I believe it’s time to address the discussions taking place in our Town. I keep seeing and hearing the word divisive thrown around quite a bit lately. Many are also using community, pro-business, and voices not being listened to as triggers to get a response to their way of seeing things because, in their perception, this is the right way of seeing things.
As I look around Yountville, I see a lot of positive forces playing out. Financially, the Town has come out strong over the past two and a half years, with reserves and programs still soundly in place. All Town meetings on Zoom saw a continued involvement from the community through comments and viewership. With the appointment of a new Council member, we saw a depth of experience step up for the position. We are fortunate to have a Town staff engaged and open to our community. I continue to see community engagement at Town meetings, Chamber meetings, and public events. It even appears that small groups are popping up at local venues to discuss the weekly concerns and interests of our citizens.
So imagine my surprise as I read the local newspaper from two weeks ago with a headline stating, “Despite Citizen Support, Council Won’t Discuss Campaign Giving Limits.” Yep, I watched that meeting, and public comment is always a vital part of the process, and it appears the editor has set that bar of citizen support at… three. There were three letters from the public asking to take up this item at a future meeting. Each letter stated its reasons, with one calling for further “education and discussion.” The other two had concerns for corporations and “monied individuals.” Merely three comments would be sufficient to dictate the conversation and directions of our Council because that’s the direction that the editor prefers.
Corporations and monied individuals have been here for quite some time. There are rules and regulations for campaigns. A candidate must declare total money over $2,000 received and/or spent amongst the several other forms they must legally file. An election committee must file and document all contributions – financial and in-kind. This process does not happen in a vacuum. It is all public and rigorous.
A week later, the headline was out in full sensational mode again, stating, “This Could Have A Chilling Effect.” When writing about the Council discussion, the paper further says, “It is possible that the tenor and obstructions we have witnessed in the Council chambers this month and in the recent past will have a chilling effect on local participation in the democratic process we have honored for so long.” Danger! Danger! Danger! I must read the article; something terrible is happening in Yountville! Or maybe not. Nontraditional headlines that attempt to drive visitors to a news page are called “clickbait” by industry professionals. Usually, this is used for online news but definitely in play here.
From an article on journalism: “The restraint drops away even further when journalists portray news stories as sensational events. Sensational headlines attempt to make news content seem “more interesting, extraordinary, and relevant” than it would seem with a traditional headline. These headlines use some combination of warning newsreaders about a threat, passing judgments about the story, and making the story more personal and immediate.” (bold is mine).
The danger here is what to believe when reading the headline. What to think when reading the article. How significant is this topic, really?
Earlier in this same article, a Council member stated, “The current rule acts like a filibuster to discourage discussion and collaboration.” The editor and Council member both agree the rules should change (they want a change in Council protocols on how an item gets placed on the agenda). Ahhhh, now I understand. The rule worked in the past when you wanted to get a Community Economic Development Committee discussion onto the agenda. This campaign contribution discussion did not get onto the agenda this time, so the rules need to change. Then, of course, “filibuster” has a bad connotation on the national level so let’s use it here when in fact, the current rule does not act as a filibuster because the Council was able to make a decision. (Filibuster fully explained.) Effective trigger word.
Let me say that the word “divisive” gets used in this community, and I find that most of the time, it is being used by those who are not seeing the results they desire. A vote does not have their preferred outcome. An issue does not play out in their favor. A topic is discussed that makes them uncomfortable. Just because we disagree does not mean we are divisive. Just because a 3 – 2 vote does not come out in your favor does not mean it is divisive.
The word “divisive” will come up again as people read this blog and forward it to their friends.
For the vocal (and rigid) minority, a Letter to the Editor to the local paper (that is not online) serves as a platform for moving beyond a like-minded group to state how offended they are at some outcome that did not go the way they deemed it to be. Even though the meeting has already taken place, even though there is an admission to not participating, the authors of these letters can ask questions that the Council has already discussed and answered at the meeting. But this vocal minority simply seeks to drive home a point because their “side” did not see the desired results. There are no direct reasons why the discussion has to occur, no direct examples of previous adverse actions, or how to move forward. It has to be because “I want it to.” Us against them. Divisive.
So while others sit around and start feeling “chilled.” Do a little research. Read a bit. See what you can come up with on your own… don’t take the word of five others as the final truth. I’ll even start you with a few resources, and, of course, you can always watch the meeting for yourself.
Current California contribution guidelines based on the $4,900 cap.
California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Forms and requirements of candidates running for office.
Email the FPPC with a question email@example.com
FPPC Toll-Free Advice Line 1 866 ASK FPPC
Watch the Council meeting. You should watch the entire meeting, BUT this topic starts about 35 mins into the meeting.
The number of people holding a view does not measure the validity of the view. Nor can we accurately determine just how many may hold the same view, as perhaps there HAS been a chilling effect on a conversation about an unpopular topic? How few is too few to be respectfully heard?
Henrik Ibsen said, “A minority may be right, and the majority is always in the wrong.”
Minority/marginalized groups (smaller in numbers than the majority, obviously) often go unheard.
My takeaway from the council meeting was: some get to voice their opinion (as it is the voice of the majority) while others are stifled or discounted.
*Sort of reminiscent of our local Measure T…and we all know who “won” on that issue.