An opinion piece is an article, published in a newspaper or magazine, that mainly reflects the author’s opinion about the subject. Opinion pieces are featured in many periodicals.
Nice try. The deceptive self-serving“civility” issue fabricated by the Novato City Manager and “the rubber-stamping 3” members of the Novato City Council is nothing more than a silly diversionary tactic to divert people’s attention away from the serious fact that Novato is facing a no-end-in-sight structural financial deficit.
With the only two full-time sitting members on the Novato City Council – Pam Drew and the dedicated long-serving Pat Eklund – asking valid questions on behalf of Novato residents, the City Manager is obviously beginning to feel the heat.
By surreptitiously “looting” reserves by “re-allocating” Measure F’s critical infrastructure funds to plug holes in a self-generated operating deficit, while sticking his financial head in the sand, he presented a “balanced” budget to the City Council.
Novato continues to increase its spending faster than its income can handle. This abyss of deficit spending is made larger by ignoring the rate of rapidly rising pension costs. Do the math – the City of Novato’s financial future is not pretty. That Novato is not in as dire financial straits as other cities are is no excuse.
Examples of unnecessary reckless spending by the City Council are the creation of a new position of Sustainability Coordinator at $120,000 a year and the new $100,000 annual project cost for ten paid student interns to work at Novato’s City Hall. All are “feel good” moves but are financially irresponsible in view of the City’s substantial financial problems.
In an obvious attempt to divert attention from Novato’s looming financial operating issues and a projected need for yet another City tax increase, a nasty character assassination letter-to-the Editor campaign fueled by Supervisor Judy Arnold’s cohorts, ex-City Manager Assistant Jennifer Goldfinger and Judy Loring, has been orchestrated and launched. It has been ugly, and a blatant public attempt to damage Drew and Eklund’s images. Goldfinger and Loring’s attacks served only to display their lack of tolerance and civility towards people with differing opinions in effect revealing their contempt for those with whom they disagree.
As part of their diversionary tactics, a complicit Marin IJ Editor Robert Sterling has inexplicitly sought out the low-ground by publishing a personal character assault story and editorial aimed at Eklund and Drew. We all know newspapers are struggling these days but stooping to the level of a supermarket tabloid is not helping the IJ.
You can’t make this stuff up. Or can you? Supervisor Arnold reportedly loathes Drew and Eklund as they are independent of Arnold’s pay-to-play vote-for-sale campaign funding. They are unapologetically independent of the Marin Democrat Committee Party machine, yet both Drew and Eklund are true-blue Democrats. The self-absorbed Arnold has difficulty adjusting to this lack of fealty.
Novato City Manager and “the rubber-stamping 3” vote bloc (Lucan, Fryday, Athas) are “unhappy” that Drew and Eklund ask “impertinent” questions such as “what in the hell is going on here” especially when it involves the City Manager making City policy and informal commitments before approval by the Council. Or, asking “are we raiding reserves for promised projects” when Novato faces a serious financial operating deficit? These are somehow labeled “uncivil“ to ask. Drew and Eklund are sadly the only members of the City Council looking out for voters and their pocketbooks.
How can these embarrassing probing questions be stopped? The proposed ludicrous solution to this “tempest in a teapot” is a compulsory public Orwellian “communications training” session specifically aimed only at Drew and Eklund. No wonder the rest of the County regards Novato’s political gyrations as inconsequential, if not amusing.
This juvenile news episode has dragged Robert Sterling’s Marin IJ and his newspaper’s minions deeper into the swamp in which the once respected Fourth Estate finds itself. This fabricated “issue” has been an anchor thrown to the sinking Marin IJ. No wonder digital news feeds now rule.
The two losers in this verbal piñata are the Novato City Manager Regan Candelario and the Marin IJ Editor Robert Sterling. They have been exposed as Trumpian purveyors of “fake news”.
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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”.
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.
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.
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.
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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The all-important middle class has been slowly abandoning Novato as well as other parts of California. Candidate Toni Shroyer, candidate for Marin County District 5 Supervisor (Novato) has made this issue a major plank in her campaign platform. This immensely important economic shift has dramatic implications for the financial stability of the cities in Marin County.
The cost of living in Marin is and has been increasing faster than its residents’ incomes. Its financially squeezed middle class is steadily leaving. Particularly in Novato and San Rafael, it is transitioning into a bifurcated economy dominated by a low-income sector and a high-income sector. Marin’s changing economic profile indicates a shrinking middle class who currently pays and/or generates most of the local tax funds to pay soaring State public employee pension obligations as city services are cut.
Yet, in a recent District 5 Novato candidates Marin IJ front page article featuring Toni Shroyer and Arnold by Richard Halstead, the lead political reporter for the Marin IJ, this significant development received no mention. Why? Has the Marin IJ’s cozy relationship with the county propaganda machine become so strong it has co-opted the IJ’s editorial and news rooms? Is not a disagreement over a key policy between a cautioning challenger Shroyer versus a tax-happy incumbent Arnold worth a mention?
Richard Halstead’s presentation of the head-to-head interview between challenger Toni Shroyer and incumbent Judy Arnold affirms the partisan situation. Halstead is perceived by many neutral observers as leaning heavily towards Marin’s political establishment’s existing policy and as dismissive towards those with a differing opinion.
Biased journalistic opinion posing as “news reporting” is endemic in today’s print and broadcast media. Marin County is not immune to this infection of its once even-handed reportorial style. One person’s bias is perceived by someone else as insight. Fair enough, but the absence of an equal opportunity for rebuttal of contentious statements converts bias into slanted advocacy – especially when the gatekeeper for access to the platform for public rebuttal is prejudiced.
Apparently, the candidacy of Toni Shroyer is to be subtly and intentionally undermined by the Marin IJ. This goes with its history of perfunctorily endorsing incumbent politicians. The IJ knows how mediocre Arnold’s performance in office has been. Her record speaks for itself.
The IJ’s temerity towards change is understandable when you are the only county-wide print media in the market. Why rock the boat? This flat-earth approach to fresh new ideas is confirmed by its love affair with political incumbents.
The lead reporter who is covering the District 5 Supervisors race for the Marin IJ is Richard Halstead who is very skilled at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – especially when he likes the sow. The present case in point being his attempt to subtlety remake the very remedial incumbent Judy Arnold into something more than that.
Halstead writes as if he has taken a seat on the Arnold campaign team’s back bench, deflecting legitimate criticism of Arnold’s supporting of a potentially unpopular State initiative by saying she tried “to distance” herself from the unpopular Plan Bay Area. Rather than stand up and say her constituents have serious doubts concerning this plan, Arnold ducked the responsibility of speaking up publicly about their concerns and acquiescently faded into the background. That’s not representation. It’s abdication of responsibility.
Next, Halstead minimizes Shroyer’s multi-year efforts to make it easier to add second units to existing housing by discounting her successful efforts stating “…which the county supervisors are already doing”. Yes, the supervisors are doing it because responsible people like candidate Toni Shroyer spoke up and forced them to do something by publicly calling them out for not making it happen. The passive Arnold was not at all a leader on the issue. Toni Shroyer was.
Also, on Halstead’s journalistic chopping block was Toni Shroyer’s suggestion that non-partisan citizen’s review committees could be used to assess and advise “…the County on cost cutting…”, pensions and environmental issues. Arnold’s response implied that such subjects were too complex for people not paid by the County. That’s ridiculous. Not only does Arnold insult her constituencies’ intelligence, she denies the reality that existing citizens’ groups such as the County Grand Jury have been functioning very effectively doing just that. Her self-aggrandizing bureaucratic arrogance verifies just how out of touch she is with the sophistication of her constituency.
You can see where this is going. Bit by bit Halstead frames each contemporary issue from the perspective that Arnold, for the past four years, has done an excellent job presiding over the interests of Novato’s middle-class residents. If a shrinking middle class is Arnold’s goal, then she has been successful.
The predetermined format for Halstead’s article is to state Toni Shroyer’s campaign initiatives and then have Arnold confirm there is no problem. There is no space allotted for a rebuttal by Toni Shroyer.
The dead giveaway for Halstead’s prejudicial approach is his statement at the beginning of a paragraph that “Shroyer’s primary line of attack hasn’t changed much from four years ago.” Really? If Arnold has disappointingly done nothing for four years then Toni Shroyer’s approach is spot on. Any pretense of neutrality on the part of Halstead vaporized immediately.
Curiously, Arnold’s campaign donations, the majority of which are from out-of-district, are understated by Halstead at $133,000. The actual amount reported by Arnold on the County web site is an embarrassingly rich more than $300,000 as of today. Much of that $300,000 plus kitty is out-of-district pay-to-play money from special interests such as building contractors, developers, anonymous political action committees, etc. Where is her support from Novato residents who are not property investors, contractors, etc.?
Toni Shroyer campaign funding at $40,000 reflects the fact that she is free of special interest donations and the implied committed favors to those donors. Halstead implies this is a bad thing and implicitly criticizes Toni Shroyer for putting her money where her mouth is and supporting her campaign with her own money. Halstead later implies that Arnold’s special interest donations are a good thing. Good for whom? Certainly not Novato, the very district she supposedly represents. Follow the money. It’s Southern Marin money.
Arnold and her big Southern Marin money obligations are more influenced by San Rafael than Novato. Toni Shroyer, with a perspective more in tune with Novato families and their values, reflects their honest openly down-to-earth grass roots approach to solving problems. In contrast, Arnold is comfortable with constantly raising taxes and the papering over of serious issues while kicking the financial can down the road despite the future consequences on such issues as the looming increases in pension obligations.
The bottom line of Halstead’s piece is that he personally thinks Arnold is a better supervisor than Toni Shroyer would be. His opinion comes through as not-so-subtle bias in the article. This is understandable, as Halstead is dependent upon being in the good graces of Supervisor Arnold to provide pre-packaged information for his work as a Marin IJ “reporter”. One hand washes the other.
Receiving no mention in the front-page article was Arnold’s catastrophic mis-judgement of Novato’s voters on the failed Measure E. She arranged for $30,000 of pay-to-play donations from her personal cadre of building contractors and consultants in her failed attempt to place another unnecessary tax on her already overburdened constituents.
The opposition with only $3,000 to back them, won with a two-thirds majority victory. Arnold and her “big shot” buddies were stunned. Novato voters were much smarter than Arnold realized once voters had facts rather than advocated propaganda posing as “information”. Toni Shroyer campaigned against the tax.
Novato’s voters will once again reject Arnold and her money-grubbing consorts who think their interests are more important than Novato’s interests. Voters know that energetic and hardworking Toni Shroyer is much more representative of Novato residents than the distant and manipulated Arnold.
Toni Shroyer will do a far better job of representing Novato residents with her energy, intelligence, and fresh ideas. She is the grass roots candidate of Novato’s hardworking middle-income residents who feel their interests are increasingly ignored while those of special interest groups are maximized. Now is the time for positive change.
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It’s time for some “fact slinging”.
Incumbent Judy Arnold has been set back on her heels while attempting to defend her recent lackluster term in office as the District 5 Supervisor representing Novato. The notoriously thin-skinned Arnold has resorted to publicly calling her opponent a “liar” whenever she struggles to provide a believable explanation for her somnolent four years as the “asleep at the wheel Supervisor”. For Arnold it is now damage control time.
Her behavior is playground level at best. It also provides some insight into the mind of Supervisor Arnold who frequently uses “it’s a lie” as a disingenuous attempt to divert accountability from herself. Astonishingly, she accuses the tenaciously truthful Toni Shroyer of “mud-slinging”, something that is a repetitive building block of a typical Arnold re-election campaign.
The inquisitive, active challenger Shroyer now has the wind at her back while Arnold is desperately bailing out dirty water to keep her campaign from sinking further.
Particularly damaging to Arnold’s image is that as a Commissioner of the Marin Housing Authority living conditions at the affordable housing complex Golden Gate Village were allowed to deteriorate and become rat infested. Shroyer outed Arnold as a “sitting slumlord” on the Board of Commissioners whose responsibility is the proper maintenance of low income housing. Arnold had no defense for her poor performance.
By selling her vote while serving on the Board of Supervisors, early and often to special interests, they in turn have provided more than enough “tied” donations to her political campaigns that she has previously crushed opponents simply by outspending them. She buys votes using incessant expensive media campaigns attempting to drown out the voice of her opponent. Hardly the basis for a robust democracy.
With Shroyer’s candidacy, Arnold is in a jam. The automatic incumbent endorsement by the only county-wide newspaper, the Marin IJ, previously wrapped her in a cocoon of authenticity as the preferable representative for Novato – end of story. Mildly interested busy voters tend to go with the flow of Marin IJ preferred candidates, unaware of the political connections and paybacks going on behind closed doors. For the sake of all Novato residents, this has got to stop.
The Internet and social media have changed the political paradigm. The daily newspaper is still somewhat important but also rather sluggish compared with the instant visibility on the free and easily accessible Internet. The same analogy may be used for Arnold as a Supervisor. The much older Arnold at 78 years is sluggish when compared with the much younger and more active Shroyer. Shroyer represents the future. Arnold, the past.
See for yourself. Download the Excel file version, then thoroughly Google the backgrounds of those posing as “retired”, or employed by a government agency or non-profit who receives funding from the County, or is a developer, contractor, or other special interest that benefits by receiving County funding or pre-selection for self-serving and financially enriching project contracts. Indeed, it is almost amusing just how far donors will go to disguise their true identity. Why are they trying to hide?
Where donations come from is very telling. If there are a lot of out-of-district donations it easily translates into buying influence and favors. The amount of Arnold’s out-of-district donations is stunningly large.
Arnold’s current campaign for re-election for a fourth term began as her campaigns typically begin. First she accuses her opponent (whoever that is at the time) of “dirty tricks”. Then, she generously applies those same dirty tricks in her own campaign against her opponent. Arnold’s last campaign featured some hideous and cruel last-minute mailings and a repugnant video disparaging Shroyer and her family that went beyond the limits of common decency. Abundant glossy mailers and expensive framed billboard-like political posters cannot cover up this dark side of Arnold.
Arnold’s political and personal history is checkered with poor choices and arrogant behavior. Arnold attempts to dismiss her previous legal problems with the ludicrous exculpatory comment “all of those problems are in the past.” Perhaps, but the past also provides clues to the present and the future.
1992 – Arnold was involved in several civil, criminal and eviction cases “during the past two decades” according to Marin IJ reporter Bob Rogers who referenced the court cases during Arnold’s 2006 District 5 Supervisor campaign against Pat Eklund.
1993 – Arnold became known as the “shoplifting supervisor” for a criminal event at Longs Drugstore in Novato. The District Attorney filed a petty theft complaint against Arnold. After serving six months’ probation and attending a “self-awareness” class the charge was dismissed. The conviction is referenced by Marin IJ reporter Bob Rogers in the article cited above.
2010 – Arnold was involved in an incident of contemptous behavior at Novato’s 50th Birthday party at City Hall. When she and her husband attempted to enter through a back door, Arnold’s husband arrogantly threatened to have an event volunteer arrested for simply doing his job. This incident was reported by Marin IJ reporter Gary Klien February 1, 2010.
2014 – A last minute hit-piece video issued by an Arnold campaign supporter attacking Shroyer and her family with untruths and harmful statements about her children. Strong circumstantial evidence indicates potential involvement of Arnold’s son Gray Ainsworth in Burbank, California, who then worked for a company capable of making a video of this type (see below). The video’s footnotes use high-end professional media industry notations (see below). The IP address for the video is in Burbank.
There have been other troublesome incidents such as a 10:30 AM auto accident on 17 Apr 2017 where with Arnold behind the wheel of her BMW, she struck a parked Lexus inside the lot of Novato Toyota. She then left the scene of the accident and drove over to nearby Matt & Jeff’s Carwash in Novato. A quick look on Google Earth indicates something had to be seriously amiss to drive far enough off the road to hit a car parked inside a dealer’s lot and not on the street. No indication of mechanical failure in the accident report.
Time and a history of bad behavior has finally caught up with Arnold. There are too many flies around the County honeypot of cash that Arnold self-servingly dips into to reward her “paying” supporters.
Stop Arnold’s sale of Novato’s vote on the Board of Supervisors to the highest bidders.
Elect grassroots candidate Toni Shroyer who has the energy, drive, and personal integrity to represent the entire community of Novato – not the pay-to-play special interests with their self-serving agendas.
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4 - Novato City Hall Incident
Toni Shroyer’s campaign is being enthusiastically embraced by large numbers of Novato residents who feel abandoned by Novato’s current District 5 twelve-year incumbent Judy Arnold whose political ties have, to the detriment of Novato, become overly cozy with the special interests of the three southern Marin supervisors.
During Board of Supervisor deliberations, Novato’s residents’ political interests are taken for granted as being identical to those of southern Marin. Novato is definitely different from other parts of Marin County and deserves a distinct voice during deliberations. This has not happened for 10 years with the passive, acquiescent Arnold.
Candidate Shroyer again faces a tough battle and looks to overcome a close 255 vote deficit from the end of the 2014 District 5 campaign that saw Arnold barely hanging on to a win.
Many district voters are hoping for a fresh new approach to the substantial financial issues facing Novato residents who have grown weary of Arnold and the rest of the current County Board of Supervisors whose “kick the can down the road” financial practices are negatively affecting Novato’s quality of life. Once again, Novato’s residents are facing a tsunami of new regressive tax proposals, increased tolls, and fees that continue to drain residents’ checking accounts. It never seems to stop.
New taxes and government spending are increasing faster than the taxpayer’s income, sadly eroding quality of life here in Novato. Residents are understandably concerned and defensive as governmental agencies appear to consider them an ATM machine for the agencies’ incessant demands for ever-increasing amounts of money despite the fact tax collections are outpacing wage increases.
UCLA graduate Shroyer recognizes the current and future consequences to Novato residents and their children, who are and will continue to be saddled with paying for today’s unsound financial choices if something doesn’t soon change. These unnecessary and continually increasing financial demands make it almost impossible for you, your children and your aging parents to live in the community in which they grew up or want to retire. Novato is becoming less affordable for all of us.
Shroyer, a very successful real estate agent, meets daily with stressed Novato residents facing a major economic decision as they contemplate purchasing another home in Novato or having to sell and move away.
The myth of contented families living in Novato is shattered. Shroyer witnesses families sadly selling their homes and leaving Novato because they can no longer afford to live here. Shroyer’s work places her on the ground where the rubber meets the road when those decisions are made. Increasingly, that road leads out of Novato and California. Arnold has neglected to recognize this problem and has failed do anything about it. In fact, she has only contributed to making the problem worse by promoting numerous new unnecessary taxes on us all.
Shroyer has the natural ability to easily meet and quickly establish a meaningful relationship with people she has never met before. This contrasts with Arnold who has always worked as an insider political staffer relating to people primarily in groups on a political basis trading favors rather than developing meaningful relationships with engaged individual members of the community at large.
Shroyer, the effervescent, enthusiastic, and always-in-motion working mom with two young children, more accurately reflects the typical Novato household. Arnold will be 78 in July and decades past having to deal with the challenges of raising children and ensuring the best for them.
Arnold’s elitist approach is validated by her having few friends in the very neighborhood in which she lives. For years she refused to contribute her small share of the annual neighborhood private road maintenance fee, making her unpopular with the overwhelming majority of her neighbors. Nor has she participated in her own neighborhood annual meetings, clean-ups or socials. Only after being publicly outed during her last campaign did she finally agree to begin paying her fair share of the maintenance cost for the road she uses every day. She is an outsider even in her own neighborhood.
Contrast that with the grounded and locally popular Shroyer, who takes care of her mother living in an adjoining area of their home. Shroyer is reminded daily of the concerns and challenges Novato’s senior citizens face, and consequently she is a strong advocate of in-law units. And, rather than talk endlessly about how to provide these units, in true Shroyer fashion, she just did it. Her mother is happy and so is Toni and her family. Shroyer knows how to get the important things done.
Some might ask why Shroyer hasn’t acquired her political experience by first running for a seat on the Novato City Council. The fact is she would like to do just and has the broad and enthusiastic support of the community, but she lives in an unincorporated area of Novato, making her ineligible to serve on the City Council.
However, this has not deterred Toni from gaining extensive experience at the City and State level. For three years she put pressure on the State and the City of Novato to clean up the criminal mess at the huge non-profit Wyndover Apartments complex on Diablo Ave. After three years of effort she forced the much-needed changes providing Novato residents with a very positive outcome. We have Shroyer to thank for that.
Using her own money, Shroyer singlehandedly purchased copies of Novato police activity logs and reports that substantiated her charges of extremely high levels of criminal activity on the non-profit owned Wyndover property. When the police documents became public knowledge, the Novato Police department was forced to publicly admit there was a major crime problem there.
The Novato City Staff, under the iron-fisted dictatorial rule of City Manager Michael Frank starting in 2009 continued to deny a serious problem existed. The City Council feigned interest but did nothing despite repeated appeals by Shroyer at City Council meetings. Keep in mind that a majority of the Council had/has close political ties to Arnold, who played a part enabling the Wyndover Apartment complex to be built. Arnold loyalist on the City Council did not want to allow support for a possible future Arnold opponent such as Shroyer who has a history of a successful public interest projects.
Consequently, in 2011 Shroyer publicly called out the sitting Novato City Council and City Manager Frank for their lack of accountability in a searing article she wrote which was printed in the Novato Advance.
Shroyer is for safe low-income housing and affordable housing, but against crime wherever it is, especially when that crime affects the children of residents living in low income and/or affordable housing.
Fairfield Wyndover LP, owners of Wyndover Apartments, operates as a non-profit business. As such it does not pay any property or school taxes. The only tax Wyndover’s owners pay is to the Novato Sanitary District ($19,538/year in 2017) representing 95% of their tax liability. Novato’s taxpayers subsidize all other City service Wyndover uses. The Wyndover Apartment complex was built using State of California bonds issued in 2004 by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA) specifically for building high density housing for low-income residents.
Undeterred by the Novato’s City government’s lack of action, a determined Shroyer went to the CSCDA State Housing Authority with the facts – the Novato police records. The State Housing Authority readily agreed there was a major crime problem and threated Wyndover’s owners with loss of their operating permit as a non-profit business and loss of related tax breaks.
The chastened non-profit absentee owners in San Diego grudgingly agreed to implement a “best practices” program that with coordination and support by the Novato Police Department saw criminal activity plummet. Life at Wyndover became more normal. Shroyer’s concerns and her healthy energetic action resulted in a very positive outcome for all of Novato and in particular the fearful residents living inside the Wyndover complex. Novato wants and needs more of Shroyer’s positive energy and drive.
As expected in the world of politics, the very people politically aligned with Judy Arnold who studiously ignored the seriousness of the situation at Wyndover, immediately began giving each other credit for the positive change for which they did little, if anything. No official or public mention of Shroyer’s primary and fundamental role in the reversal of the Wyndover situation was allowed by the local political establishment. They publicly misrepresented how things were done and who did them, shamelessly taking credit for Shroyer’s tireless work and success on behalf of all Novato residents.
Shroyer provided the irrefutable evidence – the police logs (and her receipts for purchase) that cracked the code of silence of the entrenched political establishment determined to protect its reputation at the expense of the law-abiding residents living in fear inside the Wyndover Apartment complex.
Shroyer proved she could deliver despite the calculated indifference and adversarial attitude maintained by Arnold’s political interests and that of Arnold cohorts on the Novato City Council who did not want Shroyer’s success to be publicly recognized.
Despite the Novato Police Department’s slow initial response to the Wyndover Apartments situation, Shroyer continued to work successfully for donations to fund the Novato Police Department’s canine patrol which was facing possible extinction because the City cut back the program’s funding. The canine unit is a critical part of the police department as it greatly reduces an officer’s exposure to harm in many dangerous situations. The full staffing of the canine patrol was high on Shroyer’s priority list, but not in City Manager Frank’s budget. An adequately manned and equipped police force is an essential part of that on-going effort.
Shroyer has studiously avoided the negative campaign tactics so characteristic of Arnold and Arnold’s close inner circle of ethically challenged supporters, who were very much in evidence at the end of the previous campaign. Arnold supporters publicly attacked, on a personal level, Shroyer’s family with totally manufactured derogatory statements regarding her, her husband and small children. Attacks on a candidate’s family and especially their innocent children are universally condemned as unethical and unacceptable at all levels of the political spectrum.
For four years, Arnold remained silent and deliberately failed to publicly denounce this despicable last-minute pro-Arnold campaign video featuring Arnold’s supporters (including her personal political acolyte, the then recently resigned Novato City Manager Michael Frank) and its maliciously false footnotes. In many voters’ eyes this deafening silence summed up Arnold’s lack of ethics and compassion. Is this what we want for Novato? I don’t think so.
Shroyer has proven she can get positive change accomplished at the local and State level. Additionally, she does not accept campaign donations from any special interest groups and the attached strings that come with them. This contrasts markedly with Arnold who openly accepts big money donations from in-district and out-of-district special interest groups expecting a pay back.
Shroyer is Novato. She’s friendly, effective, energetic and accessible. She’s intelligent and recognizes that good government and common sense can go hand in hand. Some would have us believe that good government is like rocket science and that extensive experience in rocket science is required. Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite is typically true.
Effective government is using common sense to meet the needs of the community within an always-limited budget, and to do the best that can be prudently and responsibly done. In Novato this is most successfully accomplished by someone who is constantly on the ground walking among Novato’s residents going about their daily lives – not cloistered in wood paneled chambers like Arnold, with two personal staff aides at her beck and call.
Novato desperately needs to send a new representative to the Board of Supervisors, free of the tentacles of donated campaign funds by vested and special interest groups working against the best interests of Novato. Steadfastly, Shroyer refuses to accept money from such groups. She depends upon small donations. Arnold, on the other hand, accepts large special interest donations to an embarrassing extent. It’s no secret that special and vested interest groups donate money with the expectation of getting something in return.
Frequently, Arnold is faced with conflicts of interest between those of her special interest donors and those in the best interest of Novato residents. Guess who wins. Shroyer avoids this situation by refusing any special interest donations and remaining free of any implied obligations. She is free to do what is best for Novato.
Toni Shroyer is a disrupter to the insulated sanctuary of the political establishment and its co-dependent pay-to-play special interests. With Shroyer as the District 5 Supervisor, Novato’s unique interests will actually be represented for the first time in a long while. As the second largest city in the county with its own distinct aspirations and expectations, Novato will assuredly, with Toni Shroyer as District 5 Supervisor, once again take its seat the Board of Supervisor’s table where Novato’s interests will no longer be suppressed because of a submissive representative whose primary motivation is trading favors for personal gain.
For 12 long years Judy Arnold has (under)represented Novato during which time the tax burden on families has steadily increased and the proportion of middle-income families has steadily decreased. Now is the time to make a critical and much-needed change by introducing to the Board of Supervisors fresh pro-Novato ideas mixed with common sense from the working family’s perspective.
Big money donors should no longer be allowed to control what happens in Novato. The present situation sorely needs to be turned around. Toni Shroyer is exactly the person we need to make this happen for Novato.
Toni Shroyer for Supervisor!
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Is Novato going bankrupt?
In the short term, no. In the long term, probably yes.
Why? Because the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is sucking money out of local city treasuries to keep afloat a $360 billion pension system that is underfunded by $150 billion.
Furthermore, CalPERS is generally recognized by arms-length non-political assessors as being not well or responsibly managed. Others in the financial community who have a money-making vested interest in the fund continuing as their cash cow, hype it to an unaware public as a “global leader in the investment industry”.
Rather than an evenhanded focus on maximizing the pension fund’s rate of return, the fund’s management uses a portion of those employee pension benefit assets as a political tool for self-appointed politically correct “shareholder activism”, secure with the knowledge that they have the state’s cities taxpayers there to bail them out when their pet political investment strategy becomes an embarrassing failure – which it has.
CalPERS unabashedly plays politics, with no respect for the taxpayers whose city tax money is used to fund CalPERS, despite the fact those taxpayers may disagree with CalPERS political bias and machinations. Unashamedly, it frequently acts as a political tool for progressive social engineering interest groups. A financially conservative or prudent investment approach is not in its lexicon.
California cities are rapidly reaching that point where CalPERS’ continually increasing demands levied against
those cities is resulting in insufficient funds remaining in city treasuries to adequately perform basic city functions. City roads continue to deteriorate, computer systems are no longer updated, infrastructure maintenance is continually deferred, and so on.
Are we doomed? The unfortunate news is “yes” unless the City of Novato declares bankruptcy or begins printing money. The good news is even the Titanic sank slowly.
But there is some optimism in that the City of Novato’s Citizens Finance Advisory/Oversight Committee, with the support of Novato’s new Finance Manager Tony Clark, is doing a yeoman’s job of maintaining order on the decks despite Novato’s ever-increasing glide angle into bankruptcy. Nonetheless, The City is running out of fingers with which to plug leaks in the failing financial dike.
Unlike many in City Hall who strive to maintain a contrived sense of self-importance when interacting with residents, Clark is relaxed and answers directly, and most importantly, he answers the question asked. Imagine that. Too often, guarded obtuse answers are the norm in most senior City management dialogues with residents.
No doubt Tony Clark’s breadth and depth of experience acquired while developing a diversified portfolio that includes both private and public financial positions has much to do with his easy manner. He is financially bi-lingual as his financial reference framework includes both the private and government sectors.
Upon graduation from Cal State Long Beach with a BS in Finance & International Business, Clark took an initial post as a commercial financial analyst in the private sector with Manufacturers Bank in Los Angeles. Next, followed two years as a staff auditor for the City of Long Beach.
Then, Clark returned to the private sector as a senior auditor with Sovereign Bank followed by a stint as internal audit specialist with the creative electronics company Plantronics in Santa Cruz, California. Next, came nine years as a senior accountant for the County of Santa Cruz.
Clark came to the City of Novato with a private-public sector blend of experience increasingly rare in public finance circles. It enables him to confidently exchange views and seamlessly converse with residents voluntarily serving on city appointed committees or ad hoc civic groups while avoiding the suffocating interest-killing bureaucratic argot behind which many city financial denizens hide.
Novato’s Citizens Finance Advisory Committee is tasked with providing to the City Council “regular feedback, insight and recommendations” regarding the City’s financial condition. It also acts as the official Citizens Oversight Committee for tax ordinances such as Measure F & Measure C.
Keen financial insight and experience are an essential qualification to sit on the Committee. Novato is indeed fortunate to have seven members who gamely arrive at 7:30 AM once a month at City Hall to review the City’s financial health using reports provided by the City Finance Staff. Refreshments are not served. Everyone just gets down to business.
Committee members are well qualified and successful in their specific areas of financial expertise. They serve on the Committee because they care about Novato. If the City Council does not listen to the recommendations of the Committee, members leave. Recently, committee member Bob Ratto did just that when the City Council ignored the Committee’s (and City Staff’s) financial recommendation to NOT build a downtown train station and then give it SMART who would not guarantee any trains would ever stop there.
Committee sessions become intriguing when committee members question or seek clarification on submitted reports. Rarely, are voices raised. Rather, presumably innocent questions sail stiletto-like across the room aimed at illuminating a potential piece of financial or political pork. Or, when examining the rationale behind the classification of a seemingly innocuous allocation of funding.
The Committee constantly pushes City Staff to make reports brief, concise and comprehensible to a curious resident. Terminology is to be explained before use. It is easier said than done, but must be done.
The Wall Street Journal is the poster child for doing exactly this. It is the nation’s second largest newspaper built on promoting their readers’ understanding of financial information.
Members of the Committee bring a positive attitude toward understanding the financial challenges and issues the City’s Financial Group faces. The current Committee Chair is Tim O’Conner who brings a history of banking experience with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Exchange Bank, Bank of Marin, etc. He is now a Procurement Manager with UC Berkeley.
David Bentley is the long serving Auditor-Controller for the North Marin Water District. He brings a critical attention to detail illuminating the consequences of seemingly minor but significant reporting errors or omissions.
Robert Scott is a retired Hewlett-Packard executive who adds the leavening of extensive experience in large private enterprise management.
Cris MacKenzie is currently a Regulatory Compliance and Privacy Officer with Kaiser Permanente. She serves as an officer with the Marin Community Clinics. Her corporate experience provides an extraordinarily useful perspective on employee retention issues.
Regina Bianucci Rus, CPA owns a small accounting firm located on Grant Avenue. Her small business perspective provides insight into potential unintended consequences of City
Caitrin Devine brings substantial experience in business administrative support. She has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and serves on the administrative team at Marin Breast Health.
Rafelina Maglio is VP Marketing Manager with the Bank of Marin. She has served as a Branch Manager and has been with the Bank for over 21 years.
It is refreshing to recognize that qualified individuals can address difficult financial issues with Senior City Staff managers and develop options to be considered by The City
Council. While there are other City-resident committee interfaces that do not work well, the Citizens Finance Committee is doing a stand-up job, and it and Tony Cark should be commended.
Novato residents deserve their high-quality input. Now it’s up to the City Council to do the right thing by heeding the Citizen’s Finance Committee’s advice.
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And why should the rest of Novato’s residents care?
Because, supposedly politically neutral groups serving the community at large have become infiltrated by community activists who proselytize their agenda under the guise of providing “neutral” information of interest to the neighborhood group.
The Hamilton Forum has apparently fallen prey to insider administrators’ political agendas as evidenced at the March 14th “informational” community meeting hosted by the purportedly neutral Forum. The publicized expectation was that County Supervisor Judy Arnold and Novato Mayor and Hamilton resident Josh Fryday would discuss the specifics of current City of Novato projects that are of direct interest to Hamilton residents. Nothing more, nothing less.
As was feared by many, it was instead a disappointingly political platform for Arnold to stumble through head-down while reading prepared notes in a self-glorifying political monologue portraying herself as a wonderful Supervisor. Uh, wait a minute. Wasn’t this supposed to be an informational meeting on topics affecting Hamilton residents?
Arnold launched into a dogged defense of Measure E that Novato voters soundly and overwhelmingly rejected, illustrating just how estranged she is from Novato residents. To her (self-)credit she has reliably delivered Novato’s Board of Supervisors vote on a platter to Southern Marin’s special interests who return the political favor by copiously funding her local campaigns with cash, providing free campaign signage, and operating her reelection campaign web site.
Fryday held up the meeting by turning up 10 minutes late (then boasted he lived only a few minutes away) offering a self-ingratiating excuse by blaming it on his children. This does not reflect well on Fryday who displayed a lack of respect for Hamilton area residents who went to the trouble to turn up on time.
In his opening remarks he irrelevantly condemned the “divisive” national political atmosphere and only moments later launched into a strange off-topic divisive diatribe blaming only President Donald Trump for the present national political climate. Did he not know the purpose of this meeting?
Fryday made it very clear he views local issues primarily through his own personal national political viewpoint, not necessarily that of Novato residents, the very constituency he supposedly represents. He never even bothered to mention the structural budget deficit facing the City of Novato.
Despite the looming deficit, he pushed through the hiring of an expensive Novato Sustainability Manager. Potentially adding more to the deficit would be a Fryday proposed new City of Novato funded project with Dominican College to subsidize ten Novato student internships at City Hall, and up to a $100,000 college scholarship for each participant. He ominously declared himself “excited” once again.
Fryday appeared unprepared to discuss the specifics related to imminent City proposed projects in his own Hamilton neighborhood. Fryday responded to residents’ questions by exclaiming how “exciting” and “how important the question is” then quickly deflecting the question over to City Manager Candelario to respond. Fryday again exposed himself as unaware and uninformed on local issues. In his attempts to gloss over specific project status questions, he made it painfully clear he wasn’t prepared.
City Manager Candelario’s responses were vague and of the non-sequitur “we are talking to them” nature. The interested Hamiltonians seeking specific information on imminent changes in their neighborhood left emptyhanded.
If the Hamilton Forum moderators are sincerely interested in rehabilitating their purportedly “neutral” political image they should quickly arrange an equivalent time and place for Arnold’s opponent, Supervisor candidate Toni Shroyer, to present her candidacy’s case to Hamilton residents. Allowing candidate-for-reelection Judy Arnold to use the venue as a personal political pulpit shredded any pretense of Hamilton Forum impartiality. The commentary could/should have been kept on-point by the discussion facilitator, but that didn’t happen. They wasted everyone’s time.
If candidate Shroyer is denied equal time and platform to counter Arnold’s political electioneering, the Hamilton Forum becomes outed as just another covert political media operative for political candidates sympathetic with its moderators’ preferences. So far, they appear to be little more than that.
Approximately 50% of the 30 attendees were the usual special interest acolytes of the local political machine whose political favors are funneled through Arnold’s office. To them, Arnold was preaching to the choir. The other half’s hopes were dashed on the rocks of Arnold’s political chest-beating and Fryday’s strangely irrelevant and divisive comments.
The Hamilton Forum is a private-member Yahoo group with approximately 725 subscribers. It was formed in 2002 to provide a platform for discussions between neighborhood residents concerning matters that “…might affect the value of our community or its quality of life.” Its site description clearly states, “The Community Forum is commercial free and politically neutral”.
The site features unidentified “moderators” who control what is posted by filtering submitted postings to assure there is “…respectful dialogue and thoughtful listening, including all reasonable viewpoints.” But is that really happening?
Long-time Hamilton community political activists and environmental militant Marla Fields who is Co-President of Sustainable Novato, along with Sustainable Novato Board Member Donn Davy, are among the controlling influencers behind the supposedly “politically neutral” site’s postings. The site’s tolerance for politically oriented comments increasingly reflects its moderators’ own political views, particularly when there is an election looming on the horizon.
When refuting or differing views are submitted for posting they are branded and blocked by unsympathetic moderators as being political. The group membership is kept in the dark regarding the nature and frequency of these denials of site access. The moderators’ actions and decisions remain unquestioned and hidden.
The supposedly non-political Hamilton Forum “informational” meeting was as many expected, just another disappointing political platform for Supervisor Judy Arnold and Novato Mayor Josh Fryday’s personal political aspirations, not those of the Hamilton community. Fields and Davy are strong supporters of Judy Arnold, and through the Hamilton Forum they have found another way to block opposing viewpoints while pushing their own limited agenda. Hamilton residents lose out.
The Forum would do well to call upon Heracles to “clean the Augean stable” by freeing the site from political activist influence by making it less biased and more about the Hamilton community’s interests at large. Its administrators should be identified by name and function, becoming accountable to Hamilton residents thus enabling open commentary not filtered by like-minded insider preferences of a few.
Hamilton residents deserve a higher quality of representation and explicit accountability from City Hall – they are not getting it.
Mayor Fryday, Councilmember Lucas and Councilmember Athas,
You voted for a process that is NOT transparent with regards to the Request For Proposals that are submitted to the City for the vacant parcels at Hamilton.
As it stands you have voted to have the proposals first reviewed in a CLOSED SESSION of the Council and only the proposals that you deem are “financially viable” will be brought forward to the public. By doing this in Closed Session, the public will not have access to what should be public information on nature and number of proposals submitted.
Additionally, the public will not know how the criteria for selection is being applied to these proposals in order to deem them viable. More importantly, the VOTE take by our Council representatives on these proposals will be kept secret by rules of the CLOSED SESSION.
If Council members have communication with developers who submit proposals, when will that information be available to the public, particularly if the proposals are reviewed in closed session and do not make it through to the public process?
This goes against the commitment to transparency that has been made by you as members of the Novato City Council. ALL of the proposal submitted should be open to the public at least in summary, without any sensitive financial information that would be pertinent to private negotiation.
For public record, I’m attaching the content of the March 10, 2018 Marin IJ Editorial which states that this is a step away from transparency. Please reconsider this process on the RFPs to provide transparency to the citizens of Novato on ALL the proposals submitted to the City of Novato for the vacant properties.
Marin IJ Editorial, March 10, 2018
HAMILTON PROPERTIES DESERVE A WIDE-OPEN PUBLIC PROCESS
Novato Councilwoman Pat Eklund isn’t known for being shy about expressing her opinion. On the city’s handling of the future of three city-owned parcels at Hamilton Field, we’re glad she spoke up.
Although winding up on the losing end of a 3-2 council vote, Eklund argued that the proposals the city receives for these sites be open to public review.
“I believe all proposals, not just the viable ones, should go to the public,” she said.
She’s right, but a majority of her colleagues opted for a process in which the council, meeting in private, would cull the proposals to two or three and then present those for public review.
Although City Hall’s been touting efforts to be more open and transparent, the idea of the council meeting behind closed doors to pre-screen proposals is neither. It just invites public suspicion about the process.
Councilman Eric Lucan said that the council handling that task is better than letting staff winnow the proposals, which was the original staff recommendation. “As elected council members we are elected to make those tough decisions and face the heat for those decisions, so I think the council should be the one determining whether or not it’s financially viable.”
The council-shaped process adopted on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Josh Fryday and Councilwoman Denise Athas joining Lucan, is marginal improvement when it comes to an open and transparent process. Having a wide-open public process may be messier, but it avoids suspicion that council members are steering a predetermined process.
Given that this process involves public property and potentially large sources of city revenue from the sale or lease of the sites, Eklund was right when she said, “Let’s turn this process around and let’s make it work for everybody.”
Obviously, the council will have to meet in private when it gets into negotiating the nitty-gritty details, such as the ultimate price and payments for the properties. But the council’s decision to start the process with closed-door decisions gets the public process backward.
To its credit, the city has already held three public meetings on the issue of determining the future of the old commissary site and Christmas Tree Hill, the theater and community center property and the Bachelor Quarters and Officers Club sites.
Now is not the time to duck into a private session. City staff should take a hard look at the proposals and the developers’ track record and financial performance. Those factors are an important part of the decision-making process and staff should advise council members on those factors before finalists are chosen.
But the public deserves a chance to see and review all of the proposals, not just the ones the council has already blessed.
City Hall has promised to be more open and transparent, but this is a big step away from that pledge.
For starters, the politician must be perceived as a potential threat to someone or some group’s plans or agenda. It can be an entrenched special interest organization or a potentially vulnerable politician. In Novato, the Novato Chamber of Commerce is the archetypical example of an entrenched special interest organization.
As a whole, the Chamber is made up of many fine members. The problem lies within its leadership. The depth of the Novato Chamber of Commerce’s involvement with City policy development and action-items presented to the City Council is overwhelming.
If the Chamber Board of Directors and CEO decide it is in the Chamber’s members best interest to have a City of Novato policy changed or Chamber-friendly action-item presented to the City Council, the approval process is typically unremarkable. That is unless, gimlet-eyed community observers elevate the pending action-item to public attention in the local digital and/or print media thereby creating an uncontrollable open and transparent forum of discussion.
Before an action-item initiated by a City Staff member or by an outside or local special interest group, such as a Chamber of Commerce, reaches the Council for an up or down vote, it is submitted to City Staff for review and preparation. Public comment or input may or may not be included during this phase.
After vetting by the City Staff and completion of the Report, the action-item is placed on the Council’s meeting agenda. Simultaneously, the Report associated with the agenda item is distributed to Councilmembers and posted on the City’s website Novato.org. Reports are frequently 100 pages or more in length including attachments, making a cursory review a tempting time-saving shortcut. Reports submitted by City Staff to the Council for their vote are “framed” and submitted to the Council with the expectation of approval.
Oddly, Reports associated with the Council’s meeting agenda are posted simultaneously with the agenda on the City web site on the Thursday afternoon or evening before the following Tuesday meeting. This procedure allows only two work days for Councilmembers to receive clarification from senior City Staff (provided Staff is even available) on any questions they may have before their Tuesday meeting. Occasionally, additional agenda items are added as late as Friday. For complicated important items, this is clearly insufficient time for quality consideration by Councilmembers.
The interested public is markedly limited in its ability to meaningfully participate in agenda items at Council meetings. However, special interest’s pressure groups typically arrive at the Council meeting with pre-arranged formal PowerPoint presentations, staged persuasive commentary by sympathetic “experts”, and added time to advocate their special interest.
Presentations by opponents or those who have questions are extraordinarily rare and unnecessarily difficult to arrange in the limited time provided. The opponents’ only option is a 3-minute public comment period for each speaker in opposition. Presently, there is no simple method for an informally organized opposing group to have equal time and access to visual equipment aids as does an advocate group supporting a Report.
Astute factual comment by opposing residents is easily overwhelmed by the pre-known and pre-arranged presence of large numbers of special interest action-item advocates. The advocacy momentum easily becomes dominant and one-sided. The atmosphere can remind one of a pep rally.
This system easily works for the group promoting the action item if certainty exists in the minds of senior City Staff that a majority of the Council will approve the action-item. If there is doubt, the action-item is not placed on the agenda by senior City Staff.
The formal protocol for Councilmember requests for additional information regarding Reports is in the form of questions submitted to the City Manager for response before the next Council meeting. City Staff responses to Councilmembers’ inquiries, if even given, are circulated simultaneously to all Councilmembers.
Not all inquiries by Councilmembers receive complete responses, or sometimes even any response at all, before the agenda item comes before the Council for action. Why is that? Is this acceptable due process for making a responsible decision?
The reasonable default assumption is that all Councilmembers’ inquiries are treated equally. Despite denials by senior Staff, this in practice has not been the case. Excuses are presented to justify a poor response to a Councilmember who is perceived as being adversarial towards a Report on the agenda. Not enough available Staff time is “the old reliable” amongst these rationalizations. The ability of Councilmembers to do their job of representing Novato residents by making sure special interests don’t overshadow the needs and wants of all Novato residents, is diminished by non-elected stonewalling Senior Staff.
Delayed or incomplete response by City Staff to Councilmembers’ inquiries regarding a Report may critically affect the quality of discussion during the Council meeting. If Councilmember clarification and/or fact-based questions remain unanswered, the quality of Council discussion suffers as does the quality of governance. Where is the accountability to Novato residents?
The brushed-off Councilmember is left with few good options. Raising the issue during a Council session opens the Councilmember to thinly veiled public accusation by the City Manager or senior Staff of placing too many demands on limited Staff time. Or, the inquiry is labeled as too broad, with Staff making the claim that other Councilmember’s submitted questions would go unanswered.
Or the senior Staff’s response may be framed with the insinuation the Councilmember is “difficult to work with”. The bottom line is that unelected Senior City Staff have too much control over who receives what information and this problem remains hidden from the voting public.
The solution may be a public posting on the City web site with the Councilmembers’ questions submitted regarding each Report, the time they were submitted, and the time that City Staff responded to those inquiries. This might help by providing more transparency and accountability.
The current agenda-itemizing protocol unnecessarily limits time available for Report review by Councilmembers and the public. This protocol needs to be updated for the benefit of Novato residents. Reports should be posted at least one week before discussion.
The current protocol for requesting clarification from City Staff compresses the Councilmembers’ Report assessment process to a point where assumptions are too easily used in lieu of factual written clarifications. But, a full- time Councilmember can raise important in-depth questions with confidence during an agenda item’s discussion. A Councilmember with a full-time day job is more limited and left with significantly less time available for review and preparation for quality decision making. Is Novato’s quality of governance less than it could and should be?
The clever Councilmember caught in a time crunch predicament might be tempted to intentionally limit debate and pass the motion as quickly as possible citing the “Council’s confidence” in the quality of the Staff’s Report, thereby abdicating their responsibility as a serious Councilmember.
Another common diversionary tactic used by the unprepared Councilmember is to redirect the discussion to inconsequential legal aspects of the issue by requesting legal opinions from the City’s attorney. One follow-up legal clarification question later and the allotted time for discussion by the individual Councilmember is up and he/she is safely out of the spotlight.
Covering up a lack of preparation and potential public ineptitude by any Chamber-sympathetic Councilmember is a paramount reason the Novato Chamber of Commerce’s leadership will go to great lengths to eliminate the public presence of Councilmembers Eklund and Drew. Drew and Eklund are looking out for all Novato residents and frequently ask the tough questions during open debate, possibly exposing the lack of effective preparation by “busy with their day job” Chamber-supportive Councilmembers.
Avoiding the above scenario is one reason why the Chamber is not satisfied with a predictable solid voting majority. Chamber-endorsed members must look competent while on camera and appear to be in command of the situation. Awkward, hesitant, and ill-informed responses during public discussion triggers the perception of doubt or uncertainty and fans the interest of unknown new candidates who aren’t tied to the Chamber.
It is clever for the Chamber’s operatives to “properly frame” the action-item during the Staff’s preparation phase of its Report for the Council. It keeps the Chamber’s political influence capability below the surface and subsequently off the public’s radar. With offices just across the street, informal consultation easily appears incidental.
Before the Report is submitted along with its agenda item, an affirmative Council vote is already locked in place. Subsequently, the Council approval process resembles more of a coronation than a democratic process serving the needs and interests of Novato residents.
Today, it is full steam ahead by the Novato Chamber of Commerce leadership and Supervisor Judy Arnold to limit and/or eliminate Pat Eklund and Pam Drew’s questions and requests for “clarifications” during Council meeting discussions that can inadvertently expose and embarrass the unprepared Councilmembers who serve as advocates of Chamber-backed agenda items. The Chamber must protect its position because it profits from civic events such as the Novato Arts, Wine and Music Festival. And, it expects the City to pay for projects that singularly benefit only downtown merchants.
The Chamber’s political operatives, along with Supervisor Judy Arnold’s pay-to-play henchmen, threw the “kitchen sink” at Eklund in this recent election. It boomeranged back at them. The attempt was sorely lacking in ethics, transparency and truthfulness. Now, the Chamber’s leadership will have to explain that kitchen sink. The explanation will not reflect well on the Chamber.
What is good for the Novato Chamber of Commerce is not necessarily good for the City of Novato – something all residents should be aware of, particularly since the Chamber maintains that shibboleth is actually true. It is not.
Over the past four weeks, I have received multiple mailers and have seen numerous Facebook posts made up of personal attacks against incumbent Pat Eklund. She is running for her 7th term on the Novato City Council. I have also read Marin IJ Letters to the Editor using “private conversations” as a means of attempting to sway voters against reviewing the issues and the candidates.
This is an election with two incumbents whose records speak for them. The other is newcomer Kevin Morrison whose online posts, tweets and blogs speak loudly about his lack of experience. In his mailers, he chose to distort an incumbent’s record in order to gain votes.
Looking at my ballot, I realized that city council isn’t a popularity contest. It’s about having representation for different points of view. Spending at the city, county, and regional level has become a key issue. We need leaders that can distinguish spending that is based in “need” from spending that is based in “want.”
There are members of the Novato City Council that refuse to make unpopular financial decisions because they fear reprisal come election time.
For example, the decision to add a 3rd SMART station at the city’s expense went against recommendations by the interim city manager Cathy Capriola; Brian Cochran, the city’s respected finance director; and the city staff report. They concluded that the city could not afford it. Despite this, three members of the council voted to borrow and spend millions.
Typically, an election campaign gives voters a choice based on issues like this. But a group, surprisingly made up of men who don’t live in Novato, are making it personal and mirroring Morrison’s negative campaign tactics.
Novato’s leaders have been slow to condemn this activity. In fact, members of Novato’s Chamber of Commerce and the Novato Economic Development Commission have chosen to support the repugnant tactics. Even former Novato City Manager Michael Frank, a resident of Bolinas, has decided to interfere in Novato’ election.
During Frank’s six and a half year tenure as Novato City Manager, Frank’s management style created conflict that put residents in a combative relationship with the city, beginning with the Affordable Housing Element.
Frank’s comments on the Morrison campaign mailer about the incumbent hit a new low by using sexist language to describe her. It reeks of the good old boy network when you count the number of men attempting to destroy a candidate’s entire history of service to her community. If it is effective, this tactic may become the new norm in Novato’s elections.
There should be room on a five-member council for strong women. Campaigning that does not address issues, that lacks context and that attempts to personally demean a candidate should not be tolerated.
The real issues in Novato’s election include balanced development on a local and regional level; the impact of state and local taxes on residents; and the preservation of quality of life in relation to the environment and community.
I am voting for Pat Eklund because she is an experienced, capable leader that seeks to make sure that all voices are represented in council decision-making. Her depth of experience serving on the council is unparalleled.
Pat supports balanced development. But, her votes cannot be bought by developers that would prefer a rubber stamp through existing zoning and environmental impact studies.
A mix of diverse viewpoints is essential to good government. We need more leaders committed to putting the issues of Novato first and for voters to send a message that negative campaigning will not be tolerated.