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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.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Carlsbad City Hall No Place For Apologies



Mayor Matt Hall called for peace in the city at the Carlsbad City Council's March 8 meeting, days after Measure A was defeated. After enduring a verbal waterboarding of criticism by seven speakers who asked him to apologize for his role in dividing the city, he concluded the meeting with a promise:

"If an apology is what it takes  to bring us all back together I will say that 1,000 times. I realize there was a difference in this and I realize the passion for what you believe in. But right now I think the best thing for us is to come back together. That's what separates Carlsbad from any other city in North County. It's allowed us to go through a lot of different issues where there were differences. But at the end of the day we came back together and were willing to work together. And that would be my commitment to you."

I guess he wasn't ready to begin those 1,000 apologies just yet. But after someone yelled from the audience to remind him, he relented. "I apologize to you, Greg. Looking at you, I clearly apologize, if that's what it takes to bring us back together, I apologize."

The mayor didn't say what he was sorry for, but had he listened more closely to another speaker, Hope Nelson, he would have heard the list of reasons. He could apologize for:

1. Not  investigating the deceptive 85/15 Initiative signature campaign. The petition read: "TO BE SUBMITTED DIRECTLY TO THE VOTERS." Many of us believed in that promise.

2. Refusing to allow a vote, or even a 30-day delay for citizen input, before approving the plan on August 25.

3. Following the referendum success, setting an early date for a very expensive special election.

4. Allowing his face to appear on material that made no mention of a mall.

5. Campaigning hard for an L.A. developer's plan, knowing a significant number of his constituents were not in favor of it, choosing not to remain neutral to find out what the citizens wanted.

6. Failing to "get a clear understanding of the 9212 Report."

It appears the mayor has apologized only for the city's divisiveness, not his role in causing it. It's the old no-apology apology trick: "I apologize if you were offended by what I'm not sorry for doing."

Mayor Hall's Council colleagues also failed to apologize, or even to address the complaints coming from the public comments.

Keith Blackburn was the only councilmember with nothing to say upon the meeting's closing remarks. That struck me as unusual, since one of the speakers, Donna Bower, had addressed him directly about his visit to her house on March 5, wearing his police uniform, in a squad car parked in her driveway. She was hosting a victory celebration for NO on A volunteers on that day. Asking for, "An explanation of why, if you were dispatched, you did not knock on my door," she wondered if Blackburn had intended to harass her guests.

I asked the Councilman about that. He told me he volunteers one day each week to patrol neighborhoods. On Saturday, March 5, he said, his dispatcher reported a complaint had been made about a car partially blocking Adams Street. According to Blackburn, he drove to the location, parked in Donna Bower's driveway, and spoke briefly with a couple of guests, explaining the need to move the cars. He said he was there for only about five minutes and couldn't understand why anyone would be upset about it.

I heard from two party guests who saw the police officer/councilman at Bower's house. According to Jodi Good, "The police car was within the open gates, the doors to the house were open as well. I approached the vehicle and asked the officer if he needed help. The officer asked if we were, 'having a birthday party or something?'  I asked if there were complaints and he said no. There were cars parked illegally on the street. Why did he pretend not to know us when three of us had spoken at several city council meetings or personally talked to him?  I found the whole incident weird, especially when involving a police officer and sitting elected city official!"

Another guest told me, "It was our understanding Mr. Blackburn was retired from active duty. It was extremely unsettling to think he was patrolling an event where his political adversaries were celebrating their victory over a measure he advocated for, which also had police union support. There were political signs lining the street, so it was easy to find the residence and know what the event was all about.

Other party guests have placed the patrol car on Adams Street as early as 8p.m. a full half hour before our interaction."

If Blackburn's account were accurate, a routine five-minute stop to inform someone their car was parked illegally, why didn't he explain that at the city council meeting? It would have taken only a few minutes and prevented the spread of rumors that only lead to more distrust of elected officials.

Mayor Hall's non-apology apology, echoing Rodney King's lament, "Why can't we all get along?" together with Blackburn's unexplained silence after being confronted at a council meeting, suggests the need for new city leadership.

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