by Chris Potter
A few more thoughts about the New Year's Eve Massacre ... and an attempt to clarify some of the more overheated rhetoric. Including my own.
I see that -- just as I predicted yesterday morning -- city councilor Patrick Dowd is trying to say that council got what it deserves when Luke Ravenstahl vetoed a bill too late in the year for council to override. Bob Mayo quotes Dowd saying that the mayor's 11th-hour veto is "poetic justice" for how council treated him.
Dowd also repeated his charge that council acted in a "fascist" manner. Bending the rules "is what fascists do," Dowd says.
Yeah, well. It's also what 8-year-olds do, and hedge-fund managers, and people who don't like to lose at golf. Any of those put-downs would have been equally accurate, and a hell of a lot less loaded.
Dowd is a former history teacher. And just from private conversations about Marx and Adam Smith and a bunch of other stuff totally unrelated to city governance, I can attest to the fact that he knows way more about it than I do. So it pains me to see him bringing out this "my opponents are just like Hitler!" approach, so common to people on the far right.
One difference between fascists and council is that fascists tend to round people up, so they can be imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Council, by contrast, wanted to make sure they all got paid roughly the same amount of money. Slight difference in intent there.
Another difference is this: Fascism was effective. By contrast, nothing council could have done New Year's Eve would have been.
There's some discussion on Mayo's blog about whether council could or could not waive the 24-hour-notice requirement under the home rule charter. To me, that discussion is beside the point. Section 709 of the state Sunshine Act clearly requires that
An agency shall give public notice of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specified in the notice.
Now the next sentence goes on to say that
Public notice is not required in the case of an emergency meeting or a conference.
But the act defines "emergency meeting" as "[a] meeting called for the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property."
And really, I don't think trying to override a mayoral veto on a piece of development legislation qualifies. During the New Year's Eve meeting, Council President Doug Shields conceded that "this may be fraught by all manner of legalities." But he wanted to get council's position on the record.
Indeed, I think it's pretty clear that this vote, even had it carried, would have been symbolic. The law would certainly have been challenged by a developer, and the measure would have been weakened by a serious procedural flaw.
That said, it wouldn't be the first time that an "emergency meeting" has been called around here under highly dubious circumstances -- as Mayo himself has documented. So I can certainly understand why Dowd didn't vote for the override. It's certainly defensible to say "I'm not going to vote for an empty gesture ... especially since the gesture might result in a court battle."
As far as I can tell, Dowd is also right that the mayor simply outmaneuvered council, in much the same way that Dowd's fellow councilors outmaneuvered him. The law gives Ravenstahl 10 days to act on legislation, and he took advantage of them. Council set itself up for this by not voting the bill through earlier. Guess they should have tried even harder to railroad the measure through. That would have been fascistic -- with the results to show for it!
But again, as I said yesterday: There's a broader picture here, one that council needs to think about on Monday when it chooses a president.
If the possibility of a veto shouldn't have come as a surprise to council, then the demand for this legislation shouldn't have come as a surprise to the mayor. There was a protest outside Ravenstahl's office this past summer. And that protest followed private conversations between union leaders and city officials. Ravenstahl could have drafted his own legislation in the months that followed. That's what we pay the guy for: leadership.
But Ravenstahl chose not to play that role. Instead, he took a passive-aggressive strategy, whose only affirmative step was to veto the thing at the last possible moment. And then to insist that what he really wants is to pass a bill next year. Uh-huh.
Make no mistake about it: Council got played. Ravenstahl won, and he did so by following the rules of the game. But that isn't the question. The question is, what's council's next move? Does it go with Ricky Burgess, who is offering a more conciliatory approach to the mayor? Or does it go with Bill Peduto, who would continue a more independent path for the legislative branch?
If I felt like Ravenstahl were the victim here -- if I felt like he hadn't had any chance to influence this legislation -- I'd be all in favor of Burgess' approach. But Ravenstahl had every chance to lead, and chose not to. He ceded that role to council, and then -- when he didn't get the results he wanted -- decided to thwart the legislation at the last possible moment. To me, that isn't someone who deserves the benefit of the doubt going forward.