New: Berkeley Council Fails to Act on WikiLeaks, KPFA and Homeland Security Questions

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Thursday December 16, 2010 - 12:38:00 PM
Charlotte Perry-Houts

While the Berkeley City Council was wrapping up its worksession on Tuesday evening, an audience was growing, news cameras were being set up, and a police presence was building in the small Council chambers. A protester's voice could be heard yelling over a megaphone outside the building. Compared to the usual empty-room meeting, this was an exciting scene. There were two hot-button issues on the agenda that drew national media coverage: item 26, supporting Pfc Bradley Manning and claiming him a hero, and item 27, urging Pacifica to reinstate KPFA's morning show. 

Bradley Manning's case is one of the central issues in the WikiLeaks debate. He is accused of leaking thousands of classified military documents, as well as the “Collateral Murder” video depicting soldiers shooting unarmed civilians from a helicopter as if they were playing a video game. Max Anderson commented on his reaction to the video, saying “it was clear to me as a military veteran myself... what happens to young people, men and women that we send to defend this country – quote-unquote –[they] get transformed into kind of monstrous people that are willing to do things that conflict and contrast so sharply with the way they were brought up, what they were taught, what the morals of this country are.” 

Fifteen public commentators came to speak about the item, eleven of whom were in support of the resolution declaring Bradley Manning a hero, three of whom were against it, and one of whom was neutral but thought it was a waste of the council's time. Danny Gonzalez of Move America Forward came to the podium to discourage the council from passing the resolution. “If he has done what he's accused of doing, he's endangered his fellow troops. If he has a problem with the way the military conducts itself, this is not the proper way to do it.” Others who were opposed to the resolution questioned whether diplomacy was possible without government secrecy, while many in support of the resolution made the statement that whistleblowing is not a crime. Manning was compared to Daniel Ellsberg and the Collateral Murder incident was compared to the My Lai massacre. 

As it turns out, the resolution was not a cut-and-dried question of Government Transparency v. “National Security.” Since Bradley Manning has already pled “Not Guilty” to charges of releasing the documents and the video, the Council and the mayor decided that it was a bit preemptive for anybody to declare Manning a hero or a traitor. Councilmember Anderson first moved to pass the resolution, which Mayor Bates seconded to initiate debate, which was followed by a substitute motion from Councilmember Arreguin to continue the motion off calendar. In this case, the issue could come back to the Council if additional information were brought forward and Manning was convicted or released on his charges. This motion was voted upon and failed with No votes from Councilmembers Maio, Capitelli, Wengraf, Wozniak, and Mayor Bates, and Yes votes from Councilmembers Moore, Anderson, Arreguin, and Worthington. 

Eventually, a different substitute motion by Councilmember Maio passed. Her motion was to table the resolution so that there is time to work on it—and any councilmember can bring it back at any time. This motion was approved by Councilmembers Maio, Moore, Capitelli, Wengraf, Worthington, Wozniak, Arreguin, and Mayor Bates. Councilmember Anderson abstained. 

The next item dealt with KPFA's recent layoffs of the morning show staff and a resolution by Councilmember Moore calling for the morning show to be reinstated. Arlene Englehardt, Pacifica's Executive Director, and the person responsible for the layoffs, came to the meeting to speak to the issue. Because of the station's deficit, she said, raises had to be suspended and layoffs made, and “it was made clear to me any layoffs had to be made according to seniority.” Other speakers commented that those who were laid off did have seniority over others, and that the morning show was one of KPFA's best fund raisers. 

Englehardt said in response to the question over seniority that, in laying off the two morning show workers, she had spared the jobs of two correspondents who she considered have special, irreplaceable skills. Several staff and union members at KPFA alleged that Englehardt had ignored their input on the issue of layoffs and alternative budget ideas, and felt that the Pacifica board had taken control of the local station. Currently, Englehardt says she is planning to put a volunteer-run morning show on the air in the coming weeks. 

Two motions were placed on the floor by Councilmembers Moore and Maio. Moore's motion was to pass his resolution that Berkeley ask that the morning show be reinstated and the laid-off staff re-hired. Maio's motion was that there should be good-faith mediation about the issue, offering the City's mediation services in facilitating the discussion. Maio's motion failed with Maio and Worthington in support, Arreguin and Mayor Bates in opposition, and Moore, Anderson, Capitelli, Wengraf, and Wozniak abstaining. Moore's motion failed as well, with Moore, Anderson, and Mayor Bates in support, Maio, Arreguin, and Worthington in opposition, and Capitelli, Wengraf, and Wozniak abstaining. In the end the Council took no action on this issue which stirred up so much public interest. 

The Council also discussed community reinvestment in banking. The City Manager's recommendation was passed, to continue banking with the same company and discuss community needs with Wells Fargo. Maio, Arreguin, Capitelli, Wengraf, Worthington, Wozniak, and Mayor Bates supported the resolution. Anderson voted against it, and Moore abstained. 

Next the Council passed item 24 authorizing the City Manager to sign the “Preliminary Petition to Form the Downtown Berkeley Property-Based Business Improvement District” document on behalf of the City-owned properties in the proposed Downtown PBID area. This item also included a 25 cent per hour increase in the parking rate at Downtown meters. 

The last item taken up by the Council was the Peace and Justice Commission's report opposing the Secure Communities program. This program requires local law enforcement agencies to share fingerprint data with federal agencies for the purpose of deporting illegal immigrants, essentially meaning that if an illegal immigrant is arrested for any minor crime where they are fingerprinted, they face deportation. Police Chief Michael Meehan suggested that the Council refer the item to the agenda committee until more information is available regarding the actual obligations of the local police, including whether or not the program is actually mandatory – which was not made clear by the Homeland Security document. The Council unanimously passed a motion to refer the issue to the agenda committee until more information is available, while expressing Berkeley's opposition to the program. This is essentially the same action that has been taken by San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties, among others. 

With that, Council has been adjourned until the New Year.