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Let us talk of many things

Jack Balshaw 6/25/2003


Reading the Argus and Press Democrat today (last week by now), I couldn't help but notice how inflammatory the headlines were on the city campaign finance stories. The Press Democrat, which tends to treat Petaluma roughly anyway, notes the council "kills" public financing. The Argus, which is usually more moderate, has them "gut" it.

There's no doubt where their sympathies lay. If such language were commonly used in their headlines, it wouldn't be noticeable. But their headlines are usually more restrained.

The thousands of dollars Mayor Glass received in public funding may have bought him the 75 or so votes he won by. However, the thousands received by those who didn't win didn't come close to letting them match the money spent by those winners who declined to use public funds. Perhaps a published recap of the impact of public funding in the last election would have shown a positive or negative relationship between public funding and a winning campaign for a council seat. The mayoral race, being a one on one contest, might be different.

In other stories Councilmember Moynihan is separated from the rest of the council in an increasingly formal way. A "unanimous" vote can now be 6 to 1 as long as he is the one. It's strange that he is considered negatively as a loner and not a team player in his positions and, at the same time, those who vote together on controversial issues are accused of being a rubber stamp for the developers. It looks like we don't like loners and we don't like those who vote with others. Is the ideal council vote 3,3,with 1 abstention?

The guest commentary by a former councilmember has Councilmember Moynihan accepting "six illegal contributions". The fact is that the whole purpose of the City's recently withdrawn complaint against Councilmember Moynihan was to determine the legality of his act. His interpretations of the campaign finance ordinance have been upheld twice by the judge hearing arguments. One person's declaration of the contributions as being "illegal" does not make them so.

While Councilmember Moynihan's positions on agenda items may annoy most of the other councilmembers, and the details of his presentations may turn off the layman, he is trying to control the receipt and expenditure of city funds in a more open and consistent manner. If the City Council were a private Board of Directors, perhaps it would be OK if one board member focused on the financial details while the other six made the big decisions.

It should be remembered that it was his obstinacy and persistence that caused the previous city council and management to find it did have money to get started on fixing the streets. When and if a utility tax is passed in November without language controlling how the money can be spent, perhaps we'll wish more Councilmembers were picky about finances.

A good example of the need for more oversight is the recent announcement that between $300,000 and one million in business license fees weren't collected. Last year something over a million dollars in grants from other agencies expired because no one was following up on them. City staff doesn't like to be micromanaged but sometimes they should be. These were huge unneccessary losses of revenue. Doesn't anyone care?

Comments about a nationwide shortage of natural gas are beginning to surface in magazines and the papers. Wouldn't it be ironic if the insistence on using natural gas to power electrical generators results in us all having to pay much more for natural gas as a heating fuel? But the economically comfortable don't have to worry, they can afford it. Those with fewer resources may find their support for clean burning, gas powered electrical generators means paying more to keep warm.

How about Sebastopol, land of the affluent, home of the strange! Now someone is proposing a study be made of the scenic impact and the impact of domestic cats on wildlife before a 147 unit (including 18 low cost homes and 30 low cost apartments) project can continue. Shamefull ploys by the shameless to keep the working poor from moving into town.


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