I remember back in the day when I first moved to Richmond when Richmond City Council business was hashed out informally by a majority of the City Council on Saturday mornings at the home of a former mayor. By the time the formal meetings occurred, all important decisions had been made, and the public Monday night City Council meetings (later changed to Tuesday to avoid conflicts with Monday night football) were merely for show.
They say history repeats itself, and despite the passage of the Ralph M. Brown Act over 60 years ago in 1953, the RPA is doing essentially the same thing as the Chevron and Darrell Reese dominated City Councils of generations past. Only they have taken it to an even higher level of self-righteous sophistication.
We now have actually two city councils. One consists of seven elected members who meet regularly on Tuesday nights three or four times a month to conduct most of the City’s routine business in public.
Then we have the parallel and alternative RPA City Council, which along with a fourth member, Vice-Mayor Myrick, constitute a majority who can call a meeting anytime they want to with 24-hours’ notice, shut down debate, make their own rules, and pass their predetermined agenda.
The alternate, RPA dominated, City Council functions almost the same as the infamous Richmond city councils of decades ago. But it’s worse. Instead of the majority of elected members meeting privately on Saturdaymornings, members of the secret RPA steering committee, whom no one elected, meet with RPA City Council members to create their agenda. These steering committee members also perform, when necessary, the critical function of subverting the Brown Act, acting as illegal go-betweens to communicate with other Council members.
But for rent control, they still needed one more vote, and Myrick stepped in to create the four-person majority.
But he didn’t do it straight up. Nor did he just waffle and wobble; he told many people flat out he was not going to support rent control. He lied about it.
On July 6, 2015, Jeffrey Wright asked Vice-mayor Myrick a straight forward question:
Good morning Jael,
Several property owners and stakeholders are uncertain as to where you stand on the issue of rent control in Richmond. No sense in speculating, therefore I'm asking you directly for a simple yes or no "cut to the chase" response. Will you vote to support a mandatory Rent Control Ordinance as envisioned by the RPA, ACCE etc., or in any other mandatory form, YES or NO? Your swift response is critical as it may impact important decisions and actions that property owners and other stakeholders may be taking shortly. I'm looking forward to your prompt reply.
Myrick could have responded with something like, “I’m still studying the issue and haven’t made up my mind yet,” but he didn’t. He gave Wright a straight forward answer: “No, I'm looking to put forward an alternative based on option c.”
To most people, including Wright, “no” means “no.”
After the discussion on rent control and just cause on July 28, 2015, Myrick admitted in a July 29 Facebook post that he lied to Wright. “I chose to tell Mr. Wright what he wanted to hear…”
Now, my first political instinct upon reading this was to simply ignore it, then I noticed the following sentence: "Your swift response is critical as it may impact important decisions and actions that property owners and other stakeholders may be taking shortly." I read this to mean that unless I responded immediately with an unequivocal "NO," Mr. Wright and his fellow "property owners & other stakeholders" would raise rents on their tenants to try and get ahead of our policy. In short, I read this as a ransom note that threatened to retaliate against tenants unless I made a commitment not to support rent control.
An honest answer at this point would have been a simple "I don't know," because at this point on July 6th there were still so many details to work out. My fear was that if I did anything short of a 100% denouncement of rent control Wright & his friends would make their tenants suffer as a result.
So there you have it, a classic moral dilemma. I chose to tell Mr. Wright what he wanted to hear in order to spare his tenants an unnecessary rent increase. If that makes me a bad person, lo que sea.
Now for fun, let's play the moral dilemma game, how would you have responded to Jeff Wright's email?
So, Myrick was living a lie from July 6 to July 21, and sometime before the July 21 City Council Meeting, there was also a massive violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act as Myrick and the RPA3 reached a secret understanding that that Myrick would join McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez in passing rent control and just cause. When the item came to the City Council on July 21, a deal had already been cut among Myrick and the RPA to cement his support. Passage was a foregone conclusion. 137 speakers wasted their time and the City Council’s time.
When I left the dais and Myrick took over on July 21, the 11:30 pm deadline had come and gone. An affirmative vote by five council members was required to continue, but there were only four votes. The City Council Rules state:
(4) Regular meetings of the City Council shall adjourn by 11:00 p.m. unless the time of adjournment is extended by the consent of a majority of the City Council. Any motion to extend the meeting beyond 11:00 p.m. shall include a list of specific agenda items to be discussed or approved and shall specify the order these items shall be handled. If a meeting continues past 11:00 p.m., it shall end at 11:30 p.m. 11:30 shall be the firm end-time of the meeting, unless by a 2/3 vote the City Council suspends the rules and then votes affirmatively to extend past 11:30
A “2/3 vote of the City Council” is not the same as a 2/3 vote of members present, but Myrick, acting as chair, ruled that four votes constituted “a 2/3 vote,” and the meeting continued, including the passage of the first reading of rent control and just cause.
When the item came back to the Richmond City Council on July 28 for a new first reading, the motion by Gayle McLaughlin included a call for a special meeting on August 6 for a final and second reading. In response to a question I asked, McLaughlin acknowledged that that availability and consent of the four supporters for a special meeting had already been arranged, a clear violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which prohibits a majority of the City Council from using, “a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”
54952.2. (a) As used in this chapter, "meeting" means any congregation of a majority of the members of a legislative body at the same time and location, including teleconference location as permitted by Section 54953, to hear, discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body. (b) (1) A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.
The RPA3 plus Myrick have continued to violate the Brown Act, communicating with each other in private to arrange and schedule a pair of special City Council meetings for a first and second reading of the rent control and just cause ordinance.
The first meeting will occur tonight, and I will not be attending. The meeting was illegally called in violation of the Brown Act, and I had previous plans. No one asked me or any of the other three non-RPA Councilmembers if we would be able to attend. In any event, the outcome of the vote is predetermined, and what three council members have to say is irrelevant, as is our vote.
My concern with the direction the City Council has gone is not about losing. In my 20 years, I have lost plenty of times, and I can take it. It’s the lies, the collusion, the Brown Act breaches and the lack of mutual respect that gets to me. It’s as bad as anything I have seen.
When the RPA came to town, they set themselves up as the antidote to corruption and old style power politics in Richmond. But power has been seductive, and the RPA has taken on many of the trappings of the power politics they once eschewed.
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