City Council needs to stop shooting from the hip
By Roberta Millstein
The City Council has a disturbing pattern of making shoot-from-the-hip decisions on the dais without proper deliberation and analysis. This past Tuesday one commissioner, and commissions more generally, were caught in the crossfire. (There was also a poor decision on pesticides on the same night).
To understand what happened, you’ll need a bit of the backstory, starting with the November meeting of the Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC) – whose members also behaved improperly, as will become clear.
On that day, the agenda included a letter from three members of the BTSSC: Frances Andrews (Vice Chair), Eric Gudz (Chair), and Mike Mitchell (Commissioner, former Chair). They asked for Commissioner Todd Edelman to be removed from the BTSSC and threatened to resign immediately if he did not, stating that Commissioner Edelman, “shows a lack of respect for the Chair, commissioners, and all involved by consistently prolonging meetings, derailing discussions, failing to yield the floor, and not accepting the decisions of the Commission.”
It is worth noting that two of the letter writers, Chair Gudz and Vice Chair Andrews, were to be leaving the BTSSC after the January meeting anyway, announcing their departure at the December meeting.
Commissioner Edelman submitted a letter for the same meeting. In that letter, Commissioner Edelman stated: “I sincerely apologize for the times I was clearly out of order and disrespectful to the Chair and other Commissioners. I do not apologize for my extreme passion in making Davis a better place for everyone moving inside and to and from Davis.” He further stated that he would do his “best to follow the Chair's instructions and not disrespect other Commissioners, or Council and Staff members present.”
Instead of recommending removal, the BTSSC recommended censure of Commissioner Edelman. The censure indicated that there would be “progressive penalties” if his behaviors continued.
The December meeting proceeded without recorded incident. Then, unaccountably, January’s agenda contained a new letter from Chair Gudz, once again calling for Commissioner Edelman’s removal from the BTSSC. The letter contained no new information, no discussion of what might have happened since November’s meeting – just a bare request.
I attended the January BTSCC meeting to speak on Commissioner Edelman’s behalf, as did several other members of the community. We pointed out his expertise, his dedication, his passion. We also pointed out that it seemed to make no sense not to give Commissioner Edelman the time to change his behavior, as the censure had seemed to allow for and as Commissioner Edelman had promised to do. Some of us also pointed out that chastising citizens inappropriately seemed to be part of a disturbing pattern from Chair Gudz.
Our efforts were in vain, however; the Commission voted to recommend Commissioner Edelman’s removal from the BTSSC, after agreeing that Commissioner Edelman was extremely knowledgeable and dedicated, and without presenting any new information about why a dismissal was being considered for a second time.
This is where last Tuesday’s City Council meeting enters into the story, with the BTSSC’s recommendation taken up at around 11:15 PM. Once again, a number of citizens spoke on Commissioner Edelman’s behalf, citing similar themes as before but also noting the bad process (the lack of time allowed for Commissioner Edelman to change his behavior) and the bad precedent this would set for other commissions. It was noted that there is nothing in the Commission Handbook that allows for such a recommendation from a City Commission on the grounds that the BTSSC cited.
Former BTSSC Vice Chair Andrews came to the meeting to say that she regretted not voting in favor of Commissioner Edelman’s removal at the January meeting, but she did not elaborate her reasons and she left immediately after her comment. No one else spoke in favor of Commissioner Edelman’s removal, at one point prompting Mayor Pro Tem Partida to say that she was "a little troubled... that none of the commissioners that want him off are here... For me, I feel that if you are going to ask somebody to leave your commission, you should show up."
City Council Chair Brett Lee, who is the liaison to the BTSSC, was the first councilmember to speak, instead of following his usual practice of allowing other councilmembers to speak first. He spoke for nine minutes, outlining his concerns with Commissioner Edelman. He later spoke for another six minutes, acknowledging that it was (at that point) after midnight, but saying that it was important. He did not allow Commissioner Edelman to respond to his second set of comments, which were accusatory, saying in a patronizing tone, “it's ok Todd, we don't need you to come back up. It's ok Todd, we don't need you to come back up right now.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs referred to the BTSSC's process as "flawed," a point with which other councilmembers agreed, with Councilmember Will Arnold saying that it was “not a process”. Councilmembers also acknowledged the worry about bad precedent and the lack of guidelines for proceeding with dismissal. Yet the concern was raised that two more BTSSC Commissioners might resign from the Commission if Commissioner Edelman was not removed, leaving the Commission without a quorum – something several commenters (including me) characterized as an ultimatum that the City Council should not acquiesce to.
It is unclear how the vote would have gone had a new idea not bubbled up on the dais – a suspension of Commissioner Edelman for two months, with a perhaps inappropriate condition that he not attend BTSSC meetings at all (perhaps inappropriate because meetings are open to all citizens), together with a mediation/conflict resolution process in the interim. It should be noted that such a process was something that Commissioner Edelman himself, as well as several members of the community, had urged as a solution instead of removal.
I suspect that the vote for suspension was a gesture at compromise between dismissal and leaving Commissioner Edelman on the BTSSC. However, there is no precedent for suspension. There are no criteria for suspension. No explanation was given for why Commissioner Edelman was being given a suspension on top of the previous censure, even though no one was able to cite any problematic behavior since censure.
Ostensibly, the reason was to preserve quorum on the BTSSC, but that failed; Commissioner Mitchell resigned anyway. Apparently, despite requests from the community and from Commissioner Edelman, no one had actually talked to now-former Commissioner Mitchell to find out whether he was willing to go through conflict resolution. Apparently, he was not.
So, now, we are left with an unjustified decision, a dedicated commissioner’s name dragged through the mud, and a BTSSC with no quorum.
This sets a bad precedent for any future commissions who are unhappy with minority voices or the “tone” in which they are expressed.