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by Mike Ceremello
May 4, 2005
PLAYING CATCH UP
This column has gotten a little behind through no fault of my own. The last two weeks of commentary were important enough that they needed to be in print so I will bring all of the happenings of three meetings together this week. That will bring you current. Whether you choose to believe the analysis is, as always, up to you.
The three meetings, that of the Transportation Advisory Commission, the Planning Commission, and the City Council occurred pretty much within a week. As usual there was a common thread intertwined among these groups, but only apparent to those of us with eyes open and critical of the system of “rubber stamping” that has become a hallmark of the regime of Mary Ann Courville.
The Transportation Advisory Commission, also known as TAC, took the place of the old Traffic Advisory Committee, also known as TAC. That kind of sums it all up. They added a few more members of the public and took away the city staff members, which were the police chief and city engineer. Oddly, three of them live on the same small court.
To make it even a little more odd, one of the TAC members has a husband on the Parks and Recreation Commission and another neighbor was a Planning Commissioner before he resigned. As I said during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting, “someone must be doing a good job of lobbying”. Either that or there is an extremely disproportionate number of talented people living on one street. Not hardly.
Back to the meeting where the commissioners were confused as to whether they had a conflict of interest regarding painting the curbs green around Gretchen Higgins Elementary School. Although Shirley Roady was the selected interim Chair of this commission, it appeared that the resident expert on all matters before them was Denise Nelson. She voiced the concern about having 3 people living on the same street close to the school and this proximity constituting a “conflict of interest”.
Unfortunately her understanding of the concept is still as lost as it was when she complained to the FPPC and Grand Jury about Dan Supriano having a conflict of interest with his championing of the Boys and Girls Club. Dan was cleared by the FPPC because there was no “financial” benefit to him or his family. The key term here is “financial conflict of interest”.
The point is that you don’t disqualify yourself just because you live close to a project. Sometimes you don’t even have to disqualify yourself when there is a financial benefit. If a large percentage of individuals all benefit equally, there is an exception. All of this is from the little booklet that City Attorney Michael Dean provided and from which he gave a seminar on this subject.
The Mayor claims that these people were new to the Commission so their inexperience must be taken into account. Sorry but 2 of them that live on that court are holdovers and have served for a number of years. In fact a majority of them have served on this or other committees in the past. Another lie or just forgetful, Madam Mayor?
We now go on to the Planning Commission meeting where Kevin Heeney likewise excused himself due to his proximity to Hall Park. The subject, you ask? Placement of a cellular antenna on a light standard. Hardly something that would affect the value of his property, except maybe negatively.
Not to be outdone, the Mayor and Mike Smith excused themselves at the prior council meeting because they live in Zone 4 of the landscape and lighting district. The mayor corrected me after I stated, actually repeated the remarks of Michael Dean, that they could simply have refrained from voting on that Zone. She claimed that the reason they couldn’t participate was because of the discussion about funding all of the zones from the General Fund.
Sorry, mayor, but you are wrong again. The agenda item for that night was to determine how to make up the shortfall in funds for upkeep of various zones. I brought up the point about considering paying it all from the General Fund and a position that the mayor had endorsed at a previous meeting. It was vice mayor Gil Vega who correctly stated that this topic needed to be placed on an agenda for discussion as this was not the public noticed purpose under consideration this night.
Maybe the mayor didn’t bother to review the tape of the meeting. Here I was attempting to involve her in an important issue by allowing her input but it was more important to her to be right. Guess that makes her a two time loser...
On to more important subjects, the Planning Commission heard from Community Development Director Rebecca Van Buren that the two ordinances sent back to them by the Council would not be heard for months. It seems staff took it upon themselves to wait until Omniblunder II, another cacophony of proposed ordinance changes, would be put together to overwhelm their decision making capabilities. In other words, the staff wants the two ordinances, the assembly use and animal ordinances, lost among a number of new items.
Of course, I took the opportunity to address this at the planning commission meeting, as did Chris Bushey from Calvary Chapel, but the “rubber stampers” on the commission just accepted staff’s suggestion and moved on. I brought this up, again during council public comment, and asked when the council gave direction to staff to do this. As usual, no response and no direction from the log bumps at the dais.
So now we have come full circle. The “rubber stampers” at all levels of citizen participation, elected and appointed, allow staff to circumvent their will and at times reinterpret it to their own agenda.
Some of you may be old enough to remember bumper stickers which read “Question Authority”. I took that to heart long ago before entering the university. If one thing can be learned from history in just about any collegiate discipline, it is that the experts are proven wrong time and time again as more information comes to light.
The value of leadership is in questioning the city staff’s authority and judgment. Leadership is also the providing of direction instead of accepting direction. Mike Smith and, to a lesser extent, Steve Alexander are both guilty of attempting this. The mayor has repeatedly slammed both of them, sometimes subtly and sometimes aggressively, when they attempted to stray from her acceptance of staff logic and direction. Smith has deflected the mayor’s criticism with logic, while Alexander has done his “bureaucrat thing” and put his tail between his legs on all but one issue.
All of this goes to prove one thing that I have stated before. The mayor is no leader and never will be. Maybe the rest of this council will figure this out.
Otherwise, the city of Dixon will be playing “catch up” in maintaining what we had or are barely clinging on to...
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