I never envisioned things could get so bad on the Richmond City Council but this past Tuesday night together with the recent several meetings; this has to be the very worst and most dysfunctional council I have witnessed during my 35 years as a councilmember.
For the purpose of an update, I should note things began to accelerate its deterioration during the March 12, 2014 Richmond Housing Authority meeting when Councilman Tom Butt went bananas while disputing the Hacienda tenants complaints regarding the poor and despicable conditions of their units operated by our RHA. The tenant’s complaints were verified by several TV news stations and the SF Chronicle who had visited the site. Once the tenants expressed their dissatisfaction together their displeasure with comment made by Butt who stated the "tenants expected maid services in their units", Butt in his response unfortunately rather than stating his points of view, began communicating with the audience who verbally disagreed with him. When he requested the mayor control the meeting and to her credit, she tried to calm down the audience but suddenly Butt stood up and started yelling at the mayor (see video) while shaking his finger in her face and stating in a loud and threatening voice that she did not know how to run a meeting and should get someone else. After having his say, he stormed out of the meeting with the mayor following and pleading for him to return in which he ignored.
Interesting in that the following Tuesday meeting, the only ones coming to the defense of the mayor in how she was mistreated by Butts were yours truly, councilman Booze and a few mostly African American women and men who regularly attend council meeting. Not one member from the RPA, nor any other council member spoke a word regarding Butt’s inappropriate behavior toward the mayor. I only mention this because the city has a policy of condemning Bullying in the work place but you can witness in the above video, such behavior also exist by Mr. Butt toward the mayor and other staff members. .
The next council meeting March 18, 2014, found the council chambers packed with Contra Costa County Building & Trades union workers supporting Chevron Modernization Project. As expected, union workers were enthusiastic during the hearing, having been off their jobs at Chevron for the past several years and cheered as speakers supported their causes. Mr. Butt again became agitated and demanded the mayor control the crowd by stopping their applause after each speaker. Never mind that in the past, this mayor and council have permitted applause on all sorts of issues. RPA and ACCE in particular have had their speakers receiving applause during their Eminent Domain, Marin Clean Energy presentations and many other issues, etc. It is unclear why the mayor protects and supports Butt's demands especially having been embarrassed and disrespected by him during the March 12, 2014 council meeting. As the meeting continued, the mayor’s caution was ignored but the meeting moved along without incident. Out of nowhere, Beckles requested a point of order while stating, “When the mayor requests no applause, why should the audience not respond as directed?” Why she interjected this statement is unknown but what followed became an expression of a disgruntle audience that eventually resulted into a recess. During the recess at the insistence of Butt and Beckles, the mayor directed the city manager to have the police escort everyone out of the council chambers including the elder, youth and many of the audience who had nothing to do with the union movement in support of Chevron. In removing some 250 people and placing them in the hall way, there were no sitting accommodations for the elderly or anyone else. After the council was call back to order, a heated discussion of some forty five minutes was held regarding the removal of the audience. The final vote to return the audience was made with Rogers, Booze, Myrick and Bates voting yes and McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt voting no. Needless to say, the meeting concluded without further incident.
The recent April 22, 2014 meeting, the council sputtered and struggled into the wee hours of Wednesday morning to about 12:30AM attempting to complete an agenda that listed only twelve items which included three presentations, two study sessions, one emergency item and only six action items including open forum.
The council was sailing along nicely through the three presentations and the two study sessions. Perhaps one reason the council was on its best behavior was due in part to having special guests. The first study session was a presentation by Former Councilman and current President of the Contra Costa Community College District, John Marquez and Dr. Denise Noldon, CCC president. Their presentation was information regarding why and how the ballot bond measure of some 200 million dollars would be spent. The second presentation was by another former Councilmember, Lesa McIntosh, EBMUD director concerning the water shortage. It appeared it was former council members night as in addition to Marquez and McIntosh, also in the audience was Alex Evans who served on the council several years. Both study sessions were well organized and presented in a timely manner without controversy. Maybe this is what happens when you invite company to the council.
Fireworks started when Councilman Tom Butt requested an emergency item be placed on the agenda to oppose Assembly Bill No. 2145. Unfortunately, not one councilmember or the mayor were in possession of the bill and its contents. In order for an emergency item to be heard, the item must receive a super majority of the council or 5 of the 7 members. As is accustomed throughout this mayor's tenure, whenever Mr. Butt demands anything, the majority seems to cave in and not surprisingly, the motion passed with Booze and Bates voting no. It has always been the policy of the council that when an item is introduced, the author has the responsibility to prepare background information to the full council. Tom failed to do so and thereby, I requested the city manager locate the bill and provided copies. Unfortunately in his haste, his initial copy did not include the various amendments and he had to provide a second copy. To demonstrate the intellectual capacity of this council, with or without viewing the bill, the majority of the council was willing to vote in opposition to AB 2145 without reading one text of the bill.
AB 2145, as amended would provide each customer be given an opportunity to opt into his or her community's aggregation (electrical or public utility company) rather than opt out. As some of you may recall, Marin Clean Energy came into Richmond and every resident was automatically enrolled and one had to opt out rather than opt in for the service. What would be your reaction if the government mandated you purchase your gasoline only from Chevron, use service only from AT&T, Comcast or shop only at Safeway’s, etc and to avoid that mandate, you would have to opt out.?? During the discussion, Councilman Booze and Councilman Butt had a heated exchange and instead of chastising each councilman, the mayor interjected and proceeded to defend and protect Butt calling Booze out of order. I do not have to tell you what occurred thereafter, yes, a RECESS. During the recess Beckles became angry and directed F_ _K Y_U at Booze to the astonishment of the audience and other individuals in the council chambers. After the recess, although AB 2145 provides consumers choices, this RPA dominated council voted 5 (Butt, McLaughlin, Beckles, Rogers, Myrick) to oppose the bill with 2 (Booze and Bates) in support of the bill. Beckles was very much out of line not only as a lady but her language to Booze was unprofessional. Sometimes in private, we may feel this way about a situations or persons but never have I heard any elected official speak out loudly the above words in a public setting. This kind of behavior begs a session in anger management.
The next item was presented by Councilmembers Rogers and Myrick which offered recommendations to reduce lengthy late night meetings and have them more productive and effective in the future. Time limits of 5 minutes per council member for each item and limitation of presentations and other measures were recommended. The council voted 6 to 1 with Booze opposing to proceed with the recommended changes with the understanding that if the backlog of agenda items were not corrected within 30 days, the council will hold special meeting to correct the situation.
During the discussion, a question was raised as to Diane Holmes, our city clerks and her role in assisting in the preparation of the agenda. Some council members felt items especially by council members were being given favoritism and not placed on the agenda in relationship to their presentation to the city clerk. When the council realized the clerk had been excluded from the agenda setting meetings, the mayor became irritated. For years the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and mayor historically have put the agenda together as a team. However, since McLaughlin became mayor, she has excluded the city clerk and meets with only the city manager and city attorney. The mayor became aggressive in stating it was her agenda and she and she alone determine who should sit in preparing the agenda. The fact is the agenda is the city council agenda as a whole with city manager, city attorney, other department heads, mayor and city council input. . During every mayor tenure regardless of whom they were, the city clerk has always been an intricate part in setting of the agenda and providing the necessary backup documents to the council. Unfortunately, this mayor saw otherwise whereupon the council, to the displeasure of the mayor, voted (Booze, Rogers, Myrick, and Bates) to include the city clerk in the agenda preparations for the council. Voting no was Butt and abstaining were Beckles and Mclaughlin. Incidentally, the city manager stated, he had no problem in having the city clerk included.
A motion to amend the Richmond Industrial Safety Ordinance to require a full-time Accidental Release Prevention Engineer at Chevron Refinery was adopted by the council even though the DEIR requirements also mandate such a staff.
The final item was a request by Mayor McLaughlin to extend the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Chevron Modernization Project comment period and direct staff to extend the time period. Why this was placed on the agenda is questionable in view of the fact only a few months ago, this council voted unanimously to fast forward this project for several reasons. They included the loss of jobs, loss in reduction of property and utility tax revenue and the safety of the plant. Once the plant is in full operation, the property will increase in value and thus will provide additional revenue through property as well as the utility tax. Building and trades will be able to hire thousands of employees that will also benefit the community. Other than attempting to deny and impede the project by CBE and other anti Chevron people, it is suspected the mayor’s objectives is a delay will benefit the RPA and their slate of candidates in trying to make the Chevron Modernization Plant an election issue in the upcoming November election. It is a sad commentary when the welfare of the city is at risk and individuals drop to this level in trying to gain political advantages. The item was continued to May 6, 2014 due to the time running out and only five council members present with Butt and Beckles having departed from the chambers.
Rough night with profanity, a recess and two council members leaving early prior to concluding the agenda.
Please Note: This email is a public service document prepared by Councilman Nat Bates and is not the consensus of the city council or city staff. It is one person's viewpoint of the occurrence during recent and current city council meetings. Feel free to share this document with your neighbors and friends. Thank you for your consideration.
- Nat Bates, Richmond City Council Member