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Frerichs, Fowl & Facebook

LucasLet’s just say that I’ve never placed a whole lot of stock in officials.

I'm not saying they're all bad, but from my experiences, the so-called power with which they've suddenly been imbued, prevents them from recognizing the true weightiness and purpose of their positions. They forget that they need to maintain the trust of those who elected them, while earning the trust of those who had not.

When such officials misbehave I’m no longer surprised. After all, many of us have had plenty of practice being disappointed by individuals elected to positions they are ill-equipped to fill.

Not being surprised however, does not mean being apathetic – when our elected officials forget that they have been charged with offices of duty and trust, I believe they ought to be reminded.

Which brings me to Mr. Lucas Frerichs, Davis city council member.

I haven’t had too many dealings with this individual, not since 2012 when I turned to the city for help with noisy chickens. I’ll spare you the details other than to say that here we are in 2019, our issue unresolved. Had I been aware that Mr. Frerichs was the venerable “Tour de Cluck” committee official I would have known better than to expect his assistance. A handful of fruitless emails taught me that.

It is such emails, fruitless or not, that I’d like to take a moment to consider; missives sent by Davis residents regarding what I can only imagine are various concerns, grievances and requests. I can only imagine because they’re none of my business – whatever their content or degree of frustration, they deserve to be handled professionally and respectfully by those to whom they are entrusted.

However, when school board member Cindy Pickett chose social media to complain about a neighbor who called police regarding a barbecue she was holding, Mr. Frerichs responded:

2019-07-06 23_19_45-(1) Cindy Pickett“I’m so sorry Cindy. You should see the emails we get in our city email inboxes…”

Was he as quick in his rush to judgment as his fellow Facebookers, condemning the neighbor and supporting a “friend” who only gave her audience a scant account of events? Let’s be realistic, what we read on social media is merely the version presented to us, and there are always two sides to a story. Those of us who are discerning enough know this. Worse yet, was he suggesting that those emails he receives in the capacity of an official are trivial or unwarranted? As illegitimate as he was suggesting the neighbor’s complaint was?

I reacted to Frerichs the way I had not too long ago, when a colleague chose to ridicule a student, venting on social media and receiving a flurry of support from so-called Facebook “friends” who jumped on the bashing bandwagon. Then too, I questioned the appropriateness of the venue, the lack of professionalism. The colleague swiftly “unfriended” me, the modern-day version of slamming a door by people who only want Yes-men reacting to their posts. By the way, turns out Pickett (another elected official), handles disagreement in similar fashion, removing me posthaste). 

Risking my social media fate once more I dared to ask Frerichs what he does to help these residents whose complaints he was insinuating were outlandish.

His response?

“Karen - Would you like me to share your emails? They are public record.”

I sat back in my chair and stared at the screen for a moment.

Had a city council member just threatened to expose my correspondence, public record or not?

To ensure that it wasn’t just me reading it that way, I asked nine different people from varying backgrounds, ranging in ages from 22 to 75, all of whom recognized the response as just that, a threat.  Unfortunately, but not surprising, fellow councilmember Dan Carson whose “instinct is to shy away from judging colleagues,” added that, “on busy days” when he tries to “answer as much email correspondence as” he can, “in a very limited time” he “may sometimes come off a bit more abrupt” than intended.

Perhaps on busy workdays one may not notice as they randomly threaten constituents. Yet Frerichs was on social media scrolling through posts on a Sunday afternoon, with apparently plenty of time on his hands.

Council member Will Arnold was quick to excuse his colleague as well by blaming some of the “rhetoric” received “on a daily basis from members of the public. Some are respectful. Some are not. Some are harassing, bigoted, and threatening. We are constantly subjected to people’s worst rhetorical impulses.”

As sympathetic as I may be, dealing with the public regardless of its “impulses” is part of the job you signed up for, and remaining professional is what sets apart those who are fit for such positions from those who are not. Threatening to expose residents’ emails as a way to shut them up when you don’t like what they’ve got to say, is giving in to those same “worst… impulses” you just described.

 Mayor Brett Lee agreed, “…unless we are compelled or there are special circumstances we should treat our communications with constituents as between them and us and not share them with the greater public.”

Yet Frerichs couldn’t even get the apology right. He was sorry that I “believe” I was threatened. He was sorry that I was “feeling” threatened. It was in no way, shape or form an apology for actually threatening. It was the most unapologetic apology he could have mustered, reiterating that, “All emails we receive are public records…subject to being released,” proving once again that he had missed the point entirely.

In the large scheme of things, the cliquish behavior of small town council members doesn’t amount to a hill of beans as far as I’m concerned. But since this small town matters to so many people, as do their various concerns, I wonder how many will risk giving them voice once they know that they may be used in retaliation as social media fodder. Perhaps we should all keep this in mind next time elections come around.

 

Karen Levy is a lecturer at Sacramento State University and the author of My Father’s Gardens, 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee.

 

Comments

Sharla Cheney

Does the author realize that, by making these repeated and increasingly public complaints, judgement may necessitate the release of emails she is so concerned about keeping secret? I assume from this article, she had a problem with a neighbor and has shifted blame to a City Councilmember for not solving her problem for her. Now she is appearing to attempt to pull the broader public into her personal conflict. She should consider the stress this is creating for her neighbor, her neighborhood, and now the broader community.

Roberta L. Millstein

I understand where Karen is coming from. There is public and there is public. Just because something could be obtained by an official request does not make it as public as it would be if it were to be, for example, published on a website or on an elected official's Facebook page. To mention one obvious difference, you’d have to know that there was some reason to even request the correspondence in the first place, much less go to the effort to make the request. So I agree, there is a genuine threat when an article elected official says that they are going to make the correspondence that you sent to them public.

Eric Gelber

The author reveals her bias in the opening sentences, which, I will say, is not an accurate characterization of the vast majority of public officials and their staff with whom I have worked over many years. I find the great majority (including Lucas Frerichs) to be hard-working and dedicated public servants.

The same points about responsiveness of public officials could have been made without naming names. This is a one-sided hit piece, with selective excerpts from correspondence. (Apparently there is still some residual frustration over the chicken-clucking controversy.)

Colin Walsh

Bias or no, on the authors part I find Frerich's threat to reveal Levy's past communications pretty surprising. It is unprovoked and there is no additional context that excuses it. I have no doubt that Lucas is a very hard working council person, but his hard work does not excuse this type of threat.

Karen Levy

Sharla Cheney seems to have missed the point as well - This is not a personal conflict but an issue affecting anyone considering seeking an elected official's assistance. As I told Frerichs, I have nothing to hide since my emails contained legitimate complaints, yet threatening to expose them simply because he didn't care for my question demonstrates a lack of maturity and professionalism. As for "creating stress" for a neighbor? I've no idea how you would arrive at such a conclusion nor why we need to protect offending parties who create stress for everyone else. By the way, this column was really not about chickens at all...

Eric Gelber may do well to note that I preceded my observation by saying that it was based on my experiences. I am pleased that his have been otherwise. And yes - we should name names when elected officials misbehave. The public has a right to know.

Sharla Cheney

It’s about chickens originally. It’s now something else. Without full disclosure of all that has transpired, it is impossible to judge.

Karen Levy

Ms. Cheney - It's about the threat, nothing else. The content of the correspondence is of no relevance and doesn't change a thing.

Sharla Cheney

From Facebook:
Karen Levy - "Do tell, Lucas - what do Davis residents complain about and what do you do to help?"
Lucas - "Would you like me to share your emails? They are public records."
Karen - "I've got nothing to hide Mr. Frerichs, but I do question your glib and unprofessional way of handling your job, and can't help but wonder how both the city and the residents would react to this attitude. Besides making light of residents' complaints on social media, what DO you do to address their complaints?"
Lucas - "I wasn’t making light of resident complaints. I commented on Cindy’s post about how a neighbor called the police on her for hosting a bbq, and I said that she should see some of the types of emails we receive."

It sounded like you have had a previous unsatisfactory experience and posted on Facebook to criticize Lucas. ( Per your article, you did have a complaint about a neighbor's chickens in 2012 that you are not happy about.) You challenged Lucas to share emails of complaints from constituents and he suggested yours - I think to make a point that your challenge was out of line. There is no threat.

Colin Walsh

This Sac Bee story today that seems to suggest a former mayor received favorable treatment when they complained to the City is a stark contrast to Karen's experience.
https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article231332203.html?fbclid=IwAR1YeqQAeQiOuylc0_hroIBbe-azzP2nK3KH_6S3RcYsel5Q4HcOoqd5wiA

At the same time it does emphasize the public nature of all correspondence with the City. In the case of the Bee story however the Bee filed a public records request with the City of Davis. In Karen's case a council member threatened to post her correspondence with him.

Sharla Cheney

Colin - After she requested that he post emails from people with complaints, he suggested hers. There is no threat.

Colin Walsh

"Do tell, Lucas - what do Davis residents complain about and what do you do to help?" is an invitation to post the subject of the complaints, Lucas threatened to post her specific emails. Frerichs - "Would you like me to share your emails?"

Frerichs notes they are public records, which they are, but as Roberta noted earlier, "Just because something could be obtained by an official request does not make it as public as it would be if it were to be, for example, published on a website or on an elected official's Facebook page."

Sharla Cheney

Karen Levy's post was in response to Lucas commiserating with a friend who had a police called to her backyard BBQ by a neighbor and he mentioned the emails he sometimes receives that are along those same lines. Karen responded "Do tell." It was a request to share these emails. Lucas responded that he could share hers - to illustrate the inappropriateness of that request. Karen's response after that illustrates the difficulty of any written exchange over something she is not happy with. It would be better to have face to face meetings to discuss her concerns.

Karen Levy

Sharla Cheney - I don't know which is worse - your inability to comprehend a piece of writing, your unwillingness to criticize unprofessional behavior, or your inability to recognize such behavior. The content of my emails has no relevance to this discussion whatsoever. The point is the threat to expose them, regardless of their content. Do you understand this? The chickens, while clearly violating noise ordinance for YEARS and by more than one neighbor, have no bearing on this discussion. They are a whole other issue this town is unwilling to address. A smug council member's threat IS the subject. His reference to residents' complaints by even mentioning them on social media, "You should see the emails we get in our city email inboxes…” was inappropriate and suggested that they were irrelevant. I would think, silly me, that as a resident you would want to be assured that your complaints are taken more seriously than this. I can only hope that you have understood these points, simple as they are, but if you have not, we have nothing further to discuss.

Sharla Cheney

Your last post is an insult, but, if I have to choose, it will be my inability understand your writing.

My family experienced difficulties with people drinking and fighting behind my house. I contacted the Parks and Rec commission for help and the issue was resolved by removing the damaged picnic table that was there. It took around six weeks to find and talk to the appropriate people to get it resolved.

I also had a neighbor who waged a two year long campaign of harassment - emails to City Council and City staff, my HOA Board, false police reports and more - that didn’t stop until we moved away.

I understand more than you realize.

Karen Levy

Sharla Cheney - If you understand more than I realize, your support would have been nice as opposed to protecting bad behavior. I've been in this town since 1971, and I feel as though we are doing nothing other than catering to students who have arrived at an all time high of entitled behavior, protecting smug council members who aren't doing their jobs, and instead of enforcing laws (vagrancy, noise ordinance, etc.) we are enabling law breakers by doing nothing. I will not be part of this hand holding, Kumbaya singing culture. If you don't speak up things only get worse. We should not have to move away from our homes.

Ron O

It's definitely a "threat", and the apology was not handled well, either.

But, the Vanguard sometimes actually DOES what Lucas merely "threatened" to do, and without any warning. (Or, at least selected "portions" of emailed and/or Facebook exchanges, between public officials and members of the public.) Building entire articles around a "critique" of selected portions.

It occurred to me, although my name was not mentioned. However, I recall that others have had their names included, as well.

The Vanguard also allows commenters to research and post information gathered about other commenters (regardless of accuracy or relevance), due to its method of moderating comments "after-the-fact". (Sometimes, "hours" afterward.) This has also occurred to me, more than once. Including today.

Let's just say that I'm not a fan of the Vanguard - its moderation policy and practices, or its relentless advocacy for more development. In fact, I strongly suspect that these types of concerns are what has led to the creation of the Davisite.

And of course, the Vanguard still doesn't even allow a mention of the Davisite - even though this embarrassing policy (for a non-profit, in particular) is apparently not documented.

Perhaps a good time to focus more on the Davisite.

I will say that I'm glad that Sharla is commenting on here again, regardless of whether one agrees with her or not. This is a site where all should feel welcome and respected.

Rik Keller

Sharla: you seem to have misunderstood the nature of the complaints about Frerichs’ snide response. Note that Karen asked him as part of her question “what do you do to help?” His response to that was to apparently just insinuate things about emails she has sent. Totally unprofessional.

Colin Walsh

I want to support what Ron O says here. As part of a public records request I received several examples of City Council members and the City Manager forwarding emails they have received to the Davis Vanguard. One of those emails appears to be from Will Arnold forwarding Ron's email to David Greenwald unsolicited.

These emails are public records and can be disclosed to the public. what is most notable is that all instances appear to be unsolicited. Meaning, the City Council members and the City Manager are picking and choosing select correspondence they receive from the general public to send to David Greenwald and the Vanguard.

Colin Walsh

I would also like to second Ron's welcoming Sharla to the comment section here. All are welcome, let's talk about issues and refrain from personal attacks.

Ron O

Colin: If the council and/or the city manager are forwarding select emails to the Vanguard on their own accord, that is truly disturbing. Reminds me of the fundraiser incident, as well.

From what you've seen, do council members or the city manager include any kind of note to David/The Vanguard, when sending these emails? Have you noticed connections between what's sent to the Vanguard, and resulting articles?

I'd suggest asking the council members more about this (and letting us know of the result), and/or encourage them to respond directly on here. Perhaps an article will ultimately be needed, as well.

I've been wanting to reduce my participation on the Vanguard, anyway. I've wasted hours, on there. (But ultimately, I'm responsible for doing so - even if they're printing emails forwarded by the council.)


Karen Levy

Thank you Rik Keller - what a relief to be understood.... if part of a council member's job is to address complaints, and residents discover that those missives are made light of, laughed about on social media, and used as threats when it suits, how many residents will simply refrain from addressing their concerns to council members who cannot be trusted? Are these the kind of people we want in office?

Greg Rowe

I know that I'm commenting way late on this story, but would respectfully like to add an alternative viewpoint. Since the mid-1970s I've dealt with a multitude of local elected officials in California, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Arizona, Most of those cities have had what is known as a "Council-Manager" governance structure. That is, there is an elected city council, the primary role of which is to establish general policy, approve an annual budget, and hire one or two key personnel. Those personnel are the city manager, and in some instances, also the city attorney. (Some cities, such as Oakland, have an elected city attorney.)

Some cities, such as Sacramento, San Diego, and Oakland have city council districts (ranging from 7 to 9 districts), which enables each council member to respond to and deal with local issues. But, there is still a city manager who manages the staff who in most cases have the task of responding to and solving problems.

Some cities, such as Cincinnati when I lived there 1977-84, have "at large" city councils. In other words, the top 9 vote-getters in the city council elections every 2 years make up the council. There were no council districts. There were 3 political parties (of which the Republicans rarely had any more than 2 council members), and the other 2 parties (the Dems and the Charter Party) would split the 2-year mayoral term between their 2 top vote-getters. (Side note: Gerry Springer was mayor when I was there, and he was actually very good.)

Davis is like many other cities of its population size. It has 5 council members elected at large. Running the city's day-to-day operations is delegated to the city manager, in this case Mike Webb. He in turn has 2 Assistant city managers who report to him. This arrangement allows the city council to focus on "big picture" items.

The upshot of this information is that I respectfully suggest that the most productive way for the article's author to address her particular concerns would have been to contact the city manager's office. I can truthfully way that based on 4 years of experience working directly with city manager Mike Webb, he is highly accessible and responsive.

Karen Levy

Greg Rowe - City manager's office has been contacted several times over the years, as well as included in this latest incident. To no avail. Seems like they've all got each other's backs.

Sharla Cheney

I have a neighbor with chickens. They are fairly noisy first thing in the morning when they are laying eggs, but I wouldn't know they are there otherwise. I usually get up and start my day before they get going, so I only really notice them on the weekends. The noise is not loud enough or long enough that it exceeds the max noise levels. The trains going by on 2nd and J Street seem louder and more disturbing. The several dogs that also live in neighboring yards are louder and more frequent, including the two right behind us that like to get into fence wars with my dog. We also have the people who walk their dogs in the park and bring them right up to our fences, which sets off a cacophony of warning barks from all of the dogs and which are louder and more intrusive than the chickens. Backyard chickens are allowed by ordinance and their clucking and morning squawking doesn't violate the Noise ordinance. I think that the frustration is that there is nothing legally that these staff and council people can do and it just makes it all that much more annoying. It may be better just to talk to the neighbors and try to work it out.

Karen Levy

Ms. Cheney, you seem to have an answer for everything - allowing chickens within city limits has to be one of the most moronic ideas ever concocted. They are ridiculously noisy, and had I wanted that kind of noise disturbing me off and on throughout the day, I would have purchased a home in the country. The neighbors we've got, one psychotic, others self-entitled UCD students, are not the kind of people with whom one works things out. Trust me, we tried. These fowl have been recorded, police have agreed that they are too loud, then our joke of a police chief decided that "people are passionate about their chickens." I'm passionate about many things but I don't allow them to infringe on others. We don't need laws to be decent human beings. Just kindness and good common sense. Spare me the condescending advice. We've tried EVERYTHING.

Colin Walsh

Frankly I think the discussion of pros and cons of Chicken ownership gets away from the more compelling part of this story. how a council person deals with correspondence from the public, and what appears to be a threat.

For the record, this is the City code on Chickens
You can have 6 chickens as long as they are 40 feet from your neighbors house. No roosters allowed. By special permit these rules can be bent.

5.01.010
Keeping livestock and domestic fowl prohibited generally.
It is unlawful for any person to keep or maintain within the city, or permit to be kept or maintained upon land belonging to such person, any cattle, horses, swine, sheep, goats, geese, ducks, turkeys, roosters and other poultry and game birds, except as specifically permitted under provisions of this chapter. (Code 1964 § 8-3.101; Ord. 1632 § 1)

5.01.020
Keeping of chickens, pigeons or rabbits.
It is unlawful for any person to keep or maintain within the city, or permit to be kept or maintained upon land belonging to such person, any chickens, pigeons or rabbits except as follows:

A total of not more than six chicken hens or six pigeons or a combination of chicken hens and pigeons not to exceed the number of six, or a total of not more than six rabbits may be kept and maintained in a clean and sanitary pen or structure, no part of which shall be located less than forty feet from any residence, other than a residence owned and occupied by the person owning or in possession of such animals; and, provided further, that the keeping of such animals shall not create a health or nuisance problem. (Code § 8-2.102)

5.01.030 Keeping of certain animals and fowl permitted; permits required for keeping.
(b) Chickens, pigeons, or rabbits, in such numbers and of such types and under such conditions as will not be detrimental to the health, safety, morals, comfort, convenience or welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood of such proposed keeping and will not be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to improvements in the neighborhood. Applications for such permissive keeping shall require a fee of two dollars and be accompanied by a detailed statement outlining the proposed method of keeping. Following investigation and report by the city health officer, and without regard to distance limitations contained elsewhere in this chapter, the chief of police may issue a permit with such conditions as may be necessary to enforce the provisions of this chapter. Such permit may be revoked by failure to observe required conditions.

Bob

There are two compelling pieces to this story.
First, this article is clearly not about chickens or a hit piece. The author is sharing an experience of being treated rudely by an elected representative. This is a serious and documented issue that should not be minimized or dismissed. In addition, the author is correct to identify the transgressor, lest the reader misplace this behavior on someone else.
Second, the city also has a habit of biased behavior. If this article was just about chickens, there is plenty the city could do, but it chooses not to. The Sacramento Bee published an example of what the city will do when it wants to… https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article231332203.html

Karen Levy

Thank you Bob and Colin - for understanding the actual subject of the piece and for not being afraid to speak up. Doing so is the only way to bring about change.

Ron Glick

As to the issue of a threat my understanding is that if the person feels threatened then its a threat. Ms Levy has stated that she is not afraid of having her emails made public so under this test it was not a threat.

As for Lucas he still ends up with egg on his face and should remember to be careful in his correspondence. Of course the jury is still out but we will know on election day if the chickens come home to roost or if the pecking order at city hall will change.

Ron O

3 "chicken" references in Ron G's last paragraph, while nevertheless acknowledging the point of the article in an amusing manner.

Not bad!

Karen Levy

Ron Glick - Not feeling threatened does not change the intent behind the words. Whether one's threat is effective or not, and whether a threat is carried out or not, does not make it less of a threat and should not be dealt with lightly. Let's stop distracting from the issue at hand and start focusing on dealing with inappropriate behavior and its consequences. While I may not be worried about the content of my emails, other people may choose not to share their concerns at all, knowing that they may be mishandled.

Ron Glick

Karen Levy, How do you know the intent behind the words? My guess is the sky is not falling.

Karen Levy

Mr. Glick, I am an educated, intelligent individual and words ARE my business, so I, and other discerning people recognize a threat when we hear one. You will probably want to have the last word on this one, so be my guest. But I do believe I've explained this quite thoroughly and have no desire to feed your need for attention any further.

Ron Glick

As an educated, intelligent individual with words as your business you should know that a person may at times infer something not intended through the implication of another person. Without clarification as to his intent you can't be sure. Also, as I stated earlier, if you weren't fearful you were not threatened. Interesting that you asked nine people but never asked the person you are accusing.

Okay, I'll stop clucking too, having gotten the last word.

Ben A Yoder

Mr. Frerich has no grace and is disrespectful to his constituents by threatening to make Karen's emails public and for posting on facebook about "the emails he gets." In my opinion if such emails are bad enough to post about on Facebook then he should resign immediately for he doesn't grasp the purpose of public service and the position that he holds.

Sharla defending bad behavior and attempting to pick apart the author's post reveals your bias. I can only wonder why one would do this since it is impossible know.

Karen Levy

Thank you Mr. Yoder. Much appreciated.

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