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In introducing the topic of improved decorum on the Redding City Council, Missy McArthur admitted she set the bar pretty high when she challenged fellow council members to be more like President Ronald Reagan.
“I wish we could become great communicators up here,” McArthur said, after recounting a recent visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. Instead, she said she has been getting complaints about rampant sniping between council members and the constant attacks on staffers by the public.
“When we talk to staff, we need to be positive instead of negative all the time. When we complain, we need to look at ourselves, and think of how we can be better as bosses,” McArthur said.
In asking for a general tone of civility, she said “freedom of speech is not a license to be rude.”
Councilman Patrick Jones countered that people are understandably passionate when addressing the council since councilors are spending their hard-earned tax dollars.
Jones’ Tea Party-backed compatriot, Councilman Gary Cadd, expounded on the theme, saying it’s hard to put a positive spin on Redding’s looming $200 million pension shortfall. Cadd intended to continue his discussion on the unfunded pension obligations, but Mayor Rick Bosetti cut him off and reminded him the topic at hand was council decorum.
“I have no problem with passion,” Bosetti said, noting with a smile that it was part of his Italian heritage, but he said he does have a problem with careless and unfounded allegations of malfeasance and the use of foul language.
City Attorney Rick Duvernay noted that courts have upheld people’s right to be rude, but their comments have to be related to issues on the meeting’s agenda. At the very least, they have to pertain to matters within the city’s purview.
Bosetti, after noting the council would not be taking any action on the decorum item, asked if it might be better to move the public comment period—a 30-minute public forum when audience members are allowed up to three minutes each to discuss matters not on the agenda but within the city’s jurisdiction—from the beginning of the meeting to the end.
Jones said the public comment period should stay at the beginning since it’s the most convenient to members of the public who may want to comment on current affairs. As an example, he mentioned those who may be critical of the city’s $17 million Stillwater industrial park project.
Gary Hollahan, a faithful attendee of council meetings who rarely misses an opportunity to speak during the public comment period—usually to criticize what he sees as public employee unions’ undue influence on city policies—returned to the podium Tuesday night to defend the public comment policy.
“What happened to ‘we the people, of the people and for the people?,’” the retired teacher asked.
Dolores Lucero, who earlier had used the public comment period to announce she would be running for Congress, took advantage of the decorum conversation to remind the council that “I have a right to come up here and tell you (that) you have no shame and no respect. You don’t represent the people.”
Kent Dagg, the former head of the Shasta Builders Exchange and no stranger to local politics, got the ball rolling early when he spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to complain of the “hijacking of the public comment period.”
With videos of all council meetings available at www.ci.redding.ca.us/cclerk/granicus.htm, Dagg feared the “embarrassing display” would give prospective investors and residents a negative impression of Redding. How bad? Dagg compared it to “auditions for the Jerry Springer show.”
“I’d like people to use those 30 minutes to be more positive,” Dagg added.
The tone of Tuesday’s meeting suggests his request is not likely to be granted any time soon.
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.