Ethical Government and the Bailout Mindset

I attended a course on “Ethical and Transparent Government” last Saturday and, throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the Oakley City Manager mortgage bailout that happened a year ago.  Everything I was being taught brought me back to the conditions surrounding it.  In fact, my belief is that the bailout of the CM’s mortgage at taxpayer expense didn’t just appear out of thin air.  The seeds for it were sewn in the years before by the mindset and biases of the Council.  For the good of the city, that mindset must change.

For instance, one Council member had become fond of saying, “If we like you, we’ll take care of you.”  It’s not uncommon for people to feel this way.  I think we all would prefer to deal with people who are friendly and, at least, pretend to like us.  But that’s not government.  When you’re elected you must represent everyone, even the people you don’t like or those who don’t agree with you or didn’t vote for you.  We live in a democracy where all are created equal and have equal status.  A Council member is here to do what’s best for the city, not just the favored few.

Then there was the “quid pro quo” approach.  The “I’ll take care of you if you take care of me” mindset you heard behind the scenes far too often.  It’s a given that a lot of politics, maybe most of it, is based on this principle but that doesn’t make it right.  Votes and public policy shouldn’t be based on the barter system.  Again, the bottom line must be “what’s good for the city” not “what’s good for my political career” or “what’s good for my friends/people who support me.”   In fact, even the trading of votes between Council members, the “I’ll vote for yours if you vote for mine” scenario, is strictly prohibited by law for local government.  Council members must act and vote on the value of legislation, not the value they may receive for acting or voting a particular way.

Equally troubling were those “I run this town!” boasts where action or influence was promised through the status of individuals on the Council.  First off, politicians should walk in humility.  They are, after all, public servants.  But this was also an insult to other Council members.  Authority is, and should be, held co-equally among all five members of the City Council.  To claim you “run the show” says that other Council members don’t have a hand in it.

Also, from my perspective, it’s not the Council that holds the power.  It’s the people who voted them into office.  When those who took issue with the high density Knox Lane and Rosewood developments showed up at City Council meetings, groups who collected 4,000 signatures against the projects, they were treated like second class citizens.  At the very least their input should have been factored into a decision painstakingly made over an extended length of time.  Indeed, public input must be an actual part of decision making, not just something to be ignored, marginalized, or attacked.

With this kind of mindset, it’s easy to see how the City Council ultimately blundered into approving the City Manager’s $360,000 payday at your expense.  They adopted a mindset where they could operate in a self-created vacuum out of touch with the citizenry at large.  It became their way or the highway even if their way led to malfeasance.  Neither is it lost on me that Randy Pope, our junior Council member at the time, was the only one to vote against the City Manager bailout.  Mr. Pope refused to buy into the existing mindset and, as the junior on the panel, had not been a part of its creation.  He faced considerable institutional blowback for his vote but stayed the course and continues to deserve kudos for it.

And so, this election is not about “Police, Roads, Jobs.”  While these things are very important to Oakley’s future, it is ethical and transparent government that is most important.   If a candidate had a hand in the City Manager bailout, or supported those who did, they must not be allowed to serve.  Your vote and trust must be placed elsewhere.  We must narrow the gap between politicians and the people they’re supposed to represent.  We must insist on ethical, transparent government.

It’s time for Oakley voters to put their foot down and make sure the bailout, or anything like it, never happens again.






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Contra Costa Times Endorses Ron

Contra Costa Times editorial: Borland, Burgis and Hansen for Oakley City Council

Contra Costa Times editorial © Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group
Posted:   10/07/2012 10:00:00 AM PDT
Updated:   10/07/2012 05:58:47 PM PDT

Public officials must be able to distinguish right from wrong. They must know that they serve the public, not their interests and not those of select individuals. Council members who can’t understand this don’t deserve to hold office.

That includes the four members of the Oakley council who last year approved a sweetheart deal for City Manager Bryan Montgomery that amounted to a $366,500 taxpayer-funded windfall.

Think about it: With the city general fund budget shrinking by about 20 percent over the past five years, officials have had to cut city jobs and ask those who remain to make concessions. Yet they tried to greatly fatten the city manager’s net worth in one surreptitious move.

Only after the agreement was exposed on this editorial page did council members rescind it. But they could never bring themselves to admit the ethical and legal lapses.

Fortunately, the terms of three of the four backers of the deal end this year. Councilwoman Pat Anderson isn’t seeking re-election. And Councilman Jim Frazier is giving up his seat to run for state Assembly; we are backing his opponent in that race.

However, Kevin Romick, who amazingly continues to defend the deal, wants another term on the City Council. He does not deserve to hold public office.

Five other candidates are also vying for the three council seats in the Nov. 6 election. One, teacher and writer Ron Borland, fully recognizes the seriousness of what transpired last year. The Montgomery loan deal, he said in a recent candidate forum, was “probably the most embarrassing situation we’ve ever had in Oakley history.”

He correctly points out that the council violated the state open meeting law by striking the deal behind closed doors. And Montgomery’s dual role negotiating with the council a major change to his home loan, benefiting him at the expense of the taxpayers he was supposed to be protecting, raises concerns of ethical and legal conflicts of interest.

Borland gets it. “When you’re the guardian of the purse strings of the public, you cannot give the city manager a gift like that,” he said. “That one act was so wrong that it should disqualify you for future service.”

While we happily endorse Borland, we had to dig deeper to find two other candidates we could support. We settled on Diane Burgis, the executive director of the Friends of Marsh Creek preservation group, and David Hansen, a real estate salesman and police chaplain.

While they say they would not have supported the deal, they unfortunately don’t share Borland’s outrage. But they are the best candidates of the remaining field. Both are articulate, and both will have steep learning curves.

We hope three new council members, along with incumbent Randy Pope, who spoke out against the deal last year, can begin to restore integrity to City Hall. However, the housecleaning won’t be complete until Montgomery leaves too.

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