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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Carlsbad Mayor's Profile in Cronyism



A story appearing in the August 26, 2004 edition of the San Diego Union Tribune carried the headline, Flower Fields Manager to Join City Commission. Michael Cardosa had been appointed to Carlsbad’s planning commission. In addition to listing his qualifications for the position, the article gave the names and occupations of the eight other candidates.

Current city Councilmember Michael Schumacher was among them.

What a difference a decade makes.

At last month’s May 9 meeting, first-year Councilmember Cori Schumacher called for a discussion of how to formalize the process for appointments to city committees and commissions to improve public transparency. Mayor Matt Hall was stumped.

“We’ve done this same process for almost 40 years,” he patiently explained to the rookie council member, “and it seems like it’s worked out all right up to this point. Help me understand what we need to fix.”

Council members, Mark Packard, Michael Schumacher, and Keith Blackburn agreed with Hall. After an uncomfortable silence, each made it clear they saw nothing wrong with keeping constituents in the dark about the number and names of candidates for appointment or how the Council evaluates their applications.

Beneficiaries all of the in-crowd network, Hall and the three other good old boys seemed annoyed to have their work questioned.

At the following week’s meeting on May 16, Carlsbad resident Vickey Syage explained to them why their shadowy appointments needed fixing.

“The way you’ve been doing it for the last 40 years doesn’t work anymore,” she patiently pointed out, reminding them, “There were no cell phones forty years ago, no laptops, no Google or social media, no public Internet. We need a new, transparent appointment process.”

Hall had been on the Council for six years at the time when he attended that 2004 meeting. The transparency of decision-making under the leadership of Mayor Bud Lewis, compared to the secretiveness of commission appointments following Hall’s election as mayor in 2010, belies his selective memory.

Thanks to a Facebook friend who prefers anonymity, my attention was called to council meetings where planning commission appointments were made under Hall’s leadership in apparent violation of city policy.

According to City Policy #81, Appointments to Commissions and Committees: “Appointments shall be made by Mayor with city Council concurrence, except for the planning commission and historic preservation commission, which are appointed by a majority of the city Council.”

Appointments to other committees and commissions are normally listed among the “Consensus” items on meeting agendas. They are grouped together with other items for a single vote for concurrence without discussion. A council member may ask that the mayor's intended appointment be removed from the consensus column for a separate vote. If at least three council members vote against the mayor’s appointment, the candidate cannot be seated on the committee.

But appointments to the Planning and the Historic Preservation commissions must be listed as separate agenda items, calling for nominations from council members, including the mayor. A majority vote produces the appointments.

Shortly after Hall’s election as mayor, two appointments to fill vacancies on the planning commission appeared on the Council's January 25, 2011 meeting agenda.

“I put before you two names, Kerri Siekmann and Neil Black,” the mayor declared. After his implied motion was seconded he called for a vote without discussion or mention of any other candidates. The vote to approve his choices was unanimous.

Planning Commissioner Michael Schumacher’s term expired in April 2011. But it wasn’t until the June 28 meeting that his vacancy appeared on the agenda. This time Hall simply declared, “I would like to reappoint Michael Schumacher.”

His call for a vote passed unanimously, once again with no discussion of other candidates.

Schumacher abandoned his seat on the commission when he was elected to the City Council in 2014.

At the council’s December 4, 2012 meeting Mayor Hall announced he would like to reappoint Marty Montgomery to the planning commission to fill a vacancy expiring in 2013. Montgomery had already served on the commission for two terms, a total of eight years.

Hall explained he wanted to reappoint Montgomery because of two or three planning issues that were extremely detailed and would be coming up in the next several months. He claimed it would be “in the best interests of the community” to have someone who would be “up to speed and could analyze those projects and make a fair assessment.”

With no word of other candidates, Hall’s reappointment motion carried unanimously.

Montgomery was reappointed a third time in 2015. If he serves out this term, he will have been on the commission for 12 of the last 15 years, uncontested by other candidates, thanks to the mayor’s patronage.

At this year’s March 28 meeting, with an agenda item before him for two appointments to the planning commission, Mayor Hall asked City Attorney Celia Brewer to respond to “the conversation about the procedure for planning commission appointments and whether the Council meets the legal requirements.”

One of the applicants, Brian Flock, a graduate of the city’s Citizen Academy, had complained about the lack of transparency and responsiveness to his application.

Brewer began with a slap at Sacramento.

“The legislature, in all of its wisdom, decided there were untapped resources in all the communities in California. They adopted something called the Maddy Act, requiring the city to put out once a year list of vacancies on committees and commissions.”

Brewer assured the Council, “The process is working legally today, and any past deviations were by and large a matter of how words like ‘appointment’ and ‘nomination’ are defined.”

For the first time since his election seven years ago, Mayor Hall was careful in his wording when he put forward the name of Velyn Anderson for reappointment to the commission.

“That would be my first nomination,” he carefully announced.

Cori Schumacher pointed out that two applications had arrived within the previous two days. Explaining there was no published deadline, she moved for a continuation of the meeting to a later date to allow time to review them. The good old boys sat silent. Her motion died for the lack of a second.

Schumacher then asked to be allowed a second nomination. Hall cut her off.

“We will vote on this one, and then you can nominate the second one, so it’s not like we’re putting one person against the second person.”

Overruling the mayor, the city attorney agreed with Schumacher that she was allowed to make a second nomination for the position. The two nominations would be voted on in order.

Schumacher made her second nomination, Carolyn Luna, citing her qualifications.

After Hall’s nominee won on a 4-1 vote. Schumacher re-nominated Luna for the second vacant position.

Michael Schumacher countered with his nomination of Lisa Rodman, a high-profile champion of last year’s failed Measure A, which would have put a shopping mall on the shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Rodman has also been a former president of Carlsbad's Hi-Noon Rotary Club.

Rodman won the seat on an identical 4-1 vote.

The other 8 applicants for the two positions remained anonymous.

At the Council’s May 9 meeting, Hall explained how he reviews applications.

“I take the name off the top of it. I look at everything below the name. I look at their standing in the community, their time in the community. Other boards commissions, or committees they may have or haven’t been on. I understand the strengths of that person and I put a name forward.”

Hall makes no mention of the applicant’s qualifications in education and experience. His review appears to be a search for fellow members of Carlsbad’s leadership in-crowd. Hall and Michael Schumacher are both former planning commissioners, while Councilmember Packard has been a member of Hi-Noon Rotary, a club requiring $1,200 in yearly dues and fees.

Hall doesn’t need to see the names at the top of the applications to find out if a candidate is among his favored few.

According to the city’s Web Page Information for Applicants, all applications are open for public inspection. Councilmember Packard’s claim that hiding the names of applicants saves them from embarrassment appears to be a cover for his fear he will be held accountable for his decisions.

Revealing candidate names gives them the recognition they deserve to gain public support for later leadership opportunities. Like, for example, the recognition Michael Schumacher received in his transparently failing bid to be appointed to the planning commission in 2004.

The good news is that three of the good old boys will be up for reelection next year. That, together with the adoption of district elections, means there’s hope for Carlsbad to abandon go-along-to-get-along politics, opening the door for “untapped leadership resources,” critical to stopping the transformation of this Village-By-The-Sea into a deep pocket developer’s dream.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Carlsbad Council Bows to Lawsuit Threat, Approves District Elections



Before casting his vote against district elections, Carlsbad city Councilman Mark Packard called the California Voting Rights Act a “bad law.” He explained with furrowed brow, “The closest analogy that has come to my mind is the Stamp Act. It disenfranchised the colonists at that time. I believe that this law disenfranchises the citizens of Carlsbad.”

The councilman’s history lesson didn’t include the fact that colonists wouldn't have been allowed to vote on the Stamp Act unless they were free, male, landowners and members of the predominant religious group. Had England passed a Colonial Voting Rights Act, I think those disenfranchised colonists would have called it a good law.

Packard claimed to have voted his conscience, admitting it was a losing cause that would subject the city to up to $5 million in legal fees and allow the court to mandate the composition of voting districts rather than permit city residents to weigh in on it. His conscience appeared to be responsibility-free.

Nearly all discussion of district elections at the May 9 Council meeting was negative. The resolution to adopt them passed on a 3-2 vote, but there was unanimous agreement Sacramento had left them no choice.

After Councilmembers Cori Schumacher, Michael Schumacher (no relation) and Keith Blackburn held their noses and did the responsible thing, it was easy for Mayor Matt Hall to do the political thing. Having already filed with the city his Matt Hall for Mayor 2018 Campaign Committee, he chimed in with a smile, “I agree with Packard.”

It comes as no surprise that Packard and Hall, with a combined total of 34 years on the Council, have the greatest stake in business as usual at the polls.

City leaders should not have been taken by surprise by the threatened lawsuit. The California Voting Rights Act, paving the way for mandated district elections, was signed into law in 2002. It survived court challenges before 45 California cities succumbed to charges of violations, including North County's San Marcos, Vista, and Oceanside.

Carlsbad’s website quotes a letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, contending that the City of Carlsbad’s at-large voting system “dilutes the ability of Latinos, (‘a protected class’), to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Carlsbad’s council elections.” The letter cites three instances where Latino candidates ran unsuccessfully for City Council yet received “significant support” from Latino voters.

There were ten public speakers that night. Leading the opposition was Melanie Burkholder, a 2016 Council candidate, who announced her withdrawal from the race on September 28 in a Coast News article, explaining she wanted, “to support other Republican candidates” for the nonpartisan office. Despite her announcement more than a month before election day, her name remained on the ballot, gathering 5,222 votes that could have gone to bona fide candidates.

Burkholder complained she would be constrained to vote for a single person to represent her estimate of 25,000 persons in her district. “What if there is not one of them who has a servant’s heart, or is passionate about public service? Are we really going to get the best of the best if they’re coming from that pool?” She went on to claim, “It’s further divisive to our city and a movement to create an entirely Democratic California.”

The other four speakers opposing district elections asserted their voting rights would be “diluted by 75 percent, since they would only be allowed to vote for one council member every four years.

Two pointed out the attorney threatening the lawsuit lives in Malibu, which continue to have at-large elections. They claimed Carlsbad and Malibu have similar demographics. But 2010 census figures reveal Carlsbad’s population is about ten times the size of Malibu’s 12,000. Only 6 percent of Malibu residents are Latino, while SANDAG’s 2016 estimate for Carlsbad is 20 percent.

In 2010 Malibu’s median household income was $115,000. Carlsbad’s was $85,000. District elections make little sense in small, wealthy, nearly mono-ethnic towns.

One speaker called the California Voting Rights Act “socialism.” Another declared, “Sacramento, you are my enemy!”

One of the few speaking in favor of district elections, Carlsbad Barrio resident Patricia Amador, expressed her hope for the day a Latina is elected to the council. She asked that wide public participation be sought in drawing district lines.

The only speaker to address the specific advantages of district elections was Linda Breen. She called the cost of citywide campaigning for at-large seats prohibitive for many.

The facts support her claim. Mayor Hall raised $79,000 to support his 2014 campaign, while running unopposed. Councilman Keith Blackburn raised $50,000 for his 2016 campaign, but he began with a $116,000 cash balance from his 2012 campaign.

I spoke with a potential 2018 mayoral candidate who told me, according to a local consultant, a successful candidate will need a campaign war chest of at least $100,000.

While the primary purpose of the California Voting Rights Act is to increase the representation of ethnic minorities in city government, there are advantages of district elections for all voters. They went unmentioned at the May 9 meeting.

For starters, district elections create a closer connection between council members and their constituents. Each council member must answer to a majority of voters in his or her district, unlike in at-large elections, when each is likely to represent only a plurality of voters.

District voters will get to know candidates campaigning in their own neighborhoods about issues affecting where they live, rather than relying largely on the quality and quantity of road and yard signs, hoping a city-wide winning candidate will care about their neighborhood.

None of the four current council members received more than half the vote in their latest elections, yet each is expected to represent the interests of the majority of city voters. Mayor Hall ran unopposed in the 2014 election but still got only 55 percent of the vote in his 2014 election victory.

Carlsbad’s at-large elections are partly to blame for the divisive results of a unanimous Council decision to build a shopping mall on the shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, with the mayor and council members eagerly posing as poster children for the billionaire L.A. developer's project. Their decision was overturned in a costly special election with record voter turnout.

District elections can be more responsive to citizen preferences in land-use decisions.

According to the city’s website, over the next three months at least four public hearings will be held to seek advice on the composition of the districts, as well as provide feedback on a proposed map. The first two are scheduled for May 30 and June 13 at 6 p.m. at 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive.

The city has hired Douglas Johnson, President and Founder of the National Demographics Corporation, to draft district maps that comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act.

Later in the May 9 meeting, Councilmember Cori Schumacher called for a discussion of how to
improve the process for appointments to city commissions to increase transparency to the public.
After a very long silence from other council members, Mayor Hall spoke.

“I don’t quite understand. We’ve done this same process for almost 40 years, and it seems like it’s worked out all right up to this point. Help me understand what we need to fix.”

The mayor’s cluelessness, followed by his explanation of how he picks candidates for city commissions, illustrate how cronyism has infected Carlsbad politics and how district elections may lead to a cure.

More about that next time.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Issa's 2016 Report Card Revealed



The day after Rep. Darrell Issa cast his vote in favor of the GOP’s 2017 American Health Care Act, I received his first 2018 campaign mailing, disguised as a “Constituent Survey” to qualify for free postage.

There’s no mention of the Congressman’s position on healthcare in his mailing. Instead, he trots out his GovTrack.com’s 2016 Report Card to prove he kept his promises of “Effective Leadership. Real Results” in the 114th session of Congress. GovTrack.us is “a project of Civic Impulse, LLC, a completely independent entity wholly owned by its operator and receives no funding in any form from outside organizations.”

Like a kid who tries to keep his parents from seeing his entire report card, Issa attempts to do the same with his constituents.

The 49th District Congressman claims he was the “most effective lawmaker in the San Diego area” in the last session of Congress and tied for second in the entire California delegation. But the GovTrack report did not rate his legislative effectiveness, as Issa claims. It simply reported the number of bills (4) he introduced that made it out of committee to the floor for further consideration.

Here’s the GovTrack website disclaimer: “A higher or lower number below doesn’t necessarily make this legislator any better or worse, or more or less effective, than other Members of Congress. We present these statistics for you to understand the quantitative aspects of Issa’s legislative career and make your own judgements based on what activities you think are important.”

I was a high school teacher in my former life. After reviewing GovTrack’s entire report card for Congressman Issa, I couldn’t resist translating its statistics into letter grades. His constituents, like a kid’s parents, need to see the whole thing.

Here’s how I did it:

1.     Issa has been in office for 15 years. His job performance score in each of the following categories has been compared to the scores of 184 other members of Congress who have been in office for at least 10 years. In his personal version, Issa compared himself to the 52 members of the California delegation only.

2.     Issa’s job performance in each category has been converted to a percentile rank of the entire group of the longest-serving members of Congress.

3.     His job performance has been assigned a letter grade for each category, according to a standard high school grading scale, followed by his cumulative GPA.

A =90 to 100   4
B =80 to 89     3
C =70 to 79     2
D =60 to 69     1
F =Below 60   0

Number of bills moved out of committee to the floor for further consideration
25th of 185
86th percentile
B         3

Co-sponsoring bills introduced by other members
155th of 185
16th percentile
F          0

Writing Bipartisan Bills
28th of 185
85th percentile
B         3

Government Transparency
24th of 185
87th percentile
B         3

Joining bipartisan bills
Of the 155 bills that Issa cosponsored, 18% were introduced by a legislator who was not a Republican, making him among the least bipartisan members of Congress.
114th of 185
38th percentile
F          0

Leadership score, This looks at who is cosponsoring whose bills. A higher score shows a greater ability to get cosponsors on bills.
66th of 185,
64th percentile
D         1

Bills introduced
64th of 185
65th percentile
D         1

Working with Senate
60th of 185,
68th percentile
D+       1

Missed votes
79th of 185
57th percentile
F          0

Overall GPA 1.33
D+

Teacher’s comment:
Darrell likes being a leader but is often absent from class, exaggerates his accomplishments, and doesn’t work well with others.