful it is that any Councilmember has to go to those lengths to get information about studies paid for with public money, I just don’t think it’s great to announce such a large policy in the City Current Magazine under those circumstances.

People love the idea…

At one point during his rebuttal, the Deputy Mayor said, as if this made it OK, “Hey, people love the idea!” Perhaps. People love a lot of things. But that is not how government works. Even if everyone is jumping up and down for something, you’re still supposed to go through the proper process.

We’re literally talking about a decision about millions of dollars. No Study Session. No survey results. No public comment. No vote of any kind.

And here’s the real point: Even if the City does eventually do all that stuff: has the Study Session, produces the study, and the survey, and  puts it on a meeting agenda for an official rubber stamp… er ‘vote’ of the Council? And even if they say, “See, we had it all right here. You got just got people riled up over nothing, son!” It would still be dead wrong. Because it was pre-decided.

I have no idea if a passenger ferry is a good idea or not. I have no idea if the current Marina redevelopment proposal is a good idea or not. But here’s what I do know: I am treated with defensiveness, deflection and personally criticised every time I simply ask for data and that good process be followed. You can dismiss my reactions as sour grapes or grandstanding, but I hope you keep reading.

The price to be paid

Now, as I said, occasionally I get comments from residents telling me that one should never be snarky. Point taken.

But in my defense (see what I just did there?) you should understand that I pay for my crimes. Whenever I say anything the administration doesn’t like, I know I will get triple-teamed. Specifically…

The rotating cast of characters

As you may have noticed, each councilmember gets four minutes of comment at the end of each City Council meeting. What you may not have noticed is that the Mayor rotates the order in which we speak. It changes from week to week for five of us. But the Deputy Mayor always goes  next to last and the Mayor always goes last. That’s not some ‘rule’, that’s just how Mayor Pina decided to do it. I’ve never asked him, but the only reasonable explanation is so that if some Councilmember says something they don’t like, then both the Deputy Mayor and then the Mayor can respond.

But wait, there’s more. What the Mayor also does–again which is not any rule, he just does it, is that he can call on the City Manager for a ‘response’. And there is no four minute time limit on that. The City Manager gets to say whatever he wants. Now this is a little weird to me because as you saw at the last meeting, a Councilmember is supposedly not allowed to respond to another. CM Martinelli actually tried to respond and was admonished by the Mayor. But the City Manager is invited to join in on the fun.

Anyhoo, I’ll get wailed on three times if I have the temerity to speak against any policy. (Actually, in the past it’s been up to five times, when I’ve been chosen to speak first. Then everyone gets a shot. 😀 )

What I’m trying to say is this: I could be as nice as Fred Rogers in my presentation. Wouldn’t matter. If I speak up against administration policy I will get triple-teamed. It’s not my ‘attitude’, it’s the disagreement itself. They always get in the last word(s). Thrice.

And they do take advantage of those opportunities as the video of any meeting where I’ve expressed concerns will show. It’s not like my colleagues just let me say my peace and move on. It’s not enough to win the votes and let the results speak for itself. A statement has to be made.

So let me ask you: what would you do if you show up for school every day  knowing yer gonna get beat up by at least three guys if you say something they don’t like? How well would you take to that state of affairs?

Is there something practical here or is this just more of your whining?

Is that a trick question? 😀 As I always say: most of you are transactional. So long as the City seems to be doing stuff that sounds good to you, you probably don’t care about this schoolhouse crap at City Hall. I know I didn’t until I started watching.

I point out these ‘inside baseball’ details because I know the public has a tough time telling who are the good guys and who are… well… less so.

But here’s one suggestion: I believe that you can tell a lot about an organization by how they respond to opposing points of view. They can either try to be open and willing to engage… or not. And whenever you are treated with defensiveness and deflection and personal attacks in a professional situation, your first move should be skepticism.

In short, organizations tend to handle the big things exactly the same way they handle the small things. And we got a lot of big things to decide this year.

l’m giving you the link to the City video web site because the video on the City’s Youtube channel omits the entire Administration Report. Again, another detail of process and transparency that drives me nuts.