Division and dysfunction on the Richmond City Council

A marathon City Council meeting in Richmond last Tuesday saw lots of discussion and eventually shouting between members Corky Booze and Jovanka Beckles, but little accomplished as far as actual business on the agenda.
That prompted Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to issue a statement titled “The situation at City Council meetings”:

Dear friends,
I am compelled to make a statement about the current state of affairs at Richmond City Council meetings.
Those of you who follow City Council meetings know how much chaos and discord exists. I want to share my feelings about this.
There is dysfunction on this Council, but the dysfunction does not come from the Council as a whole. This dysfunction comes from one councilmember. It is truly a shame that this councilmember disrupts time and time again the needed business under discussion at the Council meeting. He forces us to deal with chaos, disruptions, and vitriolic speech that bring harm to the entire city of Richmond .
It is the people of Richmond who suffer from all of this. It is the people of Richmond who are being held hostage because this councilmember refuses to adhere to the rules of the City Council. As chair, my job is to keep the meeting moving forward. When discussion becomes unproductive, I necessarily need to move us on. Discussion not only becomes unproductive, but as I said, it becomes chaotic, disruptive and vitriolic in its content….and it is this one councilmember who will not adhere to my role as chair. He feels that once “he has the floor” he has it until he has fully finished attacking and insulting me, other councilmembers, members of the City staff, and/or certain members of the audience. Then when the frustration level of other councilmembers has reached a limit and they intervene (after I have intervened unsuccessfully with him talking over me and talking over the gavel – as I call him out of order), we have even more chaos on the Council. I have called and will continue to call recesses of the Council meeting when such situations occur.
One of our others councilmembers, who has suffered his insults incessantly, conveys the situation in an explanatory way like this: “You have one councilmember beating up on another. The first councilmember attacks and attacks with the other councilmember not fighting back, recognizing that the public can see the despicable behavior exhibited and judge for themselves. Yet the beating continues until the councilmember under attack, now on the floor suffering more jabs, decides she has had enough and stands up and pushes back. The first councilmember and his supporters in the audience call out: How dare you push back? You are being “unprofessional.”
This, my friends, is where the current state of affairs on the Richmond City Council is at. One councilmember is managing to hold a city hostage.
This MUST not continue. Many of us have looked toward changing the composition of the City Council in order to shift toward a better Richmond , and we will continue to do that. We have made so many gains with good councilmembers being elected in recent years. We will make more gains in November, and in subsequent elections. But we are currently dealing with something that is immediate in nature.
We are dealing with a battering situation, the result of which, if allowed to go on, will be highly destructive for our city. As a result, I will be more strictly enforcing the rules of the City Council, as per my role as chairperson, provided to me by the Charter of the City of Richmond in accordance with the Constitution of the State of California. Disagreement on issues is expected and can be productive, but where we are at right now is something altogether different.
I call on all members of the City Council and members of the audience to adhere to my call for order during meetings when I put out such a call. The disruptive nature of our Council meetings MUST be reversed.
I will not relinquish my parliamentary procedure duties. I will not let one councilmember hold the city hostage.
Thank you for your support at this critical time. We shall prevail, even among setbacks, to bring forward a political culture whereby the people’s business can be addressed in a healthy and productive way.
Gayle McLaughlin
Mayor, City of Richmond

Her comments brought this response from Resident Felix Hunziker to McLaughlin and the Richmond Progressive Alliance:

Madame Mayor,
If you, the RPA-elected councilmembers and Tom Butt, actually represented your constituents there might be good reason to agree with your statement below. But instead you act unilaterally, promoting your personal ideology at every opportunity while disregarding many who hold different points of view, so I disagree with your assessment of the Council’s dysfunction.
The Sugar Tax, for example, was sweeping legislation that was nevertheless crafted without community outreach or coordination with local merchants. Residents had only 4 days to react to the agenda item and while many expressed concerns, no attempt to mitigate them was ever made. On the recent campaign contributions ordinance there are likewise numerous concerns but again there is no sign that these are being considered and it will undoubtedly pass as written when it finally comes to a vote. There are many similar examples but those above should suffice.
I agree that Corky’s conduct can be reprehensible; I cringe at some of his antics and if he doesn’t change soon he can forget about being reelected. But you have failed to represent the broader public and appear beholden only to your political allies – and for a resident who cares about Council decisions that’s far worse. Corky may consume a lot of time with his incessant questioning but frankly I’m thankful for it because otherwise no hard questions are ever asked. The time spent by Corky is also considerably less than the time the Council expends on partisan measures that have nothing to do with City business (Gaza resolution, recent teacher’s union letter, etc.), or the amount of time the RPA speakers spend at the podium repeating the same message.
I honestly believe you want the best for our City and I’m appreciative of the undeniably good projects that you and your colleagues have undertaken. But the dysfunction you’re attempting to address is merely a symptom of the damaging partisanship that you as a group continue to exercise rather than the behavior of one councilperson. In reality it’s the RPA who is holding the City hostage and if you truly wish Council relations to improve then I suggest you begin by collaborating with those who hold different points of view, both on and off the dais.
Felix Hunziker
Richmond, California

Chris Treadway