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Davis Vanguard Fundraiser Post-Mortem

Developers and Council Get Cozy with the Vanguard

By Roberta Millstein, Rik Keller, and Colin Walsh

After having raised concerns about Sunday’s Vanguard fundraiser in a series of articles (most recently here), we thought we should give a quick summary of how it all turned out.

The event was scheduled to begin at 5 PM.  The three of us arrived a bit earlier than that.  Rik ordered a large pizza, which we munched on throughout the event.  We sat just outside of the back area of Lamppost Pizza that had been reserved for the fundraiser. 

Lee-speaking
Mayor Brett Lee speaking

We watched people trickle in and mingle in the designated area.  The event finally got started around 5:30 PM, beginning with David Greenwald speaking.  Mayor Brett Lee spoke immediately afterward.  There was no amplification of their voices and so we couldn’t hear much of what was being said.  According to the Vanguard’s own account, Lee discussed homelessness.  At this point, the only other City Council member in attendance was Dan Carson.

Surreptitious-videoing
Yep, that's us being videoed on his phone

At some point we noticed that a young man in a white buttoned-down shirt and tie—who was one of the early arrivers and helped with event setup—was trying to surreptitiously record us (he had his back to us and used his back-facing camera) while we ate our pizza, talked, and watched the goings-on.  Perhaps he was a paid intern for the Vanguard.  We found his cloak-and-dagger approach a bit chilling.  We took some pictures, too, but not surreptitiously.

Carson-speaking
Dan Carson speaking

Carson spoke next.  Again according to the Vanguard’s account, he spoke on the state of journalism.  Toward the end of his remarks (around 5:55 PM), Lucas Frerichs arrived and stood about 15-20 feet from Carson, but separated from where the group of listeners were gathered.  When Carson finished speaking, he joined the group for more mingling, so contrary to the Vanguard’s account, three members of the Council were all in attendance for a time – whether any Brown Act violations occurred, we couldn’t say.  David Greenwald announced that Frerichs and Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida would speak after a break.

At its maximum, we counted 25 people in attendance, including the members of the City Council, Davis Vanguard officers and some Vanguard Boardmembers.

Frerichs-Carson-Taormino
Lucas Frerichs (orange and grey jacket) watches while Dan Carson speaks. Dave Taormino is just to the right of the pillar.

Local developers were well represented with three generations of Taorminos present. The campaign in favor of Measure L/WDAAC, a David Taormino project, is the subject of an ongoing FPPC investigation for campaign finance allegations that involved the Vanguard.

Not much food was ordered by the fundraiser and those in attendance; perhaps a total of four pizzas and one entrée.  Some people bought drinks.

There were some unfortunate aspects to the event, although in all likelihood these were inadvertent.  At a number of points, the restrooms and the emergency exit were blocked.  Another unfortunate aspect is that since the tables were marked “reserved” and since no microphone was used, other patrons of the restaurant might not have known that their Councilmembers were speaking on topics of possible interest to them, or that they were free to join the crowd.

Frerichs-speaking
Lucas Frerichs speaking

After the break, Frerichs spoke, also on the topic of the state of journalism, according to the Vanguard.  At this point the “crowd” had dwindled considerably to about 12 people.  After he finished, there was more mingling and people trickled away.  We left around 6:50 PM.  According to the Vanguard, Partida did eventually arrive (having been working hard at the Pride event for much of the day), but she couldn’t have been there for very long or have been seen by many people.

We were gratified to see—presumably in response to our articles, the articles in the Davis Enterprise, and our comments to the Council—that steps were taken to avoid Brown Act violations that we warned about.  There was no Q & A, as had been originally promised.  Two of the three councilmembers who spoke, spoke on topics that are not related to issues that are currently or likely to be in front of the City.  Brown Act violations could have occurred during the informal mingling or if Lee is on a two-person committee on homelessness with someone other than Carson (we do not know if this is the case), since that would mean including a third.

However, we are disturbed to see the Vanguard and the Council doubling down on their cozy relationship.  Not only did Frerichs and Carson apparently praise the Vanguard – which is perhaps to be expected given that they allowed themselves to be the featured act of the event – but the Vanguard crowed about that praise in its own coverage of the event, completing the circle of backscratching and apparent quid pro quos. 

These are not the actions of an independent City Council and news organization.

Comments

Ron O

As Bob Dunning said: " . . . it should be obvious why elected officials should not sponsor or participate in fundraisers that enrich the very news organizations that cover them . . ."

https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/dunning/bob-dunning-these-standards-exist-for-a-reason/

It's also unfortunate that the Vanguard has decided to delete many of Rik's posts in particular (without any apparent basis), and won't even allow a MENTION of the Davisite at this point. Neither of these decisions appear to be backed by any documented policy.

Comments that are "allowed" to survive are then attacked by the Vanguard's resident peanut gallery, which the moderator apparently sees no problem with.

In reference to some of the council members' comments, one does indeed wonder about the "state of journalism" on what is claimed to be a community-based, nonprofit watchdog.

Eric Gelber

“There was no amplification of their voices and so we couldn’t hear much of what was being said. ... Not much food was ordered by the fundraiser and those in attendance; perhaps a total of four pizzas and one entrée. Some people bought drinks.”

You won’t get this kind of in-depth, informative coverage from other local news sources.

Roberta L. Millstein

Eric, I assume you are being sarcastic. So, to be clear: The Davisite is a multi-authored community blog. Although some authors may consider some of their pieces to be instances of reporting or journalism, that is not the goal of the site as a whole.

That being said, we thought the lack of amplification worth mentioning as a sign of professionalism -- or in this case, lack thereof. In academia, there has been increasing attention on the need to use microphones for those who are hard of hearing, even when the speaker "speaks loudly."

We also thought it was unfortunate that a restaurant like Lamppost (which I buy pizza from fairly frequently) gives up a whole section of its restaurant only to find that people cannot be bothered to reciprocate.

Earth shattering news? No. Worth mentioning? We thought so. Obviously, YMMV.

Eric Gelber

Roberta – First, I would note that I agree that the format of this fundraiser was ill-conceived from the get-go, raising ethical issues that could otherwise have been avoided. A post-mortem of an event, however, implies the authors’ view that it was a failure. Was it? I don’t think the success or failure can be measured by the number of pizzas sold by the venue host.

I’m fully aware of the provision of accommodations for people with hearing impairments. I’m not sure the small size of the venue necessitated that here. The authors chose to observe/“listen to” the event from another room and then criticized the acoustics and relied on the Vanguard account of what was actually presented. (Somewhat ironic given the authors’ views on the accuracy of Vanguard reporting.)

I appreciate the community service provided by both the Vanguard and the Davisite, and respect the contributions and thoughtful opinions of the primary authors of both blogs. I just don’t think this piece represents the Davisite’s finest hour.

Rick Entrikin

Following on Eric's comments, I'm wondering if any of the authors could hear whether Council members discussed a negative declaration to avoid any possible CEQA violations for use of animal products on the pizzas? And, did you check to see if any Council member was using a plastic straw? Truly, the detailed Davisite reporting helped bring Sunday's dismal LampPost scene to life, and made me even happier to have eaten at Paesano's.

Roberta L. Millstein

Hi again Eric,

Post mortem doesn't necessarily have the connotation that you give it. See, e.g., this usage:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmortem_documentation

"A project post-mortem is a process, usually performed at the conclusion of a project, to determine and analyze elements of the project that were successful or unsuccessful. "

We chose to listen from the outside (keeping in mind that we were not exactly far away -- literally one table over from the reserved area) so that no one could claim we were interfering with the event. We have been subject to accusations in the past and wanted to make it crystal clear that we had no intentions of interfering. And we followed through on that.

Our comment on the sound was simply to point out -- as we did -- that other patrons of Lamppost who might have wanted to hear would not have known that their Councilmembers were speaking on issues that they might have been interested in. The Vanguard could have made more of an effort to welcome in the others who were there.

But I'm not sure why you're focusing on that or on the pizza. I think it's clearly not our main point.

Was the event a success? Well, there were at most 25 people there. And as we said at the end of the article, it felt like the Vanguard and the Council were doubling down on their cozy relationship. As you say, it was ill-conceived from the start.

Rik Keller

Eric Gelber: just to follow up on a point or two that you made...

We purposely stayed out of the area that was marked “RESERVED” so as to not be accused of trying to interfere with the event. We were merely there to observe. It is notable that the attendees of the event blocked off the back area and interfered with regular patrons attempting to get past them to the restrooms (however, I attribute this less to malice than obliviousness). Even someone situated at the crowd to the right of the speakers told me they had difficulty hearing.

We provided some of the detail you mocked in the article to show the lack of public access to the event, as well as the event organizers not being respectful and aware guests in the restaurant.

We could overhear bits of what was being said and the Varguard’s account of the topics seems generally accurate, but you are correct that we shouldn’t rely solely on the Vanguard’s account. For example, the Vanguard article today stated that “Dan Carson spoke on the state of journalism and Lucas Frerichs, arriving later after both Mayor Lee and Councilmember Carson left, also spoke about journalism and the need for the court watch program.”

As you can see in one of the photos above, Frerichs was actually listening to Dan Carson speak while Mayor Lee was still there. While what Frerichs could actually hear is a matter of conjecture, it is notable that the Vanguard would get things so wrong about the existence of a quorum of Council members there; this is clearly related to their insistence that there were no Brown Act violations.

The fact that the Vanguard is so intent on providing misleading information about what happened at the event at least shows that our message about the problematic nature of four council members holding a Q&A session (as the event was advertised before we raised concerns) was heard loud and clear. We are glad that the Council members changed the nature of their participation, though we still think they should not have attended at all because of the larger ethical problems involved in elected officials raising money for self-described “news reporting organizations” who provide coverage of them.

If this event was intended as a show of strong community support given the Vanguard’s repeated crowing that the publicity that our criticism drew helped them immensely in marketing the event, the reality was far different. It was a very small gathering of a few elected officials; a prominent local developer family; Vanguard staff, interns and board members; and maybe 10 other people: a sad demonstration of local backscratching, influence-peddling, and quid pro quos.

Keith O

Looking at the pics of the low turnout the event hardly looked like much of a success. Either way the council and the blog should've realized the image that this sent out could be construed negatively by many in town as it was.

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