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Lorenz explains A’s comments, becomes Planning Commission Vice Chair

By Matt Artz
Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 10:03 am in Uncategorized.

Forget Planning Commissioner Dirk Lorenz. Now it’s Planning Commission Vice Chairman Dirk Lorenz, and next year it’ll almost certainly be Chairman Dirk Lorenz.

But before most of his fellow commissioners voted him to the post, he addressed that email he sent out last month urging folks to attend a pro-A’s rally.

He said he did nothing wrong.

“Legally and ethically, I am entitled to an opinion on any project in abstract,” he said. 

The outgoing chairman, Richard King, agreed with him. But Commissioner David Bonaccorsi did not.

He said the commissioners work is akin to that of judges, so they shouldn’t hint at how they feel about something that could be coming before them. “The perception will always be that it was a preordained determination,” he said. 

 

Then something strange happened. 

 

Newly minted commissioner Lisa Quan nominated Bonaccorsi for the vice chairmanship, only to have the commission vote 5-2 for Lorenz. Based on seniority, Lorenz was in line for the post. Bonaccorsi said he was challenging him because he doesn’t agree with the seniority system, not because he doesn’t like Lorenz.

 

 Usually politicians don’t challenge for one of those posts unless they know they have the votes to win.

 

Even stranger, Bonaccorsi said he ”had no idea” that Quan was going to nominate him. It’s pretty much unheard of for someone to nominate a fellow board member without some consultation.

 

Last time I know of something like that happening was 23 years ago in Mr. Stamler’s 5th grade class. My friend Kevin nominated me for class president while I was sick with chicken pox. I returned to class to find a giant poster on the wall reading, “Matt’s got the pox and Ali’s got the hots.”

 

You should have seen young Alison Cohen. Truer words have never been spoken in politics, but Mr Stamler made her take it down anyway.  It didn’t matter, though. I probably got the same number of votes as Bonaccorsi did.

 

 

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  • Anon

    At least Bonaccorsi gets it!

  • Perry Masonary

    I suddenly find myself with a very odd feeling about Mr. Bonaccorsi, something I haven’t felt for a long time. Can it be respect? It’s hard to remember, but it’s vaguely familiar from back when Morrison was in office.

    Mr. Lorenz still simply doesn’t get it. He could have headed a lot of this off at the pass by simply doing a mea culpa from jump street, taking a few lumps, and getting on with business – people here can be remarkably forgiving – but he still wants to stick his fingers in his ears and chant “la la la la”, as if that will make the whole thing go away. There was nothing abstract about his support of the stadium project – it was quite concrete and quite inappropriate.

    It seems that Ms. Quan is trying to shake off some of the residual taint surrounding the circumstances of her appointment. It’s a nice start, but I remain unconvinced, although I will keep an eye out to see how she does in the long run. It would be lovely if she turned out to be a true advocate for the residents of this town.

    And what is this “based on seniority” business? We deserve the best representation, not just the one who’s next in line.

  • Lou Vandelay

    What does it profit a man if he should gain the Vice Chairmanship and lose the respect of his fellow citizens? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

  • Le Bouche

    Well put Lou!

    Fremont, as the fourth largest city in the Bay Area by population – and the fifth largest in California by land area – deserves better!

  • AMacRae

    Perry Masonary asks: And what is this “based on seniority” business? We deserve the best representation, not just the one who’s next in line.

    This is the method used by (as far as I know) all the boards and commissions in Fremont and other cities. It’s an effort to remove politics and squabbling from the process. It allows every member to have a chance to serve as chair. (It’s not based only on seniority but also on who has yet to serve in those positions.) Don’t forget, though, while the chair of the meeting runs the meeting they have no greater voice than other members.

    In a way, being chair of a meeting is a bit limiting as a good chair ensures all sides are heard fairly and equally, even when some views may be at odds with their own.

    Darn, now I’ve opened the door with that last sentence for all kinds of [deleted] who will provide their predictions on how Dirk (or anyone else) will function as chair in the future, despite having nothing on which to base their [deleted] predictions. Ah well, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • Perry Masonary

    The Planning Commission’s choice of Mr. Lorenz as Chair, particularly in the face of another candidate for the seat, is a statement that the other members of the Commission do not see anything wrong with his actions in support of the stadium proposal. Although it may not offer Mr. Lorenz any direct advantages on the Commission, it reinforces the impression that there are no functioning ethics rules in place for Planning Commission members. They made a conscious choice to give the residents of this town the one-fingered salute.

    I don’t doubt that this “next in line” method is the way things are usually done. I’m saying that, in this situation, it was wrong.

  • bbox231

    I believe that the process AMacRae describes tends to subordinate qualification to tenure and expediency of decision to a potentialy arduous and perhaps embarassing process of public scrutiny . . . interesting value statement by those who allow it to continue. On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser d’oeufs.

    Perry M hits this one on the head – the nomination by Quan is clearly disengenuous and (I believe) was just a feeble attempt to lay future claim to “dissention”. The lack of sincerity in her nomination is revealed by the fact that the nominee of her choosing had no prior knowledge of her intentions.

    Stuck in my mind is that Bob Whycowski was last to play this angle . . . cant remember the issue.

    A quelque chose malheur est bon.

  • AMacRae

    Bbox writes: I believe that the process AMacRae describes tends to subordinate qualification to tenure and expediency of decision to a potentially arduous and perhaps embarrassing process of public scrutiny.

    How do you rate a person’s ability to chair a meeting prior to their having done so? Knowledge of the subject matter is not the chief criteria in chairing a meeting. Indeed, I’ve seen many meetings poorly chaired by people extremely well-versed in the subject at hand but poor at skills needed in running a meeting. Conversely, I’ve seen well-chaired meetings run by people who had only average domain knowledge but superb skill at ensuring a meeting is well run.

    Isn’t the point to have a well-run meeting? Who here can claim to judge how anyone will do at chairing a meeting prior to seeing them actually doing it?

  • Smalls

    The fact that people that were opposed of the project feel that anybody that did not agree with them should be considered an anti-christ!!

    NO HARM NO FOUL!!!

    The worst thing that would have happened is that Dirk could not have voted on Stadium issues if they were at the Planning Commish level.

    Get off this mans case already!!

  • Perry Masonary

    I’m ready to start looking forward on this Planning Commission. Lorenz and Chugh’s terms expire 12/31/09; Sharma and Quan on 12/31/10.

    Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor, subject to the approval of a majority of the Council. It’s not too soon to start thinking about who might be applying for these seats, what the positions of those folks are on key issues like high-density housing, business development, and open space. We have a right to apply appropriate pressure on Councilmembers to do the right thing when appointment time comes. The Mayor can’t fill a seat without the approval of the Council.

    If we don’t start supervising the activities at City Hall a lot closer than we have been, they’re not going to change for the better. If you have strong feelings on certain issues, make your expectations known. After all, they work for us, and they’re supposed to represent the best interests of the City. Ultimately, we’re all the City, and if the Council doesn’t act on our behalf, they can be replaced in the next election.

  • Susan Hearn

    You know, I think Smalls may have something. If we’re going to expect a Planning Commissioner not to come out in support of a project that will eventually come before the Commission, we can’t expect Commissioners to come out in opposition to proposals either.

    I’m wondering if anybody knows what the rules regarding impartiality are for Planning Commission members. Mr. Bonaccorsi’s comments at a recent meeting regarding Mr. Lorenz’ support of the stadium project lead me to believe that there must be some standard that Commissioners are expected to meet, but I’ve yet to find out where those standards are documented.

    Since these seats will eventually become vacant and need to be filled, how will impartiality figure into the residents ability to determine where Commission candidates stand on issues? If someone is not currently a Commission member, they can speak pretty freely about how they would vote on certain issues, but if they are a current Commission member and wish to be re-appointed, how much can they share about their positions and still maintain their impartiality?

    Seems to argue for pulling from the non-incumbent pool to me. At least then we can more easily find out where these people stand.

    Also, isn’t it time that more people are able to interview Planning Commission candidates? When Ms. Quan’s appointment became an issue, it opened a door for other Commissioners to interview candidates. Once a door is opened, it’s up to us to insist that it remain as open as far as we want it to be.

  • AMacRae

    I believe that instead of impartiality, the more important attribute is the ability to cast a vote based on the facts and arguments presented before the planning commission, in spite of one’s personal views and the heat and pressure brought by those passionately supportive of one side or the other. It happens fairly often, actually, where a commission or board or council member has stated their views on a subject but when it comes time to vote, put aside their personal view and voted according to what has been presented.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with someone saying they are leaning in one direction or another based on what they know so far, so long as they have not made up their mind ahead of time and are willing to remain open to both sides.

  • Perry Masonary

    AM – I think you might be mis-interpreting B’s statements. I’m sure he/she can defend him/herself, but I’ll take a shot at it anyway.

    If I’ve got this right, he/she is saying that it’s a lot easier and faster for the Commissioners to say “OK, who’s been here the longest?” and elect them than publicly debate the merits of one Commissioner as opposed to another. At $175 per meeting, who wants to waste time?

    Everybody’s definition of what constitutes a “good” meeting will probably be a bit different. Is a meeting good because it is done quickly? Is it good because it comprehensively addresses all of the issues involved, even if that means that it runs long or that some issues have to be continued until additional information is received?

    Sometimes making good decisions is a messy process. A Chair that runs what could be perceived as a messy meeting may provide a forum where input and information come to light that would have been missed in a more structured meeting.

    Also, these Commissioners spend a sufficient amount of time together so that they probably know who they think would be an effective Chairperson. If they want to make that choice based on seniority, or by drawing straws or by rock/paper/scissors, we probably wouldn’t know about the method unless they made a point saying so. I know they vote in public, but realistically the decision is made before the meeting happens. That would explain why Bonaccorsi was surprised when Quan nominated him – it wasn’t what they agreed to do.

    If the public were involved in the choice of Chair (or the choice of Commission members, for that matter), that would probably be when B’s “potentially arduous and perhaps embarrassing process of public scrutiny” would come in. The public – they can be such a drag on the process.

    Anyway, B can now come back and let us both know if I’m totally off base on his/her point.

  • AMacRae

    Perry Masonary wrote: “but realistically the decision is made before the meeting happens. That would explain why Bonaccorsi was surprised when Quan nominated him – it wasn’t what they agreed to do.”

    Actually, that’s one thing we can be fairly certain does not happen. The Brown Act (http://www.brownact.org) is very clear and explicit on such matters and all city board and commission members are well briefed in the importance of following it to the letter. In no way shape or form can or should it have been agreed to in advance of the meeting.

  • Fremont Lifer

    AMac, let’s get real here. I used to do presentations on the provisions of the Brown Act for new members of Fremont commissions. I also staffed several commissions and interacted closely with the members. They do whatever they darn well please because they know that they’re never going to get called on it. They listen politely to the presentation and then the old members teach the new ones how it’s really done.

    How would one prove a Brown Act violation? By recording private phone conversations, lunch meetings, or rounds of golf? Unless something is documented, it’s written on the air. They have plausible deniability and nobody gets caught.

    You’re right, the Brown Act is very clear and explicit. Violations shouldn’t happen, but they most certainly do.

    To be completely fair, Brown Act violations aren’t limited to City of Fremont board and commission members; I’ve seen the same thing happen at the County level and in local school districts.

  • anon

    Hmmm -

    I’m totally confused -
    AMACRAE Says -
    “Isn’t the point to have a well-run meeting? Who here can claim to judge how anyone will do at chairing a meeting prior to seeing them actually doing it?” – as if conducting meetings is the most important and only task of this position.

    This seems to be in vast conflict with the statement by David Bonaccorsi who is indicated as saying “..the commissioners work is akin to that of judges ..”

    So – I dunno, maybe all you care about is someone’s ability to run a meeting like AMACRAE says – or maybe the job is a little more significant like Bonaccorsi suggests. The point is that seniority doesn’t beget the best of breed (reference : Peter principal) – whether you only run a meeting or are a “judge”.

  • anon

    “Agreeing to.. . . ” prior to the meeting is very different than “we all understand what the outcome will be – if the comissioners walking into the meeting had the same understanding that an impartial private citizen (AMACRAE) possesses – then why would you think that their agreement while not explicit was indeed implicit and the outcome pre-determined. . . . . no violation of the Brown act.

  • anon

    Wow -

    Even AMACRAE suggests that there’s more to the commiss job than just “running a meeting” – - -

    AMACRAE says – “..the more important attribute is the ability to cast a vote based on the facts and arguments presented before the planning commission, in spite of one’s personal views and the heat and pressure ..” – come on – - – I thought the basis of the “quickie” tenure-based rule was you couldn’t know who would or would not run a meeting. . . . now you seem to suggest that there’s more to it and now I suggest that when it comes to matters of judgement, past decision making is an excellent test of future judgement and COULD INDEED be considered and scrutinized. . . . . WHICH WAY IS IT ????

    Gotta get your argument going in a consistant direction to maintain credibility AM.

  • AMacRae

    Yes Anon, you are confused. You have conflated two discussions into one and taken statements from one and applied them to the other.

    Discussion 1.) Skills required of a meetings chair.
    Discussion 2.) The relative importance of impartiality for commission members.

    Does that help?
    And I challenge your claim that violations to the Brown Act have and continue to occur (in Fremont.)

  • Fremont Lifer

    OK, AM – you have every right to believe what you want to believe, as do I. However, as Alan Sterling stated in his recent run for Council:

    “The Brown Act stresses the importance of not having any serial meetings, which is exactly what the present Council did in violating the Brown Act. At a public meeting they all admitted that they had serial meetings and their demeanor indicated that they were very proud of it.”

    Perhaps that’s why the City ended up in court defending their practices (Wolfe v. City of Fremont).

    What would be the advantage to a board or commission member who wanted to open up the issue of these violations? It wouldn’t exactly be conducive to working cooperatively with their fellow board or commission members, or with City management, would it? Talk about persona non grata. That’s how these practices become hard-wired into the system.

    Lastly, I don’t believe that there is anything relative about the importance of impartiality on the part of Planning Commissioners. Their impartiality is very important, even though some of them don’t seem to realize it.

    I sure wish I knew some fancy French to throw in here, but I got nuttin’. Do I get any points for “persona non grata”?

  • bbox231

    Nothing else to add – everyone has made the point.

    AMacRae has done an effective job of discrediting their respective position sufficiently.

    No one stated that the brown act had been violated.
    In fact – Anon specifically states to the contrary – but makes the distinction between explicit and implicit agreement by council members.

    “Skills required of a meeting chair” – was in the larger context of how to best select a candidate for this position which I presume AMacRae understood, but still chose to emphasize the inability to know how a chair person would perform as rationalization NOT to scrutinize candidates.

    Add AMacRae to my “ignore” list.

  • AMacRae

    Bbox – perhaps you should look at posting #15 in which Fremont Lifer says, “You’re right, the Brown Act is very clear and explicit. Violations shouldn’t happen, but they most certainly do.
    To be completely fair, Brown Act violations aren’t limited to City of Fremont board and commission members; I’ve seen the same thing happen at the County level and in local school districts.”

    I would say that is someone stating the Brown Act has been violated. I suppose you could argue the meaning of “state,” though. To me, it’s typing it into a message posted on this board. What does it mean to you?

  • AMacRae

    Fremont Lifer – I am aware of what candidate Stirling has said. (By the way, doesn’t running for office make him a politician, and therefore someone not to be trusted?)

    However, Alan Stirling saying something does not make it so. Going to court to defend oneself does not make a person guilty.

    It is the ability to act in an impartial manner that is important. Not the absence of any views on a subject. You seem to have confused the two.

  • Fremont Lifer

    AM, your continued faith in our local functionaries is charming and gives me new hope that there’s always somebody who will see the best in less than optimal circumstances. Not all politicians violate the public trust, not all lawsuits are baseless and, sometimes, where there’s smoke there can be fire. Adieu.