Over time, even solid rock can fracture and split; seemingly indestructible granite will reveal cracks and fissures on close inspection. The newly constituted Fremont City Council began their current term of office with a unified appearance but recently, seams and splits have begun to appear. Listening and watching the actions of the scintillating seven, it is apparent that the old guard is uneasy with a new wave of councilpersons; a Bacon/Kassan marital consortium and Salwan/Jones duo is emerging.
The most apparent of these fractures has been when appointments by Mayor Mei have been questioned and opposed. It is the prerogative – and duty – of councilmembers during a comment and consent process to, if based on reason, voice opposition or question motives. It appears, however, that some friction is a rearguard action to maintain a semblance of status quo and counter a less aggressive growth agenda. The latest spat occurred over appointments to the Planning Commission and Human Relations Commission. Mayor Mei asked for blanket approval of her slate of referrals but was rebuffed and relegated to individual votes. Although the slate prevailed, the split in some votes was interesting.
In another instance, exemption of accelerated minimum wage requirements for socially-oriented nonprofit organizations was questioned. Although previously discussed at length, a philosophical divide was exposed with the Bacon/Kassan bloc in dissent. Although firmly in the affirmative for minimum wage requirements, details of to whom and how applied was disputed. These are important nuances to proposed ordinances and should be debated before being put into practice. It is through informed, coherent discourse that the council can reach a rational decision.
Exercise of a councilmember’s right and obligation to reasonably question or dissent is paramount to a functional democracy. It is with this understanding that, when appropriate, a thorough discussion of items on the agenda is necessary. However, with the requirement for rational consideration of agenda items comes another obligation. Each councilmember has a duty to study and understand the purpose and details of items on the agenda; to attend council meetings prepared. When a referral such as that proposed by Councilmember Bacon requests a study of whether the City should pay for police/fire staff services at the Fourth of July Parade, the process should not be mired in cost specifics since the referral asked Staff to present that information at a future meeting. It was simply a proposal to ask Staff for an analysis. Consent or dissent is a straight-forward decision at that stage – are you in favor of requesting additional data or not.
When it comes to differences of opinion, there should be no question that our elected representatives be informed and make reasonable decisions based upon the evidence, common sense and the will of their constituents. While fissures in the face of the council can be damaging if irrational, any rock-climbing enthusiast will tell you that often such fissures can be helpful when finding the proper path for assent as well.