Town Council Meeting Notes – July 19 – Part 1

Update August 2: As a follow-up to these Meeting Notes, I will note that based on the Sun front page article with the table showing the vote and a recent letter to the editor stating, “These two lowest scores resulted in Robin not having enough points to be reappointed.” But, that still leaves the voting record of the Vice Mayor, who voted the same for the non-reappointed arts commissioner (third place) as Councilmember Joe T. So, people have assailed the Councilmembers and Mayor because they did not vote as they saw fit, I will posit that the Vice Mayor and Councilmember Knight could have done more to affect the change that they spoke of during the meeting, but they did not make that happen. 

The Council meeting on Tuesday was 5 hours, 54 minutes, and two seconds, hence Part 1.

This Yountville Town Council meeting will forever be known as “Attack of the Consent Calendar.” (To expedite meetings and reserve time for matters that need to be discussed, many local agencies have a section on their agendas labeled as the “Consent Calendar.” Items on the Consent Calendar are generally non-controversial items that do not require much if any, discussion. The Consent Calendar allows decision-makers to group such items under one heading and decide them simultaneously. Local agencies typically have a procedure for removing an item from the Consent Calendar for a separate discussion.) Councilmembers pulled four items from the Consent Calendar, which resulted in two hours and five minutes added to the meeting. (Quick note: for the four items pulled, the result was the same outcome as if they had simply voted on the Consent Calendar as a whole, which would have taken three minutes.)

Part 1 of this blog will only focus on CONSENT CALENDAR: F. Appoint three (3) individuals to serve on the Yountville Arts Commission with the terms of office to commence July 21, 2022, and expire July 20, 2024, as this has taken much conversation and energy since last week. At a Special Council Meeting on July 14, the Council interviewed four people for three seats on the Arts Commission. Two incumbents were reappointed (Noel & Ronda), and the Council ballot process picked a new applicant (PJ). Leaving an incumbent (Robin) not being reappointed. The fact that the third incumbent was not reappointed has caused much concern and anxiety among community members.

Councilmember Knight pulled the Consent Calendar item so the Council could discuss the appointment process and allow for Public Comment. Councilmember Knight and Vice Mayor Dorenbecher then expressed their support for the incumbent that was not being reappointed and wanted a change in the vote to put her back onto the Commission.

Town Council Protocols state that the Council makes appointments by interview and ballot process with a motion to confirm appointments. To understand how this process works, read the Council Protocols and learn how applicants are chosen for boards and commissions for Yountville and local and regional boards. Council Protocols, section 8, pages 17 -20. It is a ranking system with points. It has been the process for 15 plus years.

Readers of this blog know my love for the Yountville arts. I watch the Arts commission meetings. I promote the shows and events on this blog. I have written letters for Public Comment submitted at Art meetings. I have seen all the exhibitions presented at the Community Center Gallery and attended a few opening events. I pour wine at Art, Sip, and Stroll. As a Councilmember, I fully supported the arts (though I did vote against having the Town purchase The Sidewalk Judge (which I still stand by…ha.)). I used the exact ranking method (described in the Council Protocols) to seat and reappoint board and commission members, even some currently serving on the Arts Commission.

While on the Council, I ranked a commissioner low because I did not feel they should be reappointed to the Arts Commission. I was not the only Councilmember to rank this way, and that commissioner was not reappointed. As a Councilmember, I reached out to the Chair of some of the commissions and boards when the interview and appointment process was an agenda item. It was my opportunity to learn more about the applicants. This was my personal choice and my outreach. In my six years on the Council, I do not doubt that I appointed applicants stepping up for the first time, sometimes out of their comfort zone and with no exact background experience, who expressed excitement and desire to give back and participate.

The interview process for all appointments has always been a closed meeting. While meeting in the Council Chambers, only the applicant being interviewed is in the Chambers with the Council members and appropriate Town staff. With the teleconference interviews, the meeting is not on YouTube; the applicants are in a “holding room” until they are individually let in for the interview. Those of us in the general public do not see the interview process.

The applications and interviews are the process.

That brings us to this week’s Council meeting. Councilmember Knight pulled this item from the Consent Calendar so there could be Public Comment. Seven comments were made, with six of the comments coming from current commissioners on the Arts Commission. The incumbent not reappointed (Robin) did not comment. All seven supported modifying the original ranking so that the third incumbent (Robin) would be reappointed.

Town staff read two comments, and the other five were read by the individuals who wrote them. Here are some of the statements made by Art Commissioners and the public:

  • “…looking at (the) voting, it seems that some council members simply do not value or are uninformed about our work.”
  • “While the Town Council certainly provides strong financial and staff support, the time and efforts of Commission members appears to be a one-way commitment of us to the town and not the reverse.”
  • “I believe this is too small a town to create hard feelings, especially if rank manipulation is the process used to make such decisions and contributions are ignored.”
  • “If the Town Council continues to take this approach when screening for boards and commissions, fewer will step up, and more residents will be disgruntled with your leadership.”
  • “… it all looks suspiciously contrived, and we should all be deeply concerned for our town.”
  • “…they have used arbitrary numbers to hide a partisan decision.”
  • “I have seen your voting outcome, and I am deeply disappointed by the obvious numbers game your votes reflect.”
  • “Two Council members clearly had pre-arranged votes reflecting favoritism over merit.

All seven of these letters are attached at the end of the blog. Please read them.

I am hearing and reading frustration and, more so, personal attacks in these comments. Yes, these members of the public are frustrated, and they are making some very strong, personal accusations against Councilmembers. Some of the public accuse the Council of acting in collusion to unseat the incumbent. Others of the public accuse the Council of not knowing the incumbent and all her work and not doing their homework. If either, which of these theories is it?

All seven of these public members have been a part of this interview process. They know this process, and now the outcome is different than they desire. The Commissioners are proud of their work and Robin’s work, as they should be. I have seen and experienced that hard work directly. Still, in these public comments, it comes at the expense of the public attacking the Councilmembers personally and the very process they previously participated in successfully.

There are a few solid suggestions scattered about the comments. Should the process be tweaked? It can be. That involves reaching out and direct communication. Go to the source and don’t just rely on the current group you have surrounded yourself with. Allow some compromise. Probably talking to some people who don’t share your views or are as deeply involved as you. Start the change now.

Because after the conversation for this agenda item, I watched our Council spend three and a half more hours working on other local issues like housing and the drought. They are all engaged and involved. Maybe they need some support and guidance on the items that are so near and dear to us. I firmly believe in “show your work” when you want something and then doing it directly with those that can affect the change.

This specific item starts one hour and 11 mins into the meeting. Watch it.

Here is the agenda item with the applications and Staff Report. 7. CONSENT CALENDAR F.
Appoint three (3) individuals to serve on the Yountville Arts Commission with the terms of office to commence July 21, 2022, and expire July 20, 2024.
Scroll down and click on the item; you will then get a drop-down of all the supporting documents.

Public Comments:

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Myrna David
Myrna David
6 months ago

After listening to the impassioned pleas of almost all the current Arts Commissions to reconsider their ratings and support of Robin McKee-Cant, it was shocking that those pleas fell on the deaf ears of three Council members. Aside from learning that the new applicant gave a good interview, none of the Council members articulated any qualifications that made her stand out as a prospective Arts Commissioner, let alone why she merited taking the seat of a contributing Commissioner. While the ratings process might have been standard procedure, the Town Council had an opportunity to reconsider their ratings prior to their final approval. Three members did not do that without adequate explanation. Their lack of flexibility and sensitivity to our volunteers was extremely disheartening.

Sherry Breitigam
Sherry Breitigam
6 months ago

What bothers me, Jeff, is the lack of civility exhibited by the three aligned Town Council members. They may say that they don’t have an agenda, but I believe what I see as I watch the televised meetings. My frustration does not derive from an outcome “different than I desired”; it comes from my observation of a lack of collaboration/no thoughtful, decorous handling of an issue that many Yountville citizens felt strongly about. You said that while on Council you ranked someone low because you felt that they should not be reappointed. You appointed “new people stepping up for the first time with no exact background experience”. I am feeling the same way, Jeff, about the upcoming Town Council and Mayoral elections. Fresh outlooks, improved attitudes, thoughtful collaborative skills may be just what our lovely Town needs.