Sanders, council spar over appointment to planning panel
Eight years into a political career that once had “higher office” written all over it, Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders left the City Council Monday night in a bitter-sweet departure to spend more time, she said, on family and business.
Filling her empty seat was Sonoma vineyard manager David Cook, who was sworn in at the Dec. 3 meeting, along with re-elected member Laurie Gallian.
But before she exited the dais, Sanders made one last gesture to put her personal imprint on city government by raising the issue of an alleged Brown Act violation, and then determinedly putting forward her nominee for a Planning Commission seat while it was all but certain she did not have the necessary votes to win.
Sanders, whose forceful personality and efficient management of council meetings were hallmarks of her tenure, was seeking to nominate James Cribb, a longtime member of the Design Review Commission and owner of Sonoma Dog Camp.
Over the course of a tangled skein of conversations, then-Mayor Pro Tem Ken Brown had separate conversations with Councilmembers Tom Rouse and Steve Barbose over the issue of whether alternate members of the Planning Commission are accorded preferred treatment in moving into empty commission seats. Brown, Barbose and Gallian – it was later revealed – all favored Planning Commission alternate Bill Willers, a prominent Sonoma architect.
But speaking to more than one other member of a five-member elective board about pending matters constitutes a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law. Both Barbose and Rouse were clear that Brown did not lobby them on who to vote for, and Brown himself said he simply lost track of whom he had spoken with, while trying to clarify past protocol for appointing alternates.
Nevertheless, on the advice of City Attorney Jeff Walters, Brown recused himself from a vote on the Planning Commission appointment at both the Nov. 19 and Dec. 3 City Council meetings.
On Monday night, during a palpably tense interval in the meeting, Sanders had city staff review and read brief passages from two 2005 City Council meetings that indicated appointing alternates was not required but that it represented a tradition for candidates who had served well as alternates.
She then nominated Cribb for the seat and Rouse seconded the nomination. The vote, in Brown’s absence, was deadlocked at 2-to-2.
Sanders next nominated Jennifer Gray, a former high school teacher and union leader now completing a master’s degree in public administration.
That vote also resulted in a 2-2 deadlock. It was Sanders’ last legislative act on the City Council.
But before she left the dais, Sanders read a long, and sometimes emotional “final farewell speech,” in which she reviewed her years on the council, thanked her friends and supporters, along with some of her critics, and then took what was clearly a long-delayed swing at Sonoma County Conservation Action, a grassroots environmental group based in Santa Rosa that issues letter grades to public officials based on their degree of environmental correctness. Sanders, who prides herself on her environmental record, has long been both livid and silent about the grades she ahs received in the past.
“This group,” she said, “assigns and publishes letter grades, like in school, to all of us local elected officials. To my disbelief, I have consistently earned Ds and Fs from this politically motivated, rather than policy-centric group … in my view, this group does a disservice to the people in this community and throughout Sonoma County. Their misleading grades have nothing to do with an elected official’s commitment to the environment … I have introduced and supported many endeavors that have made our community ‘greener.’”
Sanders then itemized a long list of “green” initiatives, including curbside composting, unprecedented solar panel installation, conversion of lawns to drought-tolerant landscaping, safe medicine disposal and a green building ordinance.
She added that she has “always approached decision making by putting the community first, not a political ideology” even when it hurt her politically.
She then heaped special praise on departing City Manager Linda Kelly, who will become town manger of Windsor on Dec. 13, incoming City Manager Carol Giovanatto and City Clerk Gay Johann – “the most organized administrative professional I have ever met.”
From there, the council nominated Brown to assume the role of mayor, for the third time, and nominated Rouse to be mayor pro tem. Both nominations received unanimous support.
Then, Cook and Gallian were sworn in, the council recessed for a brief cake and punch reception, and then resumed conducting the city’s business, newly constituted with Cook on the dais.
The council gave brief attention to the city’s 2012-13 Capital Improvement Program, that includes almost $7.5 million in former redevelopment revenues now frozen by the state and disputed by the city, which insists the projects they were meant to fund still represent a legal obligation.
City Attorney Walters observed that it is unlikely the dispute – one of hundreds between successor agencies of former redevelopment districts and the state Department of Finance – would be resolved in the next three years. He added that litigation over the issue seemed a likely outcome.
Before the council’s regular business, special recognition was given to outgoing staffers Kelly; departing Public Works Director Milenka Bates, who is returning to her home state of Washington, and city engineer Toni Bertolero, who has also been hired by the City of Windsor.