Town Council: Meeting Notes – December 7

(Too) Big Politics in a Small Town

Yes, there was a Town Council meeting on Tuesday. Yes, there were agenda items. But I will only discuss the main reason you clicked through to this post—that reason being the final Town Council meeting for our Vice Mayor, Kerri Dorman. 

(Based on comments I have been reading and made to me, many of you are forwarding The Yountvillian newsletter to your friends. Thanks so much! Make it easy on yourself and have them subscribe like you did. Here is the link.)

It started with a proclamation from the Town for her service and then the agenda item that I assumed to be her crowning achievement upon departure, forming a Community Economic Development Committee by Town Council.

“… y’all know I love quotes,” quote from Kerri Dorman.

This Meeting Note will be filled with quotes. They will be mainly from the Vice Mayor and a few from me from my favorite songs. I’ve put Kerri’s in bold, mine in italics because I want to credit her for her work.

“My mother frequently says of me it’s very hard if not impossible to leave my daughter speechless.” Her mother’s predictions rang true for the entire meeting. 

As for the proclamation, she started by thanking each Town department with a quote and ended her list and thanks with a quote from Shakespeare.

Agenda item 10 Administrative/Regular Items: PROPOSED COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE started with a Staff Report from Town Manager, Steve Rogers, explaining the process of a Council member bringing their idea to the Council and the basis for their request. 

I highly suggest you read the Vice Mayor’s memo included in this agenda item which was to explain the need for the Community Economic Development Committee. Five pages, with each page containing quotes, quotes, and more quotes. Ideas and justifications from institutions as to why the small town of Yountville needs this Committee. 

Her presentation started at a quick clip, explaining why she was doing this even though she is leaving, why this is in the Town’s best interest, that this is not only about economic growth, that we all rise and fall together, that we don’t have silos (except 6 + mins later when speaking of the Chamber she explains that the Chamber businesses do indeed operate in silos, so those silos justify this Committee).

“The Town is the convener.” “I know we have staff issues …that is part of why we need this committee….” At the November 2 Council meeting, the Vice Mayor voted against hiring another staff member for the Town of Yountville. Her no vote was the lone vote to say no to an additional staff member for the Town of Yountville; the vote passed 4 -1. So we now need this Committee because of your vote and desire for less staff?

The Vice Mayor explained that she interviewed over 20 people, from residents to businesses to the Vets Home administration. This was not the first time she brought up the Vets Home in her conversation, as the Vice Mayor also commented on the “need to look at our Veterans home whom [sic] are making some significant changes.” Who better to partner with and have the support of than the Vets Home. EXCEPT the Vice Mayor knows that the Home operates independently of the Town of Yountville, and the Home administration made this point very clear in an email from the Administrator less than three months ago emphasizing the separation between the Town and the Home and that the State wants to keep it that way. 

What are the takeaway and quotes from these interviews? The following list of quotes came from the Vice Mayor explaining the support that the residents and businesses of Yountville had for this Committee. According to her, “these are the best answers of why we need this committee.”

“Our community must step up to this.”

“We have to do this.”

“I love the concept of it.”

“The idea of it is terrific.”

“We need to find new and better ways to hire, train and retain employees.”

“We need to find a way to bring affordable housing to Yountville and nearby.”

“We need to keep up with the evolution of Yountville.”

“We don’t want to be behind the wave.”

“Retail and shopping are critical, and we need to bring in those sectors.”

“We need to keep up with the evolution.”

“We cannot afford the petrification of vibrancy.” 

No public comment during the meeting. No letters were sent to the Council in support. No input from business owners or residents. Just anonymous quotes that are the best reasons to have this Committee.

There was a quote from a former business owner. Not specifically about the Community Economic Development Committee or supporting the Community Economic Development Committee, simply about business in general in Yountville. She quoted Chef Bob Hurley concerning a rising tide floats all boats. No argument there. 

Not one current business owner or operator offered a public comment on why this Committee is needed. Not one resident spoke up about a need for this Committee. 

The only Public Comment came from Yountville Chamber President & CEO Whitney Diver-McEvoy. She had lots of questions. “I am still left wondering what the purpose of this Committee would be and what it would seek to accomplish. What gap does it fill? Is there even a gap to fill? What problem is it trying to solve?” These were questions that came up quite a bit throughout the discussion for this Committee. Ms. Diver-McEvoy even stepped up to offer the solution, should there be an issue with the economic vitality of the community, “…it is safe to say the Yountville Chamber of Commerce should be responsible for convening our community, including residents, businesses, elected officials and town staff to address said quoted problems head-on. Just as we have dozens of times before.”

The Vice Mayor seemed perturbed at the comments and immediately asked to respond to these Public Comments from the Chamber. As she replied to a few points and shuffled between her notes, the Mayor reminded the Vice Mayor that this would not be a “back and forth between you and the Chamber.” He commented that it was time to get the Council’s comments on this item.

“The responsibility for the viability of our Town and sustainability of our Town lies with our Council.” Indeed it does. As a member of the Council, the Vice Mayor saw it fit to vote to allow a change of a Use Permit in Town to enable the 17th tasting room into our community. When a modification was brought to the Council for discussion about the Business Transition Plan by the owner of Herron House, the Vice Mayor voted against it. 

So, the Vice Mayor proposes that the makeup of this Committee be stakeholders in our community; these stakeholders include business owners, residents, and our local government. “They bring expertise that we as Council members don’t have; they bring experience that we as Council members don’t have.” Then, according to the Vice Mayor, the first order of business for this Committee is to be the Business Transition PlanBut the responsibility lies with the Town Council. We don’t need a Committee to realize the impacts of the Vice Mayor’s no vote for a business wanting to move forward or changing a Use Permit from retail to wine tasting.

Mayor John Dunbar said, “I’ll invite members of the Council to respond to the presentation.” Yes, they did respond.

Councilmember Dorenbecher explained that there is an opportunity for dialogue, and she was open to the idea in concert with the Chamber of Commerce, “I have an open mind to what this is.”

Councilmember Mohler gave one of the most extended explanations of the evening, laying out her thoughts, and I highly suggest you watch it. It starts at 1:58:00 in the Council meeting video. She began by simply stating, “The elements in this proposal really are to develop an Economic Development Plan with our local government to take the lead which are going to address the needs of the residents and businesses.” Simple enough. The critical point was then said, “The plan doesn’t articulate the goals or concerns that need to be addressed by the committee.” Then to drive home her concern, “It seems that it is not clear to me what the real problem is, and if we don’t really understand the problem, I’m not sure how we would ever direct a committee to find some solution.” She used the remainder of her time to list a series of programs and committees already in place and used by the community to achieve economic development results. 

What was Councilmember Mohler’s final thought with all these programs and committees already in place? “I fail to see the need to deconstruct and then reconstruct a whole new set of strategies and plans.”

With her memo, Councilmember Eric Knight said that the Vice Mayor made a persuasive case for a Community Economic Development Plan. From there, his position took a turn and turn again—many words about doing well now but looking to the future, looking for better ways for our community. Many successes occur in separate discussions; how do we unify this discussion? We need to address Business Transition Plan and need a forum to do that. This Community Economic process was thinking outside the box. What box? We are doing so well now, then what are we solving? What better ways? 

The Mayor started with his comments. He spoke to the Vice Mayor’s comments and ideas, responding to her presentation. Then the frustration happened…

 “… it’s better to burn out, Yeah, than fade away.

Burn it up, let’s go for broke, watch the night go up in smoke.” Def Leppard

The Vice Mayor interrupted the Mayor’s opening comments to declare that the Mayor’s comments were a personal attack. As he explained, he was responding to her because this was her item. He was the Chair of the meeting and had not interrupted her during her presentation, and she missed no beat in stating, “You are the chair, and you should act like one.” He then stated, “This is not a personal attack on you; you are the person who said we have a problem to fix.” 

The Mayor followed with a list of concerns and unanswered questions, including an important reminder that the Town does not control the property owners and their decisions for tenants. The work that the Town and Chamber, separately and together, do for economic development was reiterated. He recounted the evolution over the years as one only needs to look at the history of Yountville businesses to see “an evolution that has been successful. “The General Plan update and ZODO update set the table for businesses to come to Yountville. “I don’t see a void to fill.”

It’s her last meeting. The Vice Mayor’s last thoughts and comments. How will she make the final closing case for the need of this Community Economic Development Committee that Yountville needs to survive and compete in the future? This Committee that she has worked on for over six months and interviewed so many stakeholders.

“I don’t think I ever said we have a problem.”

“I’ve been the outlier before; I guess I’ll be the outlier on my last night with you.”

“#1 I am not a very good explainer, or #2 I’m really a glass half full person.”

That’s all.

With that, both Councilmembers Dorenbecher and Knight agreed that this topic deserved more discussion in the new year. Knight even suggested more involvement with the Chamber and possibly a program through the Chamber (like what’s already being done?). 

Councilmember Dorenbecher stated, “… but at this time there is an element that is antagonistic”, and “I cannot support doing this right now.” 

The Mayor reminded the Council that no formal action was needed to continue talking about it.

Councilmember Knight wanted the first conversation of the new year to be on the Business Transition Plan, which Town Manager, Steve Rogers, explained was already in the Town’s workflow with Planning and the Chamber. The Council previously promised this timeline to the community, so a Community Economic Development Committee will not be needed to make that happen.

The Vice Mayor has not made a formal announcement about her last date with the Council. There has been no official resignation. The next Council meeting will be January 18, 2022, and the Town and community will be preparing for decisions by the Council to fill the supposed vacant seat of Kerri Dorman. We wait.

“How can I miss you when you won’t go away?” Dan Hicks

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Richard Tjff
Richard Tjff
1 month ago

Sounds like an interesting exchange of views from all council members.

John
23 days ago

Great read about the most recent meeting! Interesting observations and details about the inner workings of these meetings. Love your insight. “How can i miss you when you won’t go away” lol, classic.