Anyone who watches the City Council meetings with any regularity has seen them – the testy shots lobbed from time to time by the more impatient Council members at each other or members of the public.
Last week, for instance, Mayor Pam O’Connor suddenly lashed the Planning Commission for allowing people who appear before it to talk too much, unlike the Council, which strictly regulates speakers, giving them as little as one minute and never more than three minutes at the podium.
There were no members of the Commission present to receive the scolding, nor was the Commission being discussed. O’Connor simply seems to find it necessary to hector someone or something from time to time.
As Mayor, O’Connor is the Council timekeeper, and she goes off simultaneously with the podium buzzer, impatiently waving one speaker off and the next one on – and never mind if the banished speaker is in mid-sentence.
In contrast, the Planning Commission is more relaxed, allowing speakers to have their say – without recourse to buzzers or wave-offs from the chair.
Since the Council’s primary responsibility is representing the people, we would think that listening to the people would be pretty important, but O’Connor seems less interested in what people say than in how fast they say it.
Her impatience is not reserved exclusively for members of the public. She whips her fellow colleagues along, sometimes cutting them off, too. Indeed, the only people she does not rush or cut off are City staff people, which may be why the staff almost always has the last word these days on matters large and trivial.
At the previous Council meeting, Council member Ken Genser demonstrated another sort of bad manners. The subject on the table was City staff’s proposed design for Euclid Park.
A number of neighbors opposed the staff’s design, noting that it had consistently ignored their comments and requests, expressing their fear of transients in the area and asking that the park be fenced and its hours restricted. Several of the speakers live in Hacienda del Mar, a residence for disabled people, which is adjacent to the proposed park. One of them described how an apparent transient grabbed her wallet right out of her wheelchair.
City staff disagreed with the neighbors’ assessments, and the Council took the staff’s word for it, and approved the staff plan. During the Council discussion, Genser told the neighbors that he thought their “fears were unfounded.”
Council members can rule on policies and projects, but that does not qualify them to rule on people’s emotions, much less dismiss them.
All sorts of people have all sorts of fears – for good reason or no reason, rational and irrational – but they are all authentic to the extent that the people who have them are affected by them.
In dismissing these people’s fears as “unfounded,” Genser displayed the hubris that seems to inevitably afflict longtime City Hall habitués and makes a bad joke of its much-vaunted process.This sort of callousness is the rule, not the exception. City Hall insiders obviously like to think they know better, but until they start listening to the people, they don’t really know anything.