Fryday & Company Threaten to Limit Novato Council Member Information Requests

Let’s cut to the chase. Mayor Fryday, Eric Lucan and Denise Athas, AKA the rubber-stamping three, want to intimidate and silence the other two Council members who take their jobs seriously, and on our behalf, bother to question the underlying assumptions and basis for City Manager Regan Candelario’s Staff Reports submitted to the Council for approval.

The reason for their discomfort is that informed questions publicly posed to the City Manager regarding proposals under consideration may reveal behind-closed-door obligations and “understandings” not previously made visible to the public. These hidden unwritten agreements, if they became public, may draw unwanted public interest and drive public demands for full disclosure of all pertinent information and obligations, whether they are written or the result of a verbal “handshake”.

City Manager – Regan Candelario

Active Council members routinely submit inquiries to the City Manager’s office for background information as part of the formulation process of upcoming agenda items being worked on by the City Staff. The major agenda items are presented in a final Staff Report form, which may be up to 50 pages long when appendixes are included. This report is made available to the Council at least 3 days before the next Council meeting, however agenda items added on a Friday afternoon allows only Monday for an inquiry and a response – hardly sufficient time.

The Friday “ambush” agenda item addition practice needs to be eliminated. Its practice is nothing more than high pressure politics minimizing the time for public engagement and participation. It reflects poorly on the City Manager’s office to conduct the City’s business in an orderly manner.

It “bothers” the passive “rubber-stamp” majority bloc Council members that Pam Drew and Pat Eklund’s inquiries requesting explanation and/or clarification from the City Manager regarding forthcoming Council agenda items requiring Council action markedly contrasts with the other three council members’ lackadaisical “let’s all be happy” attitude and trivial commentary. Meanwhile, the unelected City Manager formulates Novato city policy in the form of policy “advice” to the Council as their own preferred option that inevitably receives unquestioned approval by the three acquiescent Council members with only minimal discussion on their part

City policy decision making is solely the designated function of only the elected City Council, according to the City Council policy Manual Section 2.02. The same section states “The City Manager provides professional advice on policy matters”. The policy manual clearly states “advice”, not formulation of policy matters.

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The present situation begs the question “Is the Novato City Council even necessary for anything other than ceremonial purposes?” With an automatic and apparently disinterested rubber-stamping majority already established, why bother with desultory discussions followed by perfunctory approval of pre-cooked City policy and proposals developed in the City Manager’s office?

Why is a non-elected salaried employee of the city being allowed to essentially govern the City of Novato as a proxy for an apathetic three-vote majority? The Council’s rubber-stamp voting bloc’s abdication of due diligence effectively transfers the Council members’ duties over to a non-elected City Manager.

The three-vote bloc of Council members rarely differs, rarely challenges, and routinely defers to all city Staff reports and recommendations submitted for approval. Informed in-depth Council discussion with all Council members participating is not the norm here in Novato as it is in other Marin cities.

Well prepared Council members’ Drew and Eklund’s probing questions of substance are labeled as an irritant and “uncivil”, i.e. if you don’t like the nature of the inquiry, shoot the messenger, which is exactly what the ankle-deep three are in the process of trying to do.

The dubious quality of governance of Novato by the City Council is manifested by Novato being considered an afterthought in county-level political deliberations. Effectively, Novato is perceived as just a political poodle on Supervisor Judy Arnold’s leash. When Supervisor Judy Arnold says “jump” the Council’s three vote bloc and City Manager ask, “how high?”

To guard themselves and their staff against perceived disruptive “interference”, Novato’s city managers have a recent history of insisting that all inquiries from the public or from City Council members with regards to substantiating information and/or relevant correspondence regarding future policy or financial decisions be funneled only through the Manager’s office. This is a reasonable protocol – unless it is selectively applied.

This restrictive funnel policy enables the City Manager’s office to control the flow and timeliness of requested information to Council members – not exactly a beneficial situation in the interest of Novato residents who rely on Council members to make independent fact-based evaluations of agenda items before coming up for a formal Council consideration.

If a stonewalled Council member publicly objects to the deliberate dysfunctional flow of requested information, the disinterested, acquiescent rubber-stamping three majority vote bloc labels the Council member’s expressions of dissatisfaction as “uncivil” and in need of “communications training”. What happened to democratic open dialog and discussion? What happened to looking out for your constituency?

It is disappointing indeed to see a City Manager use evasive tactics to avoid answering a direct question asked by an actively engaged Council member. The Manager can get away with it as long as the superficially engaged rubber-stamping three vote bloc allows it to happen. They are content to “let him run the city and do his work” to paraphrase one member of the ankle-deep three in a recent public comment. No sense carrying on the charade of Novato being governed by its citizen-elected officials.

The reality may be the City Manager’s office is the entity that needs “training in communications and protocol”. Public accountability and review of the City Manager’s ability to promptly provide complete responses to information requests by all Council members within a reasonable timeframe is overdue.

There is compelling anecdotal evidence that the City Manager’s office has frequently failed to provide in a timely manner “the delivery of complete and objective information” as stated in Section 2.02 of the City Council Policy Manual – especially when such information requests are internally deemed potentially adversarial to the City Manager’s preference.

While Mayor Fryday works fulltime in Sacramento for almost exclusively Latino focused CalEITC4ME, with Council member Lucan working on marketing for Mike’s Bikes, and Council member Athas hustling her eponymous real estate business, Pat Eklund and Pam Drew are the only Council members frequenting City Hall and paying attention to the City’s business on behalf of Novato’s residents – in other words, doing the job City Council members are elected to do.

This places the part-time rubber-stamping three in a perilous position during public Council policy and financial discussions because the ankle-deep three have been so uninvolved they often don’t fully comprehend the implications of what is going on within Novato’s on-going administrative process. They don’t even know the serious questions to ask.

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Rather than asking thoughtful insightful questions of Staff and the City Manager, Council members Fryday, Lucan and Athas pose perfunctory comments followed by tritely declaring a proposal coming up for vote “exciting”, wonderful or “innovative” – how superficial. It’s an abdication of their duties.

Recently, the Marin IJ featured an article by Southern Marin “reporter” Adrian Rodriquez criticizing Council members Drew and Eklund as being “uncivil”. Clearly, the idea for such a lightweight Novato article was planted in the county-wide circulation Marin IJ by someone with a grudge against Eklund and Drew hoping to gain adverse publicity to ratify their personal opinion. Does the tenor of Novato City Council meetings deserve more attention than Novato’s on-going structural deficit and parlous state of parts of its infrastructure?

Rodriquez revealed his biased perspective by dredging up stale irrelevant self-serving comments made by a voluntarily resigned, always-controversial City Manager Michael Frank and a bitter retired Novato police chief Jim Berg who proffered the ridiculous comment that two previous Novato City Managers had resigned because Eklund was on the Council. The best rebuttal to such sour-grape comments is to consider the source. Berg left under a cloud and Frank simply crashed and burned.

Eklund has always been Novato residents’ best open-government advocate, which makes the “backroom agreement” types go nuts, resign, or take early retirement before facing the music. Novato voters deeply appreciate Eklund looking out for their interests and that is why she wins elections.

The IJ’s hit piece probably reflects the vindictive Judy Arnold’s constant meddling in the City of Novato’s internal affairs. With two tax-funded legislative aides to do her work, Arnold has the time to meddle and the political leverage as senior member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors to initiate and get published a malicious article against her political opponents.

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In concert, the rubber-stamping three Council members, along with the City Manager, have simultaneously launched a public attempt to label Drew and Eklund as being uncivil and having a “communications issue”. Don’t be fooled! Rather, it is a crude attempt to paper over a public appearance dilemma for the City Manager and the rubber-stamping three. Residents viewing Council meeting videos are becoming increasingly aware of their fatuous comments during discussion of agenda items.

Asking serious fact-based questions in Council meetings leads to clarity and public understanding enabling the casually interested Novato resident to grasp the fundamental aspects of what is being discussed. Conversely, evasive, inane, and incomplete responses to straightforward questions reveals a lack of probity by those seeking to evade accountability and hoping to discourage unwanted further attention.

Perhaps all Council member inquiries to the City Manager should be published and posted on the City website when requested, and every response by the City Manager – with each being time and date stamped. Being “overworked” is not an acceptable excuse for failing to have a complete and timely response to Council members. Most of us are “overworked” and have learned to deal with it, usually by working harder or smarter or both.

If the City Manager cannot provide timely and complete responses to elected representatives of Novato’s residents, it may be an appropriate time to find a City Manager that can. Past City Manager Michael Frank was terrified of internal Staff discussion information “getting out” to Novato’s residents before a decision was “baked” and presented to the Council for approval by the existent locked-in subservient three vote majority. In a nut shell, Frank was a control freak afraid of residents becoming aware of the backroom political agreements and deals that frequently control City policy and proposal decisions, and were sometimes not in the best interests of Novato residents but politically expedient.

Does the bogus “civility issue” portend the arrival of UC Berkeley-style “the end justifies the means” political street “justice” in Novato? Will the threat of being publicly labeled as “uncivil” suppress open Council discussion?

Does quashing of varied opinion and serious questioning of the “authority” of Staff Reports during Council meetings represent the “left of left” UC Berkeley political sympathies of Josh Fryday, a politically ambitious professional politician who appears to be using his position on the Novato City Council and Mayoral platform as a springboard for his own personal statewide and national political agendas and ambitions? Just take a look at who funded his election to the city council.

Was the “I am the Mayor of Novato” photo-op trip to the Texas border to castigate the US Border Patrol an immediate City of Novato issue, or more likely, was it staged to further Josh Fryday’s well-funded (billionaire Tom Steyer?) personal political ambitions at the State and national level?

The real casualty in this current “war of words” may be the historical civility that prevailed, although sometimes barely, in City Council discussions before Mayor Fryday began to lace his public comments with irrelevant references to national level politics and politicians. Fryday is the Mayor of Novato – not Washington, DC.

Novato is not a political sandbox to be used by ambitious political operatives to further their own personal political agenda. Through the overt suppression of open dialog and labeling individuals as “uncivil” the Mayor and some members of the City Council are engaging in a less than subtle form of censorship to the detriment of all Novato residents.

Novato is a tolerant, diverse city with a strong sense of kindness, community, and fairness. We plan to keep it that way.

Novato is not Berkley!


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