Special City Council Meeting to Change Rules of Procedure

Dr. James McFadden
Monday October 15, 2018 - 05:11:00 PM

City Council and fellow Berkeley Citizens,

At 4:30 tomorrow, the City Council has a special session to consider changing the "Rules of Procedure" for the City's legislating process.

This appears to be another power grab by the City Manager. It looks like an attempt to undermine those Commissions that the CM does not fully control - those Commissions that put forward recommendations to the Council which the CM disagrees with – and which are accompanied by CM companion items which tell the Council to ignore the Commission and “do nothing.”  

At the October 2 Council meeting, the CM undermined the Homeless Commission (Item D.a), Housing Advisory Commission (Item G.a), Community Health Commission (Item 10a), Human Welfare and Community Action (Item 11a), and the Peace and Justice Commission (Item 12a) by placing the accompanying “do nothing” CM sponsored items (*.b) on the agenda. The City Council contributed to this marginalization of their Commissions by moving the CM items to consent – avoiding any real discussion of Commission sponsored ideas. This marginalization of Commissions is an erosion of what little democratic input the public has. It attempts to transfer Commission power, the ability to introduce ideas to the Council, to subcommittees which will be better able to prevent these ideas from appearing at full Council meetings. These subcommittees will be under the thumb of the CM through her staff. The proposed changes will likely exempt the CM sponsored legislation from a similar subcommittee review. These rule changes will entrench the top-down power structure of the Berkeley Corporation run by its CEO – the City Manager. 

Commissions are the only mechanism where the public has a small role in legislation. If the Council wishes to gut their commissions, why not instead just disband them entirely so we can at least be honest about City government being a façade of democracy – a façade that fronts for the rule of the CEO City Manager. These rule changes appear to put us one step closer to the neoliberal model of state appointed Managers who do not have to answer to any elected officials. Which reminds me of something I read recently – that a significant fraction of Americans really don’t want to live in a democracy (in fact they never have) – but instead want a some form of patriarchy where they are willing to accept domination and control, all in exchange for not having to bother with the hard work of being informed - and for some level of protection from the mythical “other.” Perhaps being lazy, earning a quick buck from the exploited other, is ingrained in the American Cultural DNA. Perhaps George Carlin was right “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”