Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happenings: Kellar's Non-Apology to "The Gadfly", Artpocalypse, VoteCam

If you have never seen a City Council meeting before but you have seen Breaking Bad, here's the deal: Mayor Kellar is Hank, Mayor Pro Tem Weste is Marie, Councilmember Marsha McLean is Skyler, Councilmember TimBen Boydston is Gale, and Councilmember Frank Ferry is Jesse. On staff, City Manager Ken Striplin is Gus, and City Attorney Joe Montes is Mike. Now you're up to speed.

Tonight's meeting was one of closure.[1] Though Frank Ferry was not in attendance, he was denounced by several speakers for lashing out at speaker Cam Noltemeyer last month, and it seems an odd apology by Mayor Kellar has put the matter to rest. As for the long-simmering issue of the discrepancy in health care compensation between Boydston and the other members of the city council, his claim for equal benefits was rejected. (This resolution could, however, signal the beginning of something much bigger.) And finally, our city's tendency to ask for public art proposals only to reject them has reached a nadir of ridiculousness; a study session has been planned so things can get in order and the nonsense can end...or grow yet more nonsensical.

Public Participation

There was basically one topic discussed by tonight's public speakers: Frank Ferry's outburst from the previous meeting (recall that Ferry went off on Cam Noltemeyer, using an array of waste-disposal terminology like "toxic", "waste", and "poison" to describe the outspoken city critic). Alan Ferdman said that it was a violation of norms, and he suggested that the other members of council should have done like Boydston and tried to stop Ferry from berating Noltemeyer. Cam herself was typically sardonic and critical; someone so sharp-tongued doesn't wear the mantle of victimhood for long. Lori Rivas called Ferry's behavior "boorish" and was the first to call Cam our official "gadfly", a term a later speaker would use in its most complementary, politically-indispensable sense. Larry McClements ran through some of Ferry's past notorious actions while serving as mayor or councilmember. He identified Ferry's utter lack of interest in governing Santa Clarita at this point, and he welcomed his exit--the sooner the better. Lynne Plambeck was quite upset about how Cam had been treated and stuck up for her friend and associate, noting Cam's attention to detail and dedication to the community.

It seems Berta Gonzales-Harper didn't get the memo that the official cause for outrage tonight was Frank Ferry's comments. She had nothing to say about what he said and did, choosing instead to shame TimBen Boydston for requesting the exact same compensation that his fellow council members receive. Her disdain for Boydston (or at least his request) was palpable as she discussed the vote from a closed-session the preceded tonight's meeting. At the session, the other councilmembers voted to deny Boydston's claim for the same cash-in-lieu rate for healthcare that they receive. Boydston was not able to respond as City Attorney Joe Montes told him, "You are not allowed to respond from the dais" on this particular topic.

Council Comments

During their time for individual comments, events ranging from the Veterans Day program to the holiday lights in Newhall to charity fundraisers to local ceremonies honoring noteworthy locals were discussed by the various councilmembers. McLean and Weste chose to keep their comments restricted to these usual topics, but Boydston and Kellar would actively engage the Ferry-Noltemeyer issue. 

TimBen Boydston spoke about the norms that govern meeting conduct and asked if "we [the whole Council] can write an apology" to Cam for failing to step-in. Mayor Bob Kellar chose to address the situation with one of his let-me-level-with-you,-people-of-Santa-Clarita talks. He spent most of this talk saying that sure, there's a norm against berating public speakers, but there's also a norm about not interrupting people who are speaking, and Boydston was trying to interrupt Ferry during his tirade. Indeed, I gathered that Kellar values not-interrupting more than interrupting-to-stop-a-tirade. At the end of this, though, Kellar told Cam he was sorry "for any discomfort she has experienced." It certainly sounded apology-ish, but it was oddly phrased, oddly preceded (Kellar said, "I think we're all human), and less than satisfying. Again, Kellar's fixation on interruption suggested he was more interested in examining Boydston's behavior than Ferry's.

Consent Calendar

A routine item that amounted to preparing for April's election drew some attention on the Consent Calendar. After comments from Steve Petzold, the conversation at the dais eventually turned to the topic of ballot security. TimBen Boydston suggested that cameras would make ballots more secure, but Marsha McLean was upset that his suggestion implied ballots had been less-than-secure in past elections. He said the "citizenry" still had concerns, and McLean asked "how many of the citizenry?" In any case, there were multiple assurances that Santa Clarita's elections, ballots, and democracy are secure as ever.

Art Interrupted

Pity the artist that answers a call from Santa Clarita. The Arts Commission went through a lengthy process to select artists/projects for three spots in the SCV: Newhall Ranch/Rye Canyon, the Magic Mountain exit, and the Valencia Library. There were requests for qualification and meetings and comments and voting and vetting that led to a proposal to install a piece at each location. The City Council could have approved the pieces but, well, McLean and Weste didn't find them quite suitable.

Councilmember McLean said the art wasn't good enough: "everything that we do is just a little bit more special." She was concerned that some of the pieces would not be original to the City. Weste largely echoed her comments, noting all the things that make Santa Clarita unique such as "film", "streams" and "animals"--because all of those are in short supply elsewhere. McLean said she felt like the Arts Commission needed more direction.

Boydston criticized McLean and Weste for implying that they had better taste than members on the Arts Commission. (This would seriously offend McLean, who accused Boydston of putting words in her mouth: "nobody is saying we're smarter or we're better," she said.) But it was clear that some industrial flowers, giant oak leaf sculptures, and a scrabble-inspired row of tiles asking people to "imagine" were not winning the female members of the city council over. Phrases like "arts master plan" and "more direction" and "more money" were being dropped, and it was decided that a study session was needed to form a unified plan for Santa Clarita's artistic future.

The meeting ended at 8:15.

[1]Here's the agenda.