Behind the Attacks on RPA
Recent Richmond City Council meetings have been marked by verbal attacks against the RPA by a few Council members, their representatives and supporters. Healthy politics involve disagreement and vigorous debate. But the recent attacks have consistently contained untruths and distortion, and we would like the record to be clear. We are sharing correct information about the RPA here because Council meetings are not the place to dwell on these issues. Council meetings should be focused on how to move Richmond forward—not about vilifying individuals or organizations striving to improve our community.
1. Kenneth Davis’ attacks on the RPA , the Mayor, Council members Beckles and Ritterman. As far as we are aware, these attacks stem from three issues concerning North Richmond:
A) The most significant issue concerns the annual distribution of funds from the North Richmond Mitigation Fund. These funds are paid to the City and County by the nearby dump for the purpose of improving the environment and reducing blight and illegal dumping in North Richmond. The funds are distributed by The North Richmond Mitigation Fund Committee whose members represent the City and County areas of North Richmond. (Mayor McLaughlin, Councilmembers Bates and Beckles, and Johnny White are the City representatives, and Supervisor Gioia, Dr. Henry Clark and Joe Wallace are the County representatives.)
In late 2010, a grant of $175,000 for an eco-academy green jobs training program that had been allocated to Neighborhood House of North Richmond was returned by NHNR back to the Mitigation Fund, due to a dispute between NHNR and an individual who had demanded to be hired as director of the program. Davis demanded that the Mitigation Fund Committee give the $175,000 directly to this individual and another organization he represented. The Mitigation Fund Committee decided to issue an open RFP for this $175,000, and several non-profits submitted grant applications to support a variety of projects. The RPA supported the concept of an eco-academy in North Richmond and offered Davis and his colleagues assistance in preparing their grant application.
Davis and his colleagues declined to submit an application but continued to demand the funds be given anyway and denounced those who insisted on following the legal process.
B) Davis demanded that the Mayor make an appointment to the North Richmond Mitigation Committee without the individual going through the application and interview process the Mayor follows for all appointments.
C) Davis insisted that the Mayor and Councilmember Beckles support his side in a dispute about who is the legitimate elected leadership of the Shields-Reid Neighborhood Council. They chose not to take sides while supporting all community efforts for improvements.
2. Dealing with disruptive behavior at city council meetings. Councilmembers Bates and Booze and their supporters in the audience have repeatedly asserted that the Mayor has denied free speech and shown unfairness in asking Kenneth Davis to speak on topic and in a few cases has asked that he be removed from the meeting after repeated requests for order.
The Mayor has a duty to maintain order during Council meetings so that the City Council can conduct business and members of the public can all have an equal opportunity to participate.
Video recordings of the council meetings make clear that Davis has repeatedly violated both the rules and civility of council meetings. He abuses the consent calendar to pull items so he can speak on issues having nothing to do with the item. He uses the additional time to attack the Mayor, Beckles, Ritterman and the RPA. He does not conclude his comments when his time has expired. He repeatedly yells out from the floor.
On occasion, RPA supporters and members of the public at large make inappropriate or off-topic remarks. The RPA does not encourage this behavior and has gone on record to remind individuals of the need for the council to function with respectful and civil discourse. Regrettably, a few council members and audience members continue to promote and defend disruptive behavior from Davis and the lack of respect for the Council and its chair.
3. Thanking Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) for choosing Richmond as the site for its new facility. Councilman Bates has repeatedly criticized other Council members for preventing a timely thanks to LBNL. The video of the 1/24/12 Council meeting documents that Councilman Bates introduced the topic as an emergency measure. The council voted to put it on the agenda. Bates refused to vote for an extension to the meeting to take up the issue. At the following Council meeting, Bates introduced the item by a lengthy attack on Council for not taking up the issue at the previous meeting and established the rancorous atmosphere for the discussion that followed.
4. Length of City Council Meetings. There are some valid reasons why Council meetings are sometimes lengthy. For example, there is more citizen participation. (see below).
However, the record shows that another reason for the lengthy meetings is that Councilman Booze consumes a disproportionate share of the council discussion time. Consider the meeting on 2/28.
The first two hours and 10 minutes were proclamations and honoring citizens. The remaining 2 hours and 16 minutes were for handling other business. Here is the time taken by each Council member during the business portion. (Times include time engaged in dialogue with public or staff.)
Councilperson Booze uses almost as much time as all other council members combined. Do his contributions to the meeting warrant this inordinate amount of time?
Watch the business part of the meeting on 2/28.(after honoring Richmond citizens) beginning at 2:10 to see how this time is used.
What about claims by Bates and some audience members that the RPA “wastes” time by taking up ”non-Richmond” issues? The national and state economy, jobs, and the cuts in Federal and state social programs are having a devastating impact on Richmond. Richmond Council actions that address these issues give Richmond citizens a voice and help create support for those at the national and state level trying to create change. The Millionaires Tax in California, for example, will bring in much-needed money for our schools and county social services and will do far more to help Richmond than reckless and divisive speeches by Council members.
And while they should only be a small part of total Council time, resolutions against oppression everywhere are important because the first voices speaking out contribute to building a movements for change. We are proud that our city through our council spoke out against Apartheid in South Africa and the anti-immigrant policies of Arizona.
5. What are the real reasons the Mayor and the RPA are under attack? The RPA has played a significant role in the grassroots transformation of Richmond politics. Long dominated by corporate and developer interests, Richmond has taken a new direction, solving problems for the benefit of the entire community. Part of this change is linked to the RPA’s policy to support candidates who do not take corporate contributions of any kind. The RPA has consistently objected to Council members who accept corporate contributions and then vote on issues involving those corporations. We think it is simply wrong for a City Council member to take fund-raising help from a company like Richmond Sanitary and then the same day vote on contracts with the company.
Under the Mayor’s progressive leadership, Richmond as a whole has moved forward, even during hard economic times that have devastated other cities. The community pulled together to bring LBNL to Richmond and to defeat the Point Molate mega-casino. Grassroots campaigns like Ceasefire and Safe Return have strengthened the Police Department’s shift to community policing. The work of the Office of Neighborhood Safety has helped to reduce crime and violence in the city. The RPA joined the community in standing firm against Chevron’s undue influence, and now Chevron pays more toward its fair share of taxes. The city has stood for the rights of all, attacking racism everywhere and defending the rights of immigrants. We have a Richmond that is concerned about the health of our children rather than about the profits of bottling companies.
These are accomplishments of the City as a whole. The RPA played an important part in these positive steps, and in helping to reduce corruption in the city by highlighting and then reducing the power of corporate money. We have shown that if people organize together that it is possible to win without corporate funding and defeat those who are well funded.
The City Council is now more transparent and not dominated by a few corporations. Increasingly, citizens come to the Council when they have real problems to solve. Thus recent city council meetings have seen many speakers from Men and Women of Valor, or the Richmond Rockets. This necessarily makes council meetings longer. Disputes between corporations and ordinary people are more frequently aired in the open at Council meetings, rather than settled in the interests of corporations behind closed doors. To be sure, powerful corporations still have their defenders on the Council.
We showed with LBNL that it is possible for the city to work together and do big things. That is the spirit that we have to return to The RPA acknowledges that there are many different interests and perspectives within the city and these will be reflected at Council meetings. But the Council as a whole is the voice of all of Richmond and must lead in the transformation of Richmond.
Recently the RPA distributed the statement below at a City Council meeting to urge audience members to respect the Council and its procedure. We reaffirm this statement.
The above statement reflects the views of signers and not necessarily those of the RPA.
The following is a statement of the RPA steering committee 2/21/12
The Richmond Progressive Alliance believes that City Council meetings should be models of democratic debate that we are proud for ourselves, our children, our city employees, and others inside and outside our community to watch.
Richmond is becoming a leader among cities for being responsive to the needs of its residents. In order to conduct the people's business, City Council meetings should be orderly, fair, and respectful places. This can only happen when all City Council members and audience members adopt a cooperative rather than combative attitude and adhere to the rules by which the Council operates.
To this end, the RPA expresses appreciation to audience members and public speakers as well as council members who abide by time limits, speak on topic, avoid disruptive language, and refrain from calling out from the audience, and we invite all members of the public to commit to doing so at all meetings.