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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.