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ISSUES | City Government

RPA Statement

We Applaud Applause

RPA Steering Committee 3/23/14

We believe that members of the public at political events like city council meetings should be able to express agreement with speakers through applause. We are proud that the RPA has attracted increased attendance and participation at city council meetings. We believe that the decisions that the Council makes are important and that citizen involvement in these issues is crucial.

One reason that city council meetings take longer now is because the Council is more open, so people come to the Council with their issues. It is true that in cities that are run by powerful interests where the residents feel shut out, the meetings usually proceed more smoothly and with fewer surprises. Democracy takes a bit longer and may be bumpy, but it is the far superior system. If applause could in fact be prohibited, the only way that people attending council meetings could express themselves would be by signing up to speak. This would take much longer than the few extra seconds for applause when people finish speaking.

We believe that Councilman Butt is mistaken in trying to prevent applause. Googling "clapping, applause, and city councils" show only that attempts by city councils to limit applause cause still greater controversy and generate rules that are often ignored and violated.

Applause is normally positive. As such, it is different from acts of disrespect and verbal disruption. Disrespect and disrutption should not be tolerated at council meetings, especially not when someone is speaking at odds with the majority sentiment of the Council or those present in the Council Chambers.

As a community-based organization, the RPA strongly disagrees with a current practice in which special interest groups pay money to persons to attend city council meetings to effect a pretense of citizen support. We find this practice disrespectful to Richmond and a mockery of the democratic process.

Council Retreat

5 to 2 for Respect

Richmond Council Retreat 10-4-13
Video: Respect at Richmond Council Retreat

The Richmond Council and senior city staff held their long-planned daylong retreat on Friday at the Marriott to discuss how to improve the functioning and perception of the City Council. 

Organized and run by a facilitator selected by City Manager Bill Lindsay, there seemed to be agreement that despite different value systems that produced differences on what was important and how the city should respond, it should be possible for there to be agreement on a number of policy and procedural issues.

Many useful ideas were generated during the discussions. Some activities the Council could work on as united body included plans to assist the struggling Hilltop commercial area, implementing the General Plan, and passing a small tax increase to pay for a program that will repair the streets.

There were also a number of ideas to make Council meetings go more smoothly. One suggestion that had support was that City Clerk Diane Holmes be empowered to examine items placed on the agenda and talk to Council members about placing non-action items as study sessions during the third Council meeting. Another was to allow the Mayor and City Manager to recommend an agenda based on city priorities and expectations about how many people would be attending the Council meeting for that item. A third was to not allow a council member or public member to pull an item from the Consent Calendar unless he or she first talked to the staff person in charge of the item. A fourth proposal that had broad support was to limit the time each Council speaker could speak each time to three-to five minutes. (After a round, Council members would get additional chances to speak.) But no votes or even polls were taken on these items.

As the meeting was drawing to a close, Bill Lindsay noted with disappointment that they never reached the point on the agenda about what people would do differently as a result of the retreat. The facilitator started a discussion on this. Jovanka Beckles proposed that they could all agree that each would treat each other with respect at Council meetings. The facilitator said this was important and added "demand respect from others and for my colleagues." Lindsay said that even if respect wasn't defined, the commitment to do this was important. Each Council person was asked, and five Council members (McLaughlin, Beckles, Butt, Rogers, and Myrick) made that commitment. Corky Booze said he could not make that commitment because he had to stay true to his principles. Nat Bates, the Councilmember who pressed for this retreat, but missed half of it to attend a funeral said he could not commit to respecting other council members at this time.

Council Meeting 7/23/13

The disruption that masqueraded as a civil rights protest at Tuesday's Council meeting made all the news. Unfortunately it distracted from some really important developments at the meeting. Here is one.  The other, Ban-the-Box is below. 

 

Joe Cochette
The National Law Journal says that Joseph W. Cotchett is considered by plaintiffs and defense attorneys alike to be one of the foremost trial lawyers in the country. He has been named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the nation for the past 15 years.

City finally hires lawyer

Major Development in Chevron Damages Case

Almost nobody noticed. The city attorney announced:

"that the Council voted [in closed session] unanimously, 7 to 0, to direct that the agreement with the Cochette law firm be signed and the Cochette law firm be directed to file the complaint against Chevron."

This means that the City and Chevron did not come up with an acceptable agreement to cover costs to the City from the fire and the City will now proceed with legal action against Chevron.

Now that the "settlement" for the costs of the fire is on the proper track, we must  focus our attention on the safety issues. We need as many people as possible to come to the next Council meeting where we will attempt to get  the city to use all of its powers to force Chevron to correct the dangerous conditions that still exist at the refinery.

Ban-the-Box Passes

The Council passed a new Ban-the-Box ordinance extending the requirement to contractors who do business with the city. So powerful were the presentations from the public and particularly the Safe Return Team, combined with obvious research and legwork, that the Ordinance passed 6-1. It won the votes of council members who had previously indicated mixed or negative attitudes toward the ordinance.  Tom Butt voted "No" it when his amendment to weaken it failed.

Does Nat Bates Encourage Mark Wassberg?

  Bates Wassberg Cartoon

At most Council meetings over the last year Mark Wassberg, also a candidate for Council, makes comments that are racist or homophobic. Frequently his remarks are admiring of Hitler's actions toward the Jews. He often uses vulgar language or gestures and yells out from audience.

 

Candidates Bates and Wassberg
Video: Candidates Bates and Wassberg

Bates has not officially endorsed Wassberg. But Bates seems to be encouraging Wassberg in his "political" career. (See video --warning--offensive language.)   

 

Wassberg's actions  serve two functions for Bates. First, Wassberg can make the vicious attacks on the RPA while Bates poses as a "reasonable person" on the council.   Second, Wassberg and the small group he sits with, who cheer each other and Bates and Booze, help create chaos in council chambers during meetings to make things difficult for Mayor McLaughlin. Bates then blames the chaos on McLaughlin.

--Mike Parker 

 

City must take action

Integrity of City at Risk

Stacie Plummer
Stacie Plummer, a city of Richmond finance manager, has charged the city human resources director with misuse of funds. (picture: Robert Rogers, CCTimes)

 

Richmond has to act quickly to remove Leslie Knight as Human Resources Director/Assistant City Manager.

This is a serious, but necessary, action.  The issues are not rumor, normal workplace conflicts, or an extension of some political struggle. The action is required based on the report of investigators selected by the City Manager, and paid for by the city. We do not need to know everything that was in the full thousand page report. The portion of the report that was released by the City Manager by itself calls for the action. Specifically it is clear that for some substantial period of time, Knight

  • took money from the city to which she was not entitled,
  • appeared to try to take action against an employee for being a "whistle blower"
  • used city resources and personnel to promote her own private business.

Any one of these alone should be the basis for immediate dismissal.

What makes this behavior especially intolerable is that they were committed by the person who is supposed to be modeling behavior appropriate to city employees and who is in charge of interpreting and enforcing the rules.

Before the March 20 Council meeting  City Manager Bill Lindsay had indicated that he did not think Knight should be fired, and Councilman Booze gave an interview indicating that he did not think the offenses were serious  but more  a "humanistic gesture."  

See City Manager's press release.  

See Channel 5 news report  

See Richmond Confidential

At the Council meeting during Open Forum about 30 employees, and residents across political lines, supported by many more in the audience, spoke strongly demanding that the city take action. 

The City Charter puts personnel decisions in the hands of the City Manager. Lindsay did not speak on this at the meeting or indicate what he would do in response to the overwhelming community sentiment.

Proposed Resolution

Councilperson Jovanka Beckles and Mayor McLaughlin have prepared a resolution to be presented at the next regular-business City Council meeting on April 2, if the matter is not resolved by then.

Resolution Calling for Restoration of Public Trust through the Removal of Executive City Employee from Current Position

WHEREAS, residents of Richmond pay hard-earned tax money to support necessary city functions carried out by their Richmond City government; and 

WHEREAS, it is critical that those who spend this money must be fully trusted by the residents; and
WHEREAS, City employees have the right to working conditions free from retaliation for expressing their opinion or revealing problems with city operations; and
WHEREAS, City employees are expected to carry out the spirit as well as the letter of City policy; and
WHEREAS, those who manage others in the City must be held to the highest standards of ethics and accountability; and
WHEREAS, an investigation reveals at the very least that the Director of Human Resources and Assistant City Manager, Ms. Leslie Knight, violated these standards of ethics and accountability and took money from the City to which she was not entitled; so

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Richmond City Council sees this issue as a matter of the public trust, which has currently been broken and which must be repaired immediately; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED

that we, the Richmond City Council, hereby understand and respect that the City Manager, as per our Charter, has the power and responsibility to hire and remove (if necessary "for the good of the service") City employees; and, it is with that understanding and respect, that we call for the removal of Ms. Leslie Knight from the position of Human Resources Director/Assistant City Manager.

Supervisors Steal Call Center from Richmond

 

Call Center
An Indian Call Center with Cubicles (Forbes)

The County Board of Supervisors voted to place the Call Center in Concord.  Richmond pulled together on the quotation for the call center. Developer Richard Poe sharpened his pencil. City Council members Myrick and Rogers brought forward proposals which were approved by the City Council, including a proposed $1,000,000 loan to further reduce the final price to the State. John Gioia worked hard arguing for the Richmond site. Councilmembers Beckles, Myrick, Rogers and Mayor McLaughlin made presentations at the Board of Supervisors meeting. In addition there was a good showing of Richmond residents.  

The proposal from Richmond was significantly lower and in all respects the best. But when the Supervisors voted we lost.

The city made a remarkable showing and everyone involved was proud of their role. It was reminiscent of LBNL. When the community pulls together it has tremendous imagination and power.

Money in Politics 

It is also important to understand the real reason we lost. Some people chalk it up to geography-East County vs West-or racism--white suburbs versus non-white Richmond. While geographic loyalties and racial politics may have been a part of this, there is good evidence that the real reason was financial loyalty. The Garaventa family which made a fortune in garbage collection and which stands to make a fortune from the call center in Concord is a major contributor to the campaigns of the Supes who voted for Concord. There were also family ties. Supervisor Mary Piepho's brother works for Garaventa. These supervisors should have recused themselves.

It is not just Richmond that lost with these kind of politics it is most of the residents of Contra Costa County who will foot the bill for the higher cost to line the pockets of a few landlords and increase a few campaign treasuries.

Most of Richmond can feel proud that in this city we take seriously the idea of fighting the influence of corporations and wealth in our government. Those like Booze and Bates who play the contribution game in Richmond are no better than those County Supervisors who represent their financial contributors and not the people of the County.  

Viewpoint:

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).


Air-Time at Council 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.

--Tarnel Abbott
--Courtney Cummings
--Mike Parker
3/5/12

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.