Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2019  
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  Democracy or RPA Hypocrisy?
May 22, 2019

Last night, I proposed to appoint a total of 28 individuals to five boards and commissions. The appointments to the Commission on Aging and the Economic Development Commission were approved on the Consent Calendar.

The Agenda item that included 19 appointments to the Citizens Police Review Commission, the Planning Commission and the Rent Board were removed from the Consent Calendar by request from a member or members of the audience.

This was the beginning of a last night’s chapter of a simmering dispute over commission appointments that has played out for years between the RPA and other City Council members, only the players have switched sides.

There was a lot of talk about “democracy” last night. Following is the RPA Dictionary definition of democracy:

noun: democracy
1.       a system of government where RPA members determine public policy and try to impose it on the rest of us.

This dispute starts with the authority granted by the Charter to the mayor to appoint individuals to boards and commissions:

Article III-A(c) of the Charter states:

(As amended at election November 6, 1984 and November 2, 2004) Appointments and Removals. The Mayor shall have the authority at any regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council to make appointments to or removals from all City boards, commissions and committees with the concurrence of at least four (4) other members of the City Council. 

(Added at the election November 2, 2004) Effective with the November 2008 election, the Mayor shall have the authority at any regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council to make appointments to or removals from all City boards, commissions and committees with the concurrence of at least three (3) other City Council members.

For the appointment process to work, (1) the mayor and City Council must ultimately agree on an appointee. And (2) an appointment can be confirmed only if the mayor is one of at least four affirmative votes. In other words, there is no room in the Charter for an appointment to take place without the mayor’s affirmative vote. That is indisputable.

What is not so clear is how that “checks and balances” provision is executed in practice. One interpretation of the intent of the Charter requirement is that the mayor must simply find an appointee that is acceptable to the City Council.

A more nuanced interpretation is that the appointment process is ultimately a collaboration where a certain amount of give-and-take or compromise is required to make the system work. If the mayor is limited to appointments acceptable to the City Council, that means the City Council (and not the mayor) is really making the appointments by rejecting any they don’t support. The mayor cannot override the City Council, but he or she can choose not to appoint, thus motivating the City Council to accept some appointments they otherwise don’t favor. In this case, there may be compromises where each party gets some but not all of what they want.

In last night’s case, the City Council got 26 appointees that were unanimously acceptable. There were only two that drew objections from a maximum of three City Council members. That seems like a pretty good compromise, but the RPA doesn’t deal in compromises. No quarter is their motto.

The tension between the mayor’s power to appoint and the City Council’s power to approve has occurred more than once in the past.

On February 6, 2007, Mayor McLaughlin offered up a slew of appointments to eleven boards and commissions in a single agenda item, as was her practice:

In the matter to approve reappointments to the Arts & Culture Commission: Kathryn Sibley; Parks & Recreation Commission: Lones Stern-Banks; Housing Advisory Commission: Anntheia Yvonne Harrison-Farr; and appointments to the Human Relations Commission: Marilyn Langlois and Jesse Montiel; Arts & Culture Commission: Fred Jackson; Planning Commission: James Jenkins and Michael Esposito; Park & Recreation Commission: Kathy Robinson and Diego Garcia; Personnel Board: Kim Stewart; Economic Development Commission: Michele McGeoy and Jovanka Beckles; Richmond Police Commission: Rob Ham and Nemy Bautista; Richmond Shimada Friendship Commission: Steven Pinto; and Richmond Youth Commission: Michelle Chenault. A motion was made by Councilmember Viramontes, seconded by Councilmember Marquez made a motion to holdover the appointments to the Planning Commission due to the possibility of the merge of the Design Review Board with the Planning Commission that the Council approved two years ago, and she also suggested that the Police Commission appointments be held over until the policy regarding conducting background checks is established. Mayor McLaughlin stated that the City’s current ordinances are that the Planning Commission and Design Review Board are separate boards and the ordinances established should be complied with. A substitute motion was made by Councilmember Butt, seconded by Councilmember Thurmond, to approve all of the recommended appointments. Mayor McLaughlin stated that the issue of the possible merge of the Planning Commission and Design Review Board was discussed, but not formally voted on for approval. Councilmember Butt withdrew his substitute motion. A substitute motion was made by Councilmember Bates, seconded by Councilmember Thurmond to approve the appointments and reappointments, excluding those for the Planning Commission and Police Commission, and vote separately for the appointments to the Planning Commission and Police Commission, passed by the unanimous vote of the Council. On motion of Councilmember Butt, seconded by Councilmember Thurmond, to approve the appointments to the Planning Commission and Police Commission, failed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmembers Butt, Thurmond Mayor McLaughlin. Noes: None. Abstentions: Councilmembers Bates, Lopez, Marquez, Rogers, Sandhu, and Viramontes. Absent: None.
Bates did not favor some of the appointments to the Planning Commission and Police Commission and moved to unbundle the process by voting first on all but the Planning and Police Commissions, and that motion passed.

A second motion by me to approve the remaining appointments failed with Bates, Lopez, Marquez, Rogers, Sandhu and Viramontes abstaining.

That left the Planning Commission with potentially not enough members to muster a quorum, so on May 1, 2007, Bates proposed a workaround that would enable Planning Commission members whose terms had expired to continue serving indefinitely until a successor was appointed and approved. The item passed on the first reading and was adopted at the second reading on June 5, 2007, with me supporting Mayor McLaughlin and voting to oppose. This ordinance, which is of questionable legality, essentially hijacked the mayor’s prerogative to control the appointment process. It ensured that the mayor would be stuck with the appointees of a previous mayor without a City Council majority vote to do otherwise.

In the matter to adopt a “Resolution of the City Council of the City of Richmond, California, formally establishing the Policy of the City Council Concerning the Continuation of Boards and Commission Members’ Terms. ”Interim City Attorney, Randy Riddle, gave an overview of the item. Following discussion, a motion was made by Vice Mayor Bates, seconded by Councilmember Rogers, to approve the item as is with the understanding that the City Attorney includes language that specifies as new Board members or Commissioners are appointed, persons being replaced are identified. A substitute motion was made by Councilmember Butt, seconded by Mayor McLaughlin to authorize a person that is up for reappointment to stay on for an additional month if a person is not appointed. The substitute motion failed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmember Butt and Mayor McLaughlin. Noes: Councilmembers Thurmond, Rogers and Vice Mayor Bates. Abstentions: Councilmembers Lopez, Sandhu, and Viramontes. Absent: Councilmember Marquez. The original motion passed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmembers Lopez, Rogers, Sandhu, Thurmond, Viramontes, and Vice Mayor Bates. Noes: Councilmember Butt and Mayor McLaughlin. Abstentions: None. Absent: Councilmember Marquez.

What is ironic is that when the City Council was able to thwart Mayor McLaughlin’s ability to appoint individuals to the Planning Commission and Police Commission, I supported Mayor McLaughlin at the time, voting in the minority..

Now, Mayor McLaughlin’s Richmond Progressive Alliance is using the tactics previously used against McLaughlin, about which they were highly critical,  to try and thwart my ability to appoint individuals to the Rent Board and the Planning Commission. Just like Bates did in 2007, they are trying to bifurcate the vote on appointments, voting in favor of those they like and blocking those they don’t. This is pure hypocrisy.

Last night’s 48 speakers (mostly RPA-associated individuals), among other things, criticized me for bundling appointments (the routine practice of Mayor McLaughlin), and for opposing unbundling (also a routine practice of Mayor McLaughlin).

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Last night’s RPA-associated and induced unruly crowd is an embarrassment to the City, shouting from the audience and causing a major disruption when they don’t get their way (RPA democracy).

In the more than four years I have been mayor, I have made plenty of compromises on appointmnets, perhaps more than any previous mayor, but I’m not sure the City Council has made any.

I inherited a Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee largely stacked by Mayor McLaughlin with RPA members, most of whom are now Point Molate Alliance members and generally opposed to any development at Point Molate. At McLaughlin’s fervent request, I reappointed most, if not all, of her previous appointees, although it was against my better judgment. This group continued to dominate the agenda, demand huge amounts of staff time and intimidate other members, rendering the PMCAC dysfunctional. Finally, when all appointees’ terms ran out, I decided not to appoint anyone because the usefulness and contributions of the PMCAC had run their course.

When the Rent Board was formed, then Councilmember McLaughlin insisted that everyone appointed to it be chosen by her to include previous pro-rent control activists. When it became clear that the choice was a compromise or no rent board at all, McLaughlin and I agreed that she would get to choose two members, and I would choose two members as well as the chair. We both agreed to support this compromise, and that is what happened.

After Vinay Pimple lost the election to his appointed seat, he expressed a desire to continue serving the City. Because he is a lawyer, I thought he would make a good member of the Citizen’s Police Review Commission, and he agreed. I appointed him, but the City Council would not approve him on political grounds. In this case, there was no compromise; the RPA and its supporters prevailed, and Pimple was blocked.

The Pimple unsuccessful appointment marked the end of compromise.

When the terms of all but one Planning Commissioners ended a few months ago, I proposed new appointees and re-appointees that did not include McLaughlin’s appointee of seven years ago, Marilyn Langlois. Again, the RPA members and supporters refused to accept any appointees unless Langlois was included. By doing this, they not only exercised their power of approval, but also exercised the power to select, a prerogative reserved by the Charter to the mayor. Now, due to, an arcane provision in the Planning Commission enabling legislation that contradicts the Charter, the Planning Commission has only one member who has been appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. The remainder are serving under the provision of RMC 3.20.030.

Most recently, the RPA and its supporters blocked the appointment of Catherine Montalbo to the Community Police Review Commission on political grounds, even though RMC 3.54.020 states, “The Mayor shall endeavor to appoint individuals representing diverse social, economic and political interests…”

We have to find a way back to what was the custom and worked for over 30 years when no mayoral appointments were successfully challenged by the City Council, or at least to a state where compromise prevails.

We can either work this out, or it will work itself out in a way that makes no one happy. There will be no winners, only losers.