Despite new rules to shorten meetings and bring a modicum of respect to the Council chamber, Tuesday night’s meeting seemed anything but cordial.
Councilmembers bickered, one didn’t show up on time, an audience member was thrown out, five recesses were called to try to restore order, the meeting ran late, and it was revealed that Richmond’s budget is a mess.
The Council passed over a 100,000 dollars in funding for items regarding bathroom services for the city, considered LED signs, sexual harassment policies, coastal protection, campaign finance reform and contemplated its troubled finances. However, Council infighting seemed to push substantive Council business to the background.
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who has a history of absences, missed the beginning of the meeting. At the very outset, Councilmember Corky Boozé and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin got into yet another disagreement about the allocation of speaking time under the new rules. This was the first of many squabbles between them last night.
Later, Councilmember Tom Butt asked that the public to cut the Council a little bit of slack over the next two months while they work through the budget woes that have recently come to light. He stated that the future of the city’s finances looks bleak in the City Manager’s recent budget summary. He expressed frustration with and admonished the audience members, telling them the public needs to get off the focus that every neighborhood deserves all the same things that every other neighborhood gets.
Boozé and McLaughlin got into an argument about Booze’s questions regarding LED lighting. When Butt moved to end debate, Boozé yelled over McLaughlin and tried to instigate a fight over the substance of the motion made by Councilmember Butt.
If Council bickering wasn’t bad enough, McLaughlin kicked out regular Council meeting attendee Wesley Ellis and his companion for allegedly speaking out of turn. When Councilmember Nat Bates and Boozé objected, she ordered the Council into recess. The officer went over to Mr. Ellis, but Mr. Ellis refused to leave at first. The majority of the audience sided with Mr. Ellis as no one quite knew why he was ordered to leave. Boozé came out to the floor and was overheard advising Ellis to file a lawsuit with the NAACP. Housing Commissioner Jackie Thompson declared that she would get herself in trouble and would refuse to leave in solidarity with Ellis (although this scenario never came to fruition). In frustration she said, “I’m pissed off now. You do this to nobody but black people.”
When the meeting reconvened. Boozé argued that it was Eduardo Martinez of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) who was talking if anyone and not Ellis. The Mayor declared an additional recess in response to Boozé’s comments. – the third of the night. The meeting was reconvened again. Boozé began by admonishing the Mayor for her administration of the meeting and for letting Beckles say the “F- word” to him during the break.
Debate raged over the LED sign at the Pacific East Mall. Bates lamented what he perceived as the Council’s abysmal treatment of local businesses. The Council has a terrible record, he said, pointing to a recent meeting he had with Asian investors who are considering investments in Richmond and the surrounding area. He reported they are wary because they feel that the Council is not business friendly.
The Mayor called a fourth recess followed by a fifth recess “because of Councilmember Booze’s bad behavior.” The Mayor called Bates out of order for saying this whole show and debate is a political issue.
Bates made a motion to extend the meeting until midnight with the goal of finishing all of the items on the agenda. The motion failed for lack of a super majority. The Council ended late at 11:30PM. Has the bickering in the Council grown out of control or is this just Richmond’s tax dollars at work?