Riehl World: Council Civility Covers Political Divide

by Richard J. Riehl on May 25, 2011

A week after Carlsbad’s City Council voted unanimously to amend a policy governing grants to agencies for special events of citywide interest, Oceanside’s council wrangled over what to do about rent control. Carlsbad’s council meeting was, as usual, polite. Quite a contrast to the shouting match that erupted on the dais in Oceanside, where one council member, after being repeatedly interrupted by another, demanded of the mayor, presiding over the verbal slugfest, “Will you shut her up?” A recess allowed the city leaders to retreat to their opposite corners.

The difference between the behaviors of the two groups reflects more than just the gravity of the issue being discussed. Yes, deciding how to spend $50,000 of earned interest on a $1 million savings account for city enrichment activities is a bit less contentious than deciding whether to end rent control for nearly 2,600 low-income residents of mobile-home parks. But a closer look at the civil discussion among Carlsbad’s council members offers clues about how more contentious issues may be debated in future meetings and what the talking points of new and incumbent city council candidates will be in the next election.The council quickly agreed to limit the annual amount for special events to $50,000, no more than $10,000 for a single grant. At issue was whether to require a recipient organization to have “some skin in the game,” as Mayor Matt Hall put it. Options for matching the city’s contribution ranged from dollar for dollar up to 20 percent of the event’s budget. Although current policy does not require matching funds, as a general practice city staff has asked organizations to do so.

In an unusual move, but perhaps forgivable for a rookie mayor, Matt Hall spoke first, expressing his concern that if matching isn’t required, “we’re liable to get a lot of requests.”

Other council members weighed in with their own preferences. Anne Kulchin suggested “fluidity,” pointing out some organizations had more money than others to match city funding. Farrah Douglas agreed, reminding everyone that the grants have always been intended to help startup organizations on limited budgets. After Keith Blackurn was assured that it would not be a hardship for staff to handle grant requests fairly without specific matching amount requirements, he supported Kulchin’s position.

Mark Packard, preferred a 4 to 1 matching requirement, but his rationale bordered on the bizarre. He reminded the council they were dealing with taxpayer money. Do they ever deal with anyone else’s? He pointed out that in these hard times cities are cutting spending and that this would be an increase in charitable giving. That brought a chorus of “no’s” from his council colleagues, since the money has already been set aside for this purpose.

But Packard’s strangest comment was comparing the city council’s Policy 51, the one under discussion, with Area 51, the highly secretive Nevada military base that’s famous for spawning UFO conspiracy theories, calling the city’s policy “weird,” with no particular explanation.

Despite Packard’s misgivings, he voted with the others to pass unanimously Kulchin’s recommendation to deal with matching funds on a case-by-case basis.

Hall’s goal to guard the fund from more grant requests and Packard’s characterization of the fund as a charity, rather than promoting “enrichment programs to Carlsbad residents and visitors” as Policy 51 reads, makes you wonder how the vote would have gone had Bud Lewis been mayor, forming the same Lewis, Hall and Packard majority that blocked funding for the Alga Norte Park project.

Richard Riehl is a Carlsbad resident. Contact him at fogcutter1@yahoo.com

http://theriehlworld.blogspot.com/

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