Mayor circulates letter blaming council “dysfunction” on one member’s “chaos, disruptions, and vitriolic speech”

In an unusual move, last week after a particularly heated city council meeting Mayor Gayle McLaughlin sent an email to her online supporters entitled “The situation at City Council meetings,” in which she castigated “one councilmember’s” behavior during meetings, urged the public and other councilmembers to recognize to her authority as mayor and assured everyone that she will be tightening the reigns.

“There is dysfunction on this Council, but the dysfunction does not come from the Council as a whole. This dysfunction comes from one councilmember,” she wrote in her message. McLaughlin accused this councilmember of disrupting the council and of wasting time while he levels personal attacks against other councilmembers, instead of dealing with the agenda items. “It is truly a shame that this councilmember disrupts time and time again the needed business under discussion at the Council meeting. He forces us to deal with chaos, disruptions, and vitriolic speech that bring harm to the entire city of Richmond,” she wrote.

The letter did not name a particular councilmember, but during recent meetings conflict has broken out between the mayor and Councilmember Corky Booze, as well as between Booze and other councilmembers. At the July 17 meeting, Booze accused the mayor of trying to silence him and asked the Richmond City Attorney to advise the council on free speech guidelines. Booze said he was he concerned that the mayor may have infringed on the public’s right to free speech by having an audience member removed during a previous meeting. Booze and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, whose relationship is especially strained, got in to an argument towards the end of the July 17 meeting resulting in Beckles leaving early and saying to Booze, “You are evil. So evil.”

During a meeting on July 10, Councilmember Jeff Ritterman and Booze got in to a quarrel over whether or not Booze was wasting time by asking for his agenda item, regarding looking into charging for berthing of the SS Red Oak Victory Ship, to appear for a second time at the council’s next meeting. Booze’s request came after his motion—and the item—failed to pass. Booze said the reason he thought they should vote on it again at the next meeting was because the agenda incorrectly stated where the SS Red Oak Victory Ship was berthed—the vote against his motion to look into charging the ship for berthing at Terminal 1 didn’t count because the ship is actually berthed at Terminal 3, he said. Booze asked the city attorney to weigh in on the legality of the situation after his motion failed, at which point Ritterman said, “Don’t be wasting our time. We’re done with this item. You lost. It’s over.”

Booze said he believes that he is the councilmember referred to by the mayor in her letter. “That is just a horrible thing that she did,” he said. He said that he has “never, never,” seen a letter like this from McLaughlin before.

Booze said that it’s his fiduciary responsibility to the city to “ask the tough questions,” and doesn’t agree that what he does is a waste of time. Instead, he blames the marathon-length meetings on the topics that the other members prioritize. “Nothing that they’re doing deals with Richmond business,” he said citing the hours spent at the July 17 meeting discussing Teach For America teachers as well as the July 10 meeting, at which the council voted on a semantic distinction between a person being an “owner” or “guardian” of their pet.

Booze was the top vote-getter in the 2010 election, but he said that he feels that the other council members have shut him out since then. “Their whole idea is to knock me out and go after anyone I support,” he said.

Booze said that as mayor, McLaughlin’s does not enforce rules uniformly. “She always cuts me off, she is rude. But, she allows Beckles and Ritterman to talk over her. She doesn’t stop them,” he said.

In her letter to her supporters, McLaughlin quoted an unnamed councilmember describing her experience during meetings:  “You have one councilmember beating up on another. The first councilmember attacks and attacks with the other councilmember not fighting back, recognizing that the public can see the despicable behavior exhibited and judge for themselves. Yet the beating continues until the councilmember under attack, now on the floor suffering more jabs, decides she has had enough and stands up and pushes back.”

McLaughlin did not name Beckles as the source of the quote in her letter; however, Beckles later confirmed for Richmond Confidential that it had come from her.

Beckles said she agrees with McLaughlin’s assessment of the meetings and supports the letter. “I’m glad she called it like it is,” she said. Despite their recent blow-up at the July 17 meeting, Beckles maintains that she does not have a problem with Booze. “I am not at odds with any councilmember,” she said.

When asked for his perspective on McLauglin’s letter, Councilmember Nat Bates wrote in an email: “A chairperson must be fair, impartial and lead by example while displaying respect for their colleagues and the public. This mayor does neither and thus is the result of a dysfunctional Richmond city council.”

In a response to an interview request, McLaughlin emailed Richmond Confidential to explain why she sent the letter. “The reason I put it out was to try and gain cooperation for moving meetings forward to address the necessary business of the residents,” she wrote. “The response to my newsletter was really supportive.”

McLaughlin also wrote that she will remind the council of the governing rules before Tuesday’s meeting and will make a brief statement to the public. “It’s necessary for everyone to understand the role of the chair, so our meetings can become more orderly and the issues under discussion can be heard by all,” she wrote.

In last week’s letter to her supporters, McLaughlin acknowledged that as mayor it is her job to keep meetings in order and promised to enforce the meeting rules strictly. However, her goals extend farther, she wrote. “Many of us have looked toward changing the composition of the City Council in order to shift toward a better Richmond, and we will continue to do that. We have made so many gains with good councilmembers being elected in recent years. We will make more gains in November, and in subsequent elections,” she wrote.

For his part, Booze sounds just as assured. “One day my team will be able to be heard,” he said.

4 Comments

  1. Charles T. Smith

    July 19, 2012

    Dear Mayor McLaughlin,

    I am writing in response to your recent email expressing concern about the behavior of a “certain” member of the Richmond City Council. Based on the ongoing pattern of conflictual interactions between members of the Council, I am assuming that you must be referring to Council Member Boozé and my comments will reflect this assumption.

    I’ve known Mr. Boozé since 1989 when he and I both ran for City Council. I’ve supported him over the years, as he has been a perennial candidate for City Council. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Boozé has fortitude and is devoted to serving the entire population of Richmond including, but not exclusively, the African-American community. It is my understanding that the reason Mr. Boozé originally became involved in City politics was because he was being pushed around by African-American politicians. He is a fighter in every sense of the word. Mr. Boozé is the common man’s candidate, a race-car driver, a Casper’s habitué, a plain-talking man with no pretentions. To date, Mr. Boozé probably holds the record for attending more City Council meetings than most of the current Council Members excluding, possibly, Tom Butt and Nat Bates. Granted, at times he can be a bit of a gadfly, but that is who he is. Like all candidates, he made promises to his constituents as to how he planned to serve them if elected and since he has been elected with significant support from the African-American community he has made it a point to keep his promises and represent their needs as he perceives them, namely creating jobs and stopping violence.

    To fully and properly understand the current conflict on the City Council it is critical to look at it in the context of its history. Council Member Boozé was aggressively targeted from the beginning once he made it clear that he is his own man and will not be dictated to by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) or anyone else. This has set the tone for the escalation of misunderstandings and personalization of differences that has continued to date.

    In my opinion, three significant events occurred which demonstrate that Council Member Boozé is not the primary contributor to the ongoing conflict on the City Council but instead is a victim of mean-spirited, self-righteous attacks from some members of the Council and the RPA, solely because he has exercised his right to vote his conscience, his right to do campaign fund raising and his duty as a Council Member to address the City budget deficit.

    The first significant attack on Council Member Boozé came shortly after his election. He was threatened over the phone and at a Council meeting by Juan Reardon, a prominent leader in the RPA. He was told that if he changed his position and voted against supporting the West Bank flotilla action his political career was over. Council Member Boozé responded to these threats by stating that he would not be intimidated and he voted against the action. From that time on, he came under attack by the members of the RPA.

    When Council Member Boozé attended a fundraiser held in his honor by local businesses and business leaders he was again attacked for accepting their contributions to his campaign. Although he has stated many times that he can’t be bought and would always vote his conscience, this did not deter the RPA from putting out a hit piece headline on their email newsletter questioning his integrity because he accepted such contributions. This is a clear example of the RPA’s double standards as they have held a community party celebrating Obama’s victory despite his fund-raising practices and, at the local level, they have turned a blind eye to Council Member Tom Butt’s campaign contributors who have included Veolia.

    More recently, Council Member Boozé was attacked for doing what should be expected of any council member. Confronting a city budget deficit, he suggested that the City consider charging rent for the berth provided to the Red Oak Victory ship as one way to raise additional sources of revenue. The Council and the RPA reacted to this suggestion as though Council Member Boozé had committed a sacrilege despite the fact that they were all aware that there was no chance that his motion would pass as he did not have the votes. They were once again using the issue to target him.

    When treated with such disrespect, Mr. Boozé will respond at times in kind. He is not an architect, a social worker, a lawyer, or a doctor. He does not follow the unwritten rules of polite discourse which people from that class expect. But, like the majority of people who live in Richmond, he gives others respect and expects to be respected in turn. I don’t think Council Member Boozé has been respected.

    The kind of interpersonal conflict that we have been witnessing at Richmond City Council meetings is never the responsibility of just one party to the conflict. Such interpersonal strife will not be diminished as long as all council members view the problem from the perspective of blaming others. In my opinion, each individual council member needs to look closely at his or her own behavior and start to make changes towards more acceptance and understanding of the other members of the Council as well as the public. At the last Council meeting Council Member Ritterman suggested that August be a cooling off period. I think that is a good idea and that possibly it could be a period of reflection, mediation and reconciliation as well.

    If such healing does not start to happen and the City Council meetings continue to be filled with strife and disrespect the entire City is going to suffer. The divisions being created in the Council have implications for the wider community and are aggravating the social, cultural and economic divisions already being experienced between various segments of our community as the City struggles with significant economic and social changes. It is critical at this juncture of Richmond’s history that we have a Council who can lead us towards a new and united Richmond. The kind of disrespectful and immature behavior we have witnessed recently in the Council is having the opposite effect and if there is no change I have no doubt members of the Council will have some unpleasant surprises when their turn to run for reelection comes.

    Sincerely,

    Charles T. Smith

    Richmond, CA 94805

  2. Felix Hunziker

    July 19, 2012

    Madame Mayor,

    If you, the RPA-elected councilmembers and Tom Butt, actually represented your constituents there might be good reason to agree with your statement below. But instead you act unilaterally, promoting your personal ideology at every opportunity while disregarding many who hold different points of view, so I disagree with your assessment of the Council’s dysfunction.

    The Sugar Tax, for example, was sweeping legislation that was nevertheless crafted without community outreach or coordination with local merchants. Residents had only 4 days to react to the agenda item and while many expressed concerns, no attempt to mitigate them was ever made. On the recent campaign contributions ordinance there are likewise numerous concerns but again there is no sign that these are being considered and it will undoubtedly pass as written when it finally comes to a vote. There are many similar examples but those above should suffice.

    I agree that Corky’s conduct can be reprehensible; I cringe at some of his antics and if he doesn’t change soon he can forget about being reelected. But you have failed to represent the broader public and appear beholden only to your political allies – and for a resident who cares about Council decisions that’s far worse. Corky may consume a lot of time with his incessant questioning but frankly I’m thankful for it because otherwise no hard questions are ever asked. The time spent by Corky is also considerably less than the time the Council expends on partisan measures that have nothing to do with City business (Gaza resolution, recent teacher’s union letter, etc.), or the amount of time the RPA speakers spend at the podium repeating the same message.

    I honestly believe you want the best for our City and I’m appreciative of the undeniably good projects that you and your colleagues have undertaken. But the dysfunction you’re attempting to address is merely a symptom of the damaging partisanship that you as a group continue to exercise rather than the behavior of one councilperson. In reality it’s the RPA who is holding the City hostage and if you truly wish Council relations to improve then I suggest you begin by collaborating with those who hold different points of view, both on and off the dais.

    Respectfully,

    Felix Hunziker
    Richmond, California

  3. mary

    Thank you Mr. Hunziker for once again for saying what the rest of us think, but aren’t allowed to say.

  4. Don Gosney

    Time and again select members of the Council want to put on their rose colored glasses and see things through a set of eyes that few others can see through. Members of the public have repeatedly tried to tell virtually every member of the COuncil that there’s enough blame to go around and that they ALL need some self reflection to see how they might improve.

    Whether it’s a Mayor who constantly interrupts speakers, a Councilman who tells presenters that they should never come back into his city, Councilmembers who tell members of the audience that they need to go back to the mental institution they escaped from, Councilmembers who tell members of the public that they’re stupid, Councilmembers who tell members of the public that they’re ghetto or Councilmembers who have forgotten what their parents taught them about how to behave in public, or Councilmembers who chastise speakers for wasting their time by challenging their positions when everyone knows that the votes have already been counted before the agenda item is brought up–there’s plenty of room for improvement.

    This came across as a political statement by a member of the controlling party which dictates policy in Richmond yet it was distributed as if it were an official document from the Mayor’s Office–the voice of the highest elected official in the City.

    Have you no shame, Madame Mayor? Have you no decency?

    Perhaps you might be more successful if you tried to find solutions to the problem instead of going nuclear and either recessing the meeting when you get flustered or ejecting persons who voice opinions that differ from yours.

    I’m not suggesting that the type of meeting you should attend is an AA meeting but if you were to drop by one you might learn that they tell alcoholics that they won’t be able to find a solution to their problem until they admit to themselves that a problem exists. The same goes for you and your associates on the Council–until you admit to yourselves that a problem exists, you’ll never find a solution. And pointing your finger at everyone but yourself (and I’m speaking to all seven of you) is not the solution.

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