2007 Year in Review–10 Biggest Vanguard Stories of 2007

As the first full year of the People’s Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from this year. This is the second year we have done this.

Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.

This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People’s Vanguard of Davis.

We begin with the 10th biggest story: The Davis City Council Preserves the City’s Historic Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.

This story begins actually in October of 2006. The City of Davis had just reformulated the Human Relations Commission after putting it on “hiatus” in late June of 2006. During the course of reconstituting the commission, the Davis City Council sought to re-write the authorizing resolution in order to strip some of the powers of the commission.

However, it was not until then newly elected Councilmember Lamar Heystek brought forward the language from the city’s seminal anti-discrimination ordinance, that the council realized there may be inconsistencies between the new authorizing resolution of the HRC and the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 1986.

The Davis Enterprise in October of 2006 reports:

“[T]he commission has been charged with reviewing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, created in 1986. [HRC Chair John] Dixon appointed a subcommittee to look at the ordinance to see if any changes are necessary.”

When the current Davis City Council reformulated the Davis Human Relations Commission, they sought to strip much of the previous power that they once had. As a result, they passed a resolution making the HRC strictly an advisory body, without the ability to investigate complaints.

This directly contradicted the Section 7A-15(C) of the City’s Anti-Discrimination Code:

“Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action.”

Councilmember Stephen Souza (a former chair of the HRC himself) was caught completely unaware of this section of the city’s Anti-discrimination Ordinance. The question was whether the city council should alter the anti-discrimination ordinance adopted into law by the City Council on February 26, 1986 and approved by Nichols-Poulos, Rosenberg, Tomasi and Mayor Ann M. Evans and opposed by Jerry Adler.

The council in February by a 3-2 contentious vote (Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek) authorize the subcommittee of Councilmember Steve Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson to address this issue and make a recommendation to the full council.

The issue finally came before the Davis City Council in June of 2007. Councilmember Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson come before the council with a subcommittee report.

The report concludes:

“The subcommittee recommends that Section 7A-15(c) of the city’s Anti-discrimination Ordinance should be deleted.”

Furthermore, they argue that this is not a fundamental problem for civil rights enforcement:

“The Subcommittee believes there is an adequate web of resources available to individuals.”

At the time, it appeared the vote was a mere formality. However, neither the city nor the subcommittee seemed to be very prepared in their presentations or their material. Much of the recommendations were last minute. And indeed neither the council nor city staff appeared to have much knowledge of the historic role of the commission as a body that does informal rather than formal investigations.

Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz was charged with presenting the staff report.

“That particular resolution, one of the things that it did was attempted to remove the responsibility from the Human Relations Commission to investigate individual grievances with the intent of attempting to adjudicate them primarily because that particular responsibility is problematic in a public commission…”

Ms. Stachowicz specifically referred to the Commission’s lack of subpoena power and lack of ability to get all information as a reason to strip its power to investigate and mediate.

The first of many twists of this night came when Souza suddenly announced that they had changed their proposal, which first sought to delete the authorizing section from the ordinance and instead would edit it to shift the power from the HRC to the city and city manager.

“Section 7A-15(c) which is civil remedies under the anti-discrimination ordinance, speaks to a specific commission as the entity that would mediate and investigate, what we have done is change that language to not be specific and allow for the evolving nature of the city’s mediation ability and programs over time.”

Souza spoke of replacing the power of the HRC with that of existing organizations. The argument that he used was that the city now possesses resources that it did not have at its disposal in 1986 such as the mediation and fair housing program, the police advisory committee, the ombudsman, the personnel board, and the human resources department. He argued that only one of them has subpoena power, the personnel board. In order to do a proper investigation, a body must be able to compel individuals to come forward to testify, only the personnel board has that power, not the HRC, he stated.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek took strong disagreement with both the process by which this was brought forward and some of the specific proposals.

Councilmember Heystek pointedly asked:

“We received this amendment to the ordinance shortly before 6:30, why was this not included in our council packet when it was delivered to our homes?”

Councilmember Souza responded:

“Because we prepared it a half hour before the meeting. We thought about it over the weekend, and me and Ruth discussed it, then we came and met with Kelly [Stachowicz] at 5:30 and proposed the language that you see before you.”

Heystek continued to press his point:

“I certainly appreciate that you’ve done that, but I question whether or not we’ve given people, even here, who wish to speak who were not prepared for these changes, and perhaps people at home who haven’t had these changes presented to them, I think the council should be very eager to take public comment tonight, but I question whether or not we should take action tonight.”

He also questioned the relevance of the personnel board as an investigative body for civil rights complaints.

Souza responded:

“It’s the appropriate body where individuals in the city lodge complaints against individuals in the city”

City Attorney Harriet Steiner had to step in here:

“The personnel board is there so that if there is a personnel action against a city employee, if there is a complaint against a city employee… that is the hearing body on whether the employee should appropriately be disciplined for their conduct. That board is set up as an adjudicatory board, but that board is not a board where people come in and lodge a complaint against a city employee…”

Heystek:

“That was my understanding of the role of the personnel board, so I will ask the subcommittee what relevance does the personnel board have to what we are dealing with tonight, changes to this civil rights ordinance, why do you bring up the personnel board if it is not otherwise a body that is open to the public?”

Souza:

“If there is a discrimination complaint against an individual in the city from an employee of the city, that would be the vehicle that they use to adjudicate the issue.”

Souza also admitted in response to a question from Heystek that he had only read the minutes of the deliberations on the original ordinance from 1986 “this evening.”

Councilmember Heystek pressed City Manager Bill Emlen as to where he would be providing referrals to investigate or mediate the complaint of individuals. Emlen in fact had no idea and dodged Heystek’s question twice. First, stating it would depend on the nature of the complaint. And second stating, “I think they’ve been mentioned this evening the various options that are available.” Both of these were essentially dodges and non-answers.

Then came a key exchange between City Attorney Harriet Steiner and Councilmember Souza.

Councilmember Souza:

“Do we have to do anything in order to keep the ordinance legal in its intent and the resolution in the Human Relations Commission? Can we leave it as it is?”

City Manager Steiner:

“I think we probably could leave it as it is.”

Councilmember Souza:

“Does any city commission, in particular the Human Relations Commission, have the ability under law to investigate?”

City Manager Steiner:

“None of our commissions would actually provide what lawyers think of as a non-biased investigation, none of the commissions with the possible exception of the personnel board that we talked about before, really are set up to do an equivalent to what the courts do. Many of our commissions listen to the citizens, provide forums for issues, and come to a policy recommendation to the city council with an appropriate recommendation…”

The discussion turned on the meaning of the term adjudicate. Council seemed largely unaware that the commission had never performed nor sought adjudicatory power. Their power was in the ability to bring sides together to mediate–if both sides were willing.

During this discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson and Councilmember Stephen Souza conferred with each other and Ms. Asmundson stated that there was an announcement from the subcommittee.

Councilmember Souza stated:

“I would suggest, given the first answer to the question about whether we could just leave the ordinance as is, that I would move that we leave the ordinance as is, and that we direct the liaison to the Human Relations Commission to explain the other avenues that are available and clarify the meaning, and provide the information as to the avenues that are available for mediation and complaints.”

Suddenly by a 5-0 vote, the city council left the anti-discrimination ordinance unchanged and restored the power of the HRC to its previous levels.

It was a bizarre turn of events and the most unexpected ending.

The discussion spawned a few commentaries from the Vanguard.

First, a youtube clip of some of the deliberation.

Second, a general commentary on the degree to which the council and staff appeared unprepared.

All of this makes the city’s preservation of the anti-discrimination ordinance, the 10th biggest story of 2007.

—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.

Categories:

Civil Rights

4 comments

  1. I’m glad to see that it’s still on the books. However, if this council takes away any authority for the commission to do their job by ignoring concerns that the commission or community members may bring forth then it may simply not matter.

    When council wants to keep things looking okay they just sweep it under the rug in hopes that nobody will pay much attention, because they’re too busy to hold those who are elected accountable.

  2. I’m glad to see that it’s still on the books. However, if this council takes away any authority for the commission to do their job by ignoring concerns that the commission or community members may bring forth then it may simply not matter.

    When council wants to keep things looking okay they just sweep it under the rug in hopes that nobody will pay much attention, because they’re too busy to hold those who are elected accountable.

  3. I’m glad to see that it’s still on the books. However, if this council takes away any authority for the commission to do their job by ignoring concerns that the commission or community members may bring forth then it may simply not matter.

    When council wants to keep things looking okay they just sweep it under the rug in hopes that nobody will pay much attention, because they’re too busy to hold those who are elected accountable.

  4. I’m glad to see that it’s still on the books. However, if this council takes away any authority for the commission to do their job by ignoring concerns that the commission or community members may bring forth then it may simply not matter.

    When council wants to keep things looking okay they just sweep it under the rug in hopes that nobody will pay much attention, because they’re too busy to hold those who are elected accountable.

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