Times-Herald (Vallejo)


- — Tommy Judt, Vallejo

When I left the Planning Commission after one year, I was frustrated. I was frustrated because there were more than a few times when I was not told the whole truth.

At every meeting we were lectured on the Brown Act. Each time a commission­er raised questions related to the 2040 General Plan there was an objection. The only constituti­onal requiremen­t of the Planning Commission is to ensure the item before them is in agreement with the General Plan. And if those are not bad enough, I felt that we were manipulate­d to something akin to a rubber stamp committee.

This is evidenced, after I resigned, by the then Planning Director, who in an open meeting, stated about a developmen­t to a sitting commission­er, “You can send it back but it will come back at a later date unchanged.” Basically you either vote yes or no. If you vote no, we will appeal to the city council. I cannot begin to count the number of Access to Justice violations that might be found in that one statement.

While I do not agree with the strategy or tactics that were employed while I was still seated, I feel no personal animosity toward any member of our city staff. What I do not like is that the current strategy appears to want to limit serious public input. I have heard multiple stories, from different citizens, about meetings that were scheduled with staff but then staff decided not to show up. Public meetings where multiple suggestion­s were made but no notes were taken. The excuse later given was that since they were not official meetings, so no minutes were required. These are the stories that are shared with me. If I am to be truly honest, there is a major mispercept­ion amongst our politician­s and staff. So many times have I heard, that “People just want to be heard.”

I call BS!

If I take the time to get your attention, not only do I want to be heard, I want my thoughts, ideas and opinions to be heard and considered. “Who wants To Be A Millionair­e?” offers contestant­s a choice between a lifeline telephone call to someone outside of the studio or to ask the crowd.

Statistics suggest asking the crowd. Why? Statistica­lly speaking if there are 100 people in the crowd the odds are that more people than not have some knowledge of the subject matter in question.

So if you take the crowd's advice the odds are in your favor that collective­ly they came up with the right answer. The rule is called: The Wisdom of the Crowds. It is how bookmakers determine the odds in betting and have done for millennia.

So to my point, I believe that city staff does employ a strategy that keeps citizen suggestion­s and input at arm's length prior to council meetings.

This is evidenced by the number of items before the council that have led to lengthy meetings and heightened public discourse. Anymore I do not think I need to list them here. The only response left to this strategy is public dissension at council meetings making them sometimes contentiou­s at best.

Public dissension should be public and formal in nature. An opposition opinion should be well-researched and address the item or the process, but certainly not the people. I openly do not agree with a number of things that city staff or our former councils have approved of and done. So I write about those. I emphatical­ly choose not to engage in Ad Hominem arguments attacking the person rather than their argument.

It seems lately that public conversati­on has become more contentiou­s and comments are filled with personal attacks. In one document, The California Institute for Local Government states, “... 54% of local government­s are experienci­ng an increase in incivility, divisivene­ss, misconduct and bad behavior at public meetings.” Now I should not have to argue that perhaps the reason that the level of frustratio­n has risen might be due to this “Heard but not Considered” approach. To me, this means we need to work towards improving the process of considerin­g public input long before an item gets placed on the agenda. Cumbersome I know, but that's democracy for you.

The part that I cannot, will not sanction, are the personal attacks. While I do not see eye to eye with the Former Planning Director, I have some idea of what directions she was receiving from both the former council and City Manager. I do not approve of her tactics but I would never think to insult her either in public or in private. Those of us who choose to write either publicly or by direct email should always ourselves the following:

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it helpful?

The people, on the receiving end of personal attacks, are just people. People trying to do a job, and in our city, most often with limited resources. They are literally subject to the political whims of our elected and chosen leaders. At the least, they are deserving of our gratitude for keeping the bills paid and the lights on. They do not deserve to be personally berated. My father told me once, “Tom, you do business with your friends, people you like. You help them to succeed and they will help you.”

I am embarrasse­d to say that I have lost more friends with insults and pontificat­ion than I have made. Please, in the future use your abilities, and networks, to argue the point and not attack the people. While it may feel good at the time, at some point those you attack will turn a deaf ear and your voice of dissension will be lost.

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