City council approves new limits for campaign contributions and voting on donor-related issues

On a night that began with good intentions, things went sour fast at the Tuesday night Richmond City Council meeting as the council debated adopting new rules for disclosing campaign contributions over $250.

The meeting began with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin acknowledging a group of young, proud and voracious bookworms. Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus hailed the TECHS All-Stars Reading is Fun Book Club as a perfect example of crime prevention. “When kids are reading books they’re not getting into trouble,” he said.

But leave it to money, and an election year, to spoil the mood. Councilmember Tom Butt got the ball rolling when he suggested an amendment for council consideration with regards to accepting and disclosing money. In layman’s terms, the amendment says a councilmember who receives more than $250 from a business or individual cannot vote on what that business or individual asks for during future council votes. It would take one year for that councilperson to vote again on that particular item. “It limits the influence of money on politics,” Butt said.

But councilmember Corky Boozé questioned Butt’s plan to limit the amount of funding by special interest groups. He also wanted to know how the new amendment would affect local government efficiency. “How do we run the city when the majority of the votes [councilmembers] have taken money?” Boozé asked City Attorney Bruce Reed Goodmiller. “You can’t buy my vote. Mine is not for sale. I’ll take your money and vote against you.”

Goodmiller reassured councilmember Boozé that even if every member of the council could not vote, there would be a way to get something passed.

This got councilmember Nat Bates thinking. He asked the city attorney to read California Government Code Section 84308 out loud. That was the section that inspired Butt’s proposal, and it forbids state officials from voting on matters proposed by their donors and requires them to reveal how much was donated. What the city attorney’s reading revealed was that the code does not apply to a local government agency whose members are directly elected by voters, such as a city council.

“What you’re doing [councilmember Butts] is providing a venue to break state law,” Bates said. “This California Code Section 84308 was authorized by the state legislature. If you’re telling me I have to adhere to something else that the state legislature doesn’t mandate, then you’re violating my constitutional right.”

In defense of Butt, councilmember Jovanka Beckles said she was excited about the proposed amendment and that it shows respect for city residents. “We are here to do your business and your business only,” she said, referring to residents. “We are not here to do and work on behalf of developers and corporations.”

The discussion took 50 minutes to resolve, as councilmembers took turns jabbing each other with accusations of false intent and bad behavior. Boozé told residents he doesn’t have a team to support his ideas and that Richmond Progressive Alliance’s “vendetta” against corporations and companies is taking over the city. At one point, a Richmond resident walked up to the mic and told the council their behavior was like a talk show. Another resident addressed the council and said when he took off his eyeglasses he could see his voice go in their ears and out the others.

The item ultimately passed with a 4-3 vote.

In other council business, Mayor McLaughlin directed staff to revise Ordinance No. 3-09 to set limits on campaign contribution receipts to be eligible for matching funds. Instead, what was put in place was a substitute motion by councilmember Butt to set campaign fund limits at $40,000. The substitute motion passed with a 5-2 vote.

4 Comments

  1. Don Gosney

    With all due respect, as the owner of those eyeglasses, what I said was that I had a special pair of eyeglasses that could see our words going in one ear and out the other.

    It was a metaphor and what I was suggesting is that too many of our Councilmembers come into these meetings with their minds already made up and it doesn’t matter what the public tells them, they’re going to do whatever they want anyway.

    We have members of the Council that routinely interrupt speakers, sometimes suggesting that they are liars, making funny faces and or guttural noises while the speakers are expressing their viewpoints. Some even email speakers immediately afterwards to express their contempt for them.

    We even have members of the Council that stare at speakers after their allotted speaking time (where they can defend themselves) and admonish them for wasting everyone’s time by rising to speak in opposition to the viewpoints of the ruling members of the Council. It’s as if they expect the public to sit back and take the abuse meted out by these people.

    Sometimes, even when it’s obvious that the Council comes in with their minds made up and the votes are already aligned and counted without them actually casting their votes, that members of the public that oppose what they’re trying to do need to rise and tell them: ”I disagree with you.” Otherwise they’ll go home thinking that everyone agrees with them and their goofy ideas.

    Such was the case last night when nearly 45 minutes was spent discussing outlawing pet ownership in the City of Richmond. With the new law, animals may have “guardians” but not “owners”. I don’t know if they believe that my goldfish’s self esteem will now be raised knowing that he’s no longer a slave to his former owner. Do they think the pets are going to know the difference? The lady brought in as the originator of this idea suggested that these animals will be able to tell the difference and it will make a difference in their lives. Of course, how will these animals know that they’re now free when they can’t read the articles in the newspapers they’re doing their business on?

    And the Council never responded when asked what might happen when a pit bull attacks a police officer or a small child and the “guardian” tries to tell the jury that according to the law in Richmond, since he can no longer own the attacking animal, he has no responsibility for the animal’s actions.

    It was when I brought up these issues that the Councilmember ranted about how I was wasting everyone’s time.

    It goes on and on here in RIchmond. Tuesday nights are Barnum & Bailey night–the greatest show in earth. Every Tuesday night the circus comes to town. Newspeople love to camp out in Richmond. They know that on any given day one or more of our elected official is going to say or do something so wild and goofy that they can use it as the teaser to attract viewers to their 11 o’clock news: “RICHMOND CITY COUNCIL GOES GOOFY–FILM AT ELEVEN.”

  2. $250.00 limit or the “bought and paid for” council member cant vote on that company’s doings….that should level the playing field, aye veolia??

  3. Joe E.Goodyear

    The Richmond City Council advances little by little the shape and good standing of our city. The reactionary forces connected to a system that has failed us for decades do their worst to paint the council as ‘a circus’, but any objective analysis of the measures taken and the gains achieved over these last years will show that there has been great progress. The number one problem in the Richmond City Council: Nat Bates and Corky Booze, and some characters in the audience. In spite of such clowns the council is not a circus. Judge it by its outcomes. Richmond just became more independent from corporations and the people of many cities are looking at Richmond with admiration, wishing for local governments like we have. There is great progress in Richmond under the progressive Mayor and council.

  4. roberto reyes

    The voters of Richmond are quite intelligent and know what is right and what is wrong with our dysfunctional council. We all found out with Pt. Molate. Forget the mouthpieces for the old way and let’s keep moving forward under the direction of Gayle McGlaughlin.

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