Commentary: Civility and All Yada-Yada-Yada

I have no idea how much the city of Davis spent on their Transactional Effectiveness Sessions particularly the facilitator. Whatever the cost, perhaps they could have instead spent the money padding the community chambers and purchasing foam batons and bats.

Nevertheless, the Council intends to implement a pilot program for several meetings and experiment with a different procedural format. Again, I have no particular problem changing the procedural format, but I also do not believe procedural format is the source of the problem. Therefore, they could have any format in the world and the next time there is a heated issue we will be hearing a cat fight from the nearest lavatory and someone will be taking pot shots on the government channel that no one apparently watches.

That said, I agree with those on the council who have complained that the structure of council meetings, as dictated by Councilmember Don Saylor, is entirely too rigid. The general rule, whether you are using Roberts Rules of Order or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, is that you use the formalized rules when you need to. However, you can also relax the rules when you do not need to. Most bodies, if you watch them, relax their rules except for those intense “to the death” battles that require the most stringent of rules to ensure fairness, and to prevent any bystanders from getting hit with collateral damage.

The council has stringently been operating under the rule that there needs to be a motion on the floor prior to any discussion. The problem, opponents argue, is that it limits debate, because the moment someone moves for an item they are locked into a position. What we then see are a series of motions and substitute motions and friendly amendments as the council tries to figure out where they really stand, which locks them in, but also bogs them down in procedures.

There was really only one person objecting to the changes in the procedure, and that was Councilmember Don Saylor. In the end, even he voted for it. But during the course of the discussion on Tuesday night, and further during the course of workshop, Mr. Saylor argued forcefully that it would lead to longer debates. I disagree. I think it has the possibility at least to lead to shorter debates, because when the motion is finally made, most people will know where they stand and there will be a good gauge as to who supports what.

Remember that because of the Brown act, only two people can partner up before the meeting on an issue, and the other members may have no idea the individual concerns of their colleagues. But putting issues up front, the motions can be tailored to those concerns and not require lengthy amounts of motions, counter-motions, and other procedural tricks. So the potential, is that this could save time. Rules rules have been put in place to prevent filibuster–which would not forestall the item–only make it so that the council has to work later into the night.

So, I am very much in agreement with the changes. Councilmember Saylor’s attitude was that he did not care for debate, he simply wanted to make his vote and go home. That’s not surprising, since a chief complaint from many has been that the council rarely listens to the public. Furthermore, they often have their statements written out, clearly showing the public that they came to the council meeting with minds made up instead of being willing to listen to the public.

At one meeting that was particularly contentious, a member of the audience yelled to Souza that he was reading his comments and therefore had not been listening to the public’s concerns. He responded by saying that he had written them during the meeting. Quite simply there is no way that could have happened, because his comments were too lengthy and he would have spent a long period of time writing them out–again while he was supposed to be listening to the public. So really, either way, he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Frankly, it is the height of arrogance, in my opinion, for council to have pre-written statements to deliver. But then again, since no one watches the meetings, it probably does not matter.

As I suggested before, at the end of the day, I’m all for these changes, but the council format, is the not the chief problem facing the council, and therefore changing it, is not going to solve the communication problems between the members. At the end of the day, there is a lack of mutual respect between the members and it shows in their interactions. It is difficult to know the extent that the public is aware of this as the public does not watch the meetings and apparently doesn’t read the Davis Enterprise either.

Overall I just wonder at the usefulness of such discourse. I guess we shall see in future weeks whether this model and this workshops had any impact on council relations or whether they will revert back to the “at-your-throat” discourse the moment the heat is turned up again.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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Elections

16 comments

  1. The problem is allowing unlimited debate and statements. The discussion needs to be complete before the city council meets. This should be done online so that the public can participate in the debates.

    City Council members who want to debate at a meeting held to comply with the Brown Act should be allowed to, but not on the day that the vote is taken. These debates and discussions should be held in separately noticed meetings.

  2. The problem is allowing unlimited debate and statements. The discussion needs to be complete before the city council meets. This should be done online so that the public can participate in the debates.

    City Council members who want to debate at a meeting held to comply with the Brown Act should be allowed to, but not on the day that the vote is taken. These debates and discussions should be held in separately noticed meetings.

  3. The problem is allowing unlimited debate and statements. The discussion needs to be complete before the city council meets. This should be done online so that the public can participate in the debates.

    City Council members who want to debate at a meeting held to comply with the Brown Act should be allowed to, but not on the day that the vote is taken. These debates and discussions should be held in separately noticed meetings.

  4. The problem is allowing unlimited debate and statements. The discussion needs to be complete before the city council meets. This should be done online so that the public can participate in the debates.

    City Council members who want to debate at a meeting held to comply with the Brown Act should be allowed to, but not on the day that the vote is taken. These debates and discussions should be held in separately noticed meetings.

  5. Anonymous said…
    Dear Doug Paul Davis and the other greenwalds,
    Do you not see that you are self serving and full of crap as usual?
    9/15/07 9:53 PM
    —————————–
    As self-serving and crabby a comment as I’ve ever read on this blog.
    Dear anonymous, 9/15/07 9:53 PM:
    Your blatant lack of civility leads me to ask, however: Are you being facetious? Are you that sophisticated a wit, or just another Davis good-ol’ boy?

  6. Anonymous said…
    Dear Doug Paul Davis and the other greenwalds,
    Do you not see that you are self serving and full of crap as usual?
    9/15/07 9:53 PM
    —————————–
    As self-serving and crabby a comment as I’ve ever read on this blog.
    Dear anonymous, 9/15/07 9:53 PM:
    Your blatant lack of civility leads me to ask, however: Are you being facetious? Are you that sophisticated a wit, or just another Davis good-ol’ boy?

  7. Anonymous said…
    Dear Doug Paul Davis and the other greenwalds,
    Do you not see that you are self serving and full of crap as usual?
    9/15/07 9:53 PM
    —————————–
    As self-serving and crabby a comment as I’ve ever read on this blog.
    Dear anonymous, 9/15/07 9:53 PM:
    Your blatant lack of civility leads me to ask, however: Are you being facetious? Are you that sophisticated a wit, or just another Davis good-ol’ boy?

  8. Anonymous said…
    Dear Doug Paul Davis and the other greenwalds,
    Do you not see that you are self serving and full of crap as usual?
    9/15/07 9:53 PM
    —————————–
    As self-serving and crabby a comment as I’ve ever read on this blog.
    Dear anonymous, 9/15/07 9:53 PM:
    Your blatant lack of civility leads me to ask, however: Are you being facetious? Are you that sophisticated a wit, or just another Davis good-ol’ boy?

  9. DPD has written a terrific summary of what I understand to be the council’s bad habits and its step-in-the-right-direction toward a cure. I’d add another twist that is based on my 7 years on the planning commission. A good number of my fellow planning commissioners (FPCs)would habitually discuss ideas in an informal way before any motion had been made. I would often be in the position of urging them to “operationalize that thought” by articulating the specific language that would achieve their proposal. It was often perceived that I was being a Don Saylor type of Robert’s Rules Nazi — but I was instead asking for a more clear expression of what was being proposed, as a way of making us all more aware of what what we might be a vote-able and implementable proposal. So, my comment this morning is to urge efficiency and intellectual rigor by councilpersons as they use the discussion period before a motion is made. Help out your fellow councilpersons by fleshing out your thought to the stage where you can propose a “draft” version of the language that would implement the goals you are introducing to the pre-motion discussion. Don’t just say “I’m throwing these ideas out for discussion” without adding “and here is the way in which they could be implemented if we want to support these ideas”. djdingemans@ucdavis.edu

  10. DPD has written a terrific summary of what I understand to be the council’s bad habits and its step-in-the-right-direction toward a cure. I’d add another twist that is based on my 7 years on the planning commission. A good number of my fellow planning commissioners (FPCs)would habitually discuss ideas in an informal way before any motion had been made. I would often be in the position of urging them to “operationalize that thought” by articulating the specific language that would achieve their proposal. It was often perceived that I was being a Don Saylor type of Robert’s Rules Nazi — but I was instead asking for a more clear expression of what was being proposed, as a way of making us all more aware of what what we might be a vote-able and implementable proposal. So, my comment this morning is to urge efficiency and intellectual rigor by councilpersons as they use the discussion period before a motion is made. Help out your fellow councilpersons by fleshing out your thought to the stage where you can propose a “draft” version of the language that would implement the goals you are introducing to the pre-motion discussion. Don’t just say “I’m throwing these ideas out for discussion” without adding “and here is the way in which they could be implemented if we want to support these ideas”. djdingemans@ucdavis.edu

  11. DPD has written a terrific summary of what I understand to be the council’s bad habits and its step-in-the-right-direction toward a cure. I’d add another twist that is based on my 7 years on the planning commission. A good number of my fellow planning commissioners (FPCs)would habitually discuss ideas in an informal way before any motion had been made. I would often be in the position of urging them to “operationalize that thought” by articulating the specific language that would achieve their proposal. It was often perceived that I was being a Don Saylor type of Robert’s Rules Nazi — but I was instead asking for a more clear expression of what was being proposed, as a way of making us all more aware of what what we might be a vote-able and implementable proposal. So, my comment this morning is to urge efficiency and intellectual rigor by councilpersons as they use the discussion period before a motion is made. Help out your fellow councilpersons by fleshing out your thought to the stage where you can propose a “draft” version of the language that would implement the goals you are introducing to the pre-motion discussion. Don’t just say “I’m throwing these ideas out for discussion” without adding “and here is the way in which they could be implemented if we want to support these ideas”. djdingemans@ucdavis.edu

  12. DPD has written a terrific summary of what I understand to be the council’s bad habits and its step-in-the-right-direction toward a cure. I’d add another twist that is based on my 7 years on the planning commission. A good number of my fellow planning commissioners (FPCs)would habitually discuss ideas in an informal way before any motion had been made. I would often be in the position of urging them to “operationalize that thought” by articulating the specific language that would achieve their proposal. It was often perceived that I was being a Don Saylor type of Robert’s Rules Nazi — but I was instead asking for a more clear expression of what was being proposed, as a way of making us all more aware of what what we might be a vote-able and implementable proposal. So, my comment this morning is to urge efficiency and intellectual rigor by councilpersons as they use the discussion period before a motion is made. Help out your fellow councilpersons by fleshing out your thought to the stage where you can propose a “draft” version of the language that would implement the goals you are introducing to the pre-motion discussion. Don’t just say “I’m throwing these ideas out for discussion” without adding “and here is the way in which they could be implemented if we want to support these ideas”. djdingemans@ucdavis.edu

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