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.