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Are we getting too serious?

Jack Balshaw 7/31/02


Just when I began to think Councilmember Maguire had matured in service and was becoming a relatively balanced council representative, BANG, his paranoia kicks in. A group trying to shame the council into taking action on our poorly maintained streets began a humorous "Petaluma, Pothole Capitol of California " campaign. Their hope was that, by increasing citizens' awareness of the problem, the council will be forced to stop putting off fixing our streets. (Twelve years out of office, I think it's a shame those who have served since then have taken no action in all that time. The streets were OK when I left.)

The campaign began with a "Petaluma, Pothole Capitol of California" sign on the freeway. Then, a stealthy participant called "Animal" begins outlining potholes with paint under the cover of a helmeted and orange vested street worker. Bumper stickers touting "Save the Potholes" are distributed to sympathizers. Next, the leader of this lighthearted group hires a plane to tow a "Petaluma, Pothole Capitol of California " banner over the city. That's when Councilmember Maguire loses it.

In an attempt to halt this innocent "shaming" of the council, Councilmember Maguire tries to shoot down this exercise of free speech. Fortunately the Petaluma Air force was off duty that day and cooler heads prevailed. But not before an ex-councilmember stomped into the airport demanding something. Is there no humor here? They need to remember, "It's not so important to be serious about things as it is to be serious about important things."

Even though six of the seven councilmembers would consider me an equal opportunity critic, I have been accused of being on "their" side, whichever side that is. It appears that if you're not with "us" you must be with "them". It is sad that this faction can only see conspiracy all about them. This might account for the City Manager's comment to the council, "Don't ascribe to conspiracy that which can be explained by foolishness".

This incident was quickly followed by a letter to the editor advising the citizenry not to be fooled by the Petaluma, Pothole Capitol of California campaign, as it was really a political effort to oust certain council members. This is kind of strange in that the campaign seems to be directed at the whole council. I believe again it is that "those who conspire about things" think everyone conspires. Just paranoid I guess.

Then lo and behold up pops a musical fundraiser that is really a political fundraiser. According to the spokesman for Petaluma Tomorrow, the three present and two former council members who signed the promotional letter, "did not know their names would be used to directly solicit donations or criticize specific development projects". How naive of them! Petaluma Tomorrow, a Progressive advocate group, has found a way around the restrictive campaign finance ordinance passed after the last election and just before their representatives' left the council.

This ordinance requires candidates to list the name of anyone who contributes any amount of money. BUT, if one were to contribute to Petaluma Tomorrow, they don't have to identify themselves. Petaluma Tomorrow can pass that donation through to any candidate as a laundered contribution from Petaluma Tomorrow. Or, it can be used to support or attack any candidate via a Petaluma Tomorrow political ad.

Councilmember Maguire has accused the Argus of "yellow journalism", a term not heard since we invaded Cuba to throw the Spanish out over a hundred years ago. And of trying to stifle free speech by reporting on an event. The veneer of civility of this group is as thin as their skin.

Let's hope the remainder of the election season is less antagonistic towards those with different views. Perhaps we should pay more attention to a candidate's attitude toward others more than what they each say they will do for us if elected. Each of the incumbents who choose to run should also be asked why they didn't do what they're promising now during their last term.

We're entering the "silly season" of Petaluma politics. It should be fun.

PS The Petaluma, Pothole Capitol of California campaign seems to be working, the council earmarked some Redevelopment funds for street improvements.


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