WatchSonoma Watch

Insiders chosen to suggest improvements to Santa Rosa government


A group dominated by Santa Rosa City Hall insiders has been selected to explore ideas for improving how city government operates.

The Charter Review Committee, appointed last week, has 21 citizens charged with suggesting changes to the city’s by-laws to be put before voters next fall.

But the group that will investigate issues that include increasing diversity in local politics isn’t terribly diverse itself.

Most have significant experience in city government or politics. The list includes a former mayor, former city manager, two long-time city employees, two campaign managers, two school board members and several people who have served on city boards and commissions.

The youngest person on the panel is 53, and the group’s median age is 61. Three quarters of the citizens live in northeast Santa Rosa. And the group is 90 percent white.

That tells David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University, that the committee is unlikely to recommend any significant changes. With most of its members part of the city’s entrenched political establishment, they’re likely to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, he said.

“This is a traditional, don’t-rock-the-boat commission,” McCuan said.

The charter is the city’s constitution, the set of by-laws governing everything from how city departments are organized to when its budgets are prepared and how long City Council members serve.

The process takes places every 10 years and is expected to last about six months. Each council member selected three citizens to serve. The group’s first meeting is Sept. 29, and it is expected to meet every two weeks initially. The City Council decides what ultimately to place on the ballot.

City Councilman John Sawyer said criticism about lack of diversity doesn’t trouble him.

“Diversity is always good, but I don’t think one has to be diverse to make decisions that affect the diversity of Santa Rosa in a positive way,” Sawyer said.

The reason there are so many City Hall insiders on the committee, Sawyer said, is because they know how the city has run historically and that knowledge is very valuable.

Sawyer appointed Pat Fruiht, a retired assistant to the city manager; Sharon Wright, a former city councilwoman and mayor; and Doug Bosco, an attorney and former congressman.

The Charter Review Committee isn’t necessarily the place for sweeping overhauls of city government but rather a “course correction” for the city, Sawyer said.

“I don’t see it as a way to create sea change in the city,” he said.

The committee chairman, attorney Mike Senneff, also was the chairman of the two most recent charter reviews, in 1994 and 2002. The committee is a “pretty experienced group,” but that can be a good thing because it will have the perspective to see how previous efforts panned out, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for people to take a look and say, ‘Did this really work, or is there something else that we should be doing?’ ” Senneff said.

The council has asked the committee to explore a number of ideas for improving how the city is run, although it can come up with its own.

They include district instead of citywide elections for City Council, directly electing a mayor as is done in Petaluma, changing the requirement that the city use the state pension system and removing the requirement for binding arbitration to settle labor contract disputes.

If that sounds duller than dirt, it’s actually anything but, said Bill Carle, an attorney, developer and school board member who was nominated by Councilman Gary Wysocky.

“How government works and its basic structure and procedure is fascinating to me,” Carle said, noting he has a degree in political science. “I think we have a responsibility to continually look at representative government and how it operates.”

The process is exciting because the political landscape has changed so much in the past decade, Carle said. Voters are more cynical, the economy is struggling and technological changes have changed the way citizens interact with their government, he said.

Wysocky said he tried hard to select people who’ve been outside the political process, such as neighborhood activist Denise Hill. But mostly he focused on the strength of their ideas, regardless of diversity considerations, he said.

Like Carle, lobbyist and campaign manager Herb Williams served on the committee last time. He said the group met weekly for months.

“It was very intense, but it was really good experience,” said Williams, who was nominated by Councilman Jake Ours, whose campaign he ran last year. “Everyone played very fair at the table, intellectually.”

Williams said he sees many parallels between the 2002 process and this one, including a 4-3 ideological split on the council. The make-up of the committee is “reflective of the majority and minority of the council, as it should be,” he said.

Sonia Taylor, a graphic designer and political activist who also served on a previous committee, said it’s a huge time commitment but a process she’s looking forward to nevertheless.

“No one would ever say that it’s fun, but it is really interesting and really, really important,” said Taylor, who was selected by Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.


Charter Revision Committee members and council members who appointed them:

Councilwoman Susan Gorin
–Terry Price, political consultant
–Wayne Goldberg, former Santa Rosa city manager
–Bill Steck, program staff director, SEIU 1021

Councilman Scott Bartley
–Patti Cisco, chairwoman of the Santa Rosa Planning Commission
–Kurt Groninga, retired Santa Rosa Junior College official
–Pam Chanter, vice president of insurance firm, member of city’s Pension Reform Task Force

Councilman John Sawyer
–Pat Fruiht, retired, assistant to the city manager
–Sharon Wright, city councilwoman for 12 years, five as mayor.
–Doug Bosco, attorney and former U.S. Congressman.

Mayor Ernesto Olivares:
–Michael Senneff, attorney, chairman of past two charter review committees
–Donna Jeye, member of Santa Rosa Board of Education
–Bill Arnone, attorney, chairman of Santa Rosa Redevelopment Agency

Councilman Jake Ours:
–Tony Alvernaz, retired city employee and president of city’s largest employee union
–Herb Williams, lobbyist and political consultant to four sitting city council members.
–Janet Condron, former city councilwoman

Councilman Gary Wysocky:
–Bill Carle, attorney, developer, school board member.
–Bob Andrews: former owner of benefits consulting firm, member of Pension Reform Task Force
–Denise Hill, neighborhood advocate, St. Rose Historic District

Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre:
–Sonia Taylor, graphic designer, political activist
–Ida Johnson, former attorney and secretary for California State conference for NAACP
–The Rev. Ann Gray Byrd, retired minister, president of Santa Rosa branch of NAACP

30 Responses to “Insiders chosen to suggest improvements to Santa Rosa government”

  1. Canthisbe says:

    You can go here:


    to read the Charter of the City of Santa Rosa (Revised 2002).

    The Charter, Sec. 12 states, in its entirety:

    Charter Review. This charter shall be reviewed in the year 2002 and not less than every ten years thereafter by a committee to be appointed by Council.

    The Section is virtually meaningless. The only requirement is that the City Council appoint a committee to review the Charter. There are no other requirements. The review committee is not required to make a report or recommendations and there is no requirement that anything be submitted to anybody or that anything be voted on.

    The committee is legally nothing more than an advisory study group for the City Council.

    So, pretend you’re on the Charter Review Committee and tell us what change(s) you would like to see made to the Charter and why. If four members of the City Council like your proposal, it will be on the ballot, just like if the Charter Review Committee comes up with it.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Dan Delgado says:

    Ice Baby,
    Interesting point. Let’s say we aproach the first 21 people we meet on the street today and ask them to join the commission. How many of that 21 do you think has even heard of the commission, let alone has any idea of what it does? I’m betting none. Is this the group we really want on the commission?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  3. Jim says:

    Brilliant….let’s use “insiders” to look at the government. Aren’t “insiders” people with the same mindset as the clown who need the power to feel important?

    While we’re at it, lets have members of the House look into issues within the House. Oh wait, we already have they. This is why Congressmen are allowed to take bribes, hide money in their freezer and NOT go to jail.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  4. I.C.E. ice baby says:

    How about we pick 21 people AT RANDOM….
    No cronyism,no vetting …just 21 at random.
    I would be willing to bet the council thinks just plain old folk are just to _____ to be taken seriously

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  5. james kenefick says:

    It’s funny that the PD decided not to tag Terry Price, Wayne Goldberg, Susan Gorin or any of the other progressives in the “tags” section of this article. At least they used to hide their biases better.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  6. Brian Baker says:

    PD you did a good job framing the story and in all fairness after the headline, did your best to help present the bureaucrats case…
    But if you read the above comments, the citizenry is fed up.
    WE are more enlightened by the connectivity of the web
    WE are not in the mood to pay more for the status quo
    Our first steps are with the vote…
    Our next steps could be similar to those taken by the founders who were also faced with an intolerant government that ignored them…
    September 17 was the 224th birthday of the Constitution…

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  7. Tom Sullivan says:

    Talk about “group think” and “same ol’ same ol’” all of you day in and day out WSC forum “writers” bit right on to McCallum’s well baited hook and ran with it. The Charter Review Committee is far less “sexy” or powerful than the Planning Commission, Design Review Board or Board of Public Utilities and there wasn’t one drop of ink spilled over the appointments to those posts. I would deduce it’s because most, if not all, of you allow the PD to spoon feed you your anger rather than actually engaging in your governance by going to a meeting and actually learning what the processes of government are all about.

    For those of you who are just plain anti-government for the sake of being anti-government, i would be glad to buy you a one way ticket to one of the many scenic destinations in the world that lack any sort of meaningful government or government services. For all of you Taxpayer Association types, most of those places extract “fees” from you with the business end of a rifle or knife. But rest assured that because there is no police department, there is surely no government excess. These places also have a thriving utilities infrastructure which has livestock and humans drinking from the same “streams” and household sewage is used to keep the dust down on the dirt streets.

    You live in America, the greatest country in the world. It was built that way by having a strong government which protects human rights and basic liberties by providing the services that ensure them.

    Just because you didn’t get picked for the kickball team doesn’t mean the rest of us have to listen to your whining and victimesque diatribes. You’re right to free speech doesn’t come with an all access pass to my ear drum.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 15

  8. Ken says:

    How many people who put in an application even got a call? I’ll bet most didn’t.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  9. Mary Wright says:

    Now I know what that old saying meant, “You can’t fight City Hall.” And these people are “scratching each others

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

  10. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Kay made a good point, this is more than members of the fascist fan club meeting at the club house. The City Charter is akin to our General Plan in terms of tangible direction/changes.
    I think it would be in our interest to keep a close eye on this effort. If the format doesn’t provide for public presence and input, we should consider it another consensus manufacturing charade (with teeth). Keep these proceedings on your radar. Again I would like to know if it is open to the public. If an answer to that question could be provided, it would be appreciated.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  11. Kay Tokerud says:

    When they say ‘city insiders’ they mean it. This rubber stamp group has been selected to give the illusion that public input was taken. The only reason to go through this process is because the deciders at City Hall want to make changes to the City Charter. Pre-determined outcomes, here we come. What’s wrong with our existing charter? Beware of whatever changes they want to make. Read the documents carefully.

    This blatantly undemocratic process is typical unfortunately. The City routinely hires facillitators and consultants to control meetings to make sure that the pre-determined ‘consensus’ is reached. Will these meetings be facillitated? Is the public invited? Will they use the Delphi technique? Most likely.

    Get involved it’s your city!

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 9

  12. bear says:

    All of you are 100% right on one issue: the members of this committee are the core of Santa Rosa’s political establishment. But let’s move on.

    Why have a Charter Review Committee? Why change the Charter? Is it all a waste of time and money?

    I believe the Charter itself requires the every-ten-year review.

    So why have a Committee? Because elected officials always want “cover” for anything they do. If controversial measures are going to be put on the ballot, the Council wants support from their buds. To diffuse responsibility.

    Why these people? Because they are personally known by the appointing Council member, so the Council member thinks the appointee will represent his/her views.

    That’s reality. If you want to change it, you have to elect other people to the Council.

    But I don’t think people get elected by being strident, by not revealing their backgrounds in some general way, or by not backing up their opinions with hard facts. That would be you folks. You know who you are. We chat all the time.

    This stuff isn’t easy. If you want to run for a local government body, it takes some work and some money. The money may come with conditions.

    If you want to run for Congress, I think you ought to be real sure of your views on war, military spending, pensions and Social Security, healthcare and the reasons for this NATIONAL economic downturn – which has hurt us so badly on the local level.

    Taking shots at unions is not an answer. Suppose there were no unions? Would you personally be better off? We would still have all the national and statewide economic problems. Do unions support the offshoring of jobs? No. Do unions make corporate decisions? No. Do unions dictate federal, state or local policy? Wake up! No.

    Unions negotiate progress for their members an inch at a time over decades. And any progress is approved by your elected officials, who tend to benefit from their own actions.

    Want a different system? Describe it.

    So let’s try to focus our conversation on specific actions, based on specific facts considered in historical context.

    Read some history.

    Hey, read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”

    OK and read Ayn Rand as well.

    Point is, somebody here is going to have to step up if you want a different outcome.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

  13. Steveguy says:

    These ‘Blue Ribbon’ committees always work….

    Umm, never mind.

    And Doug Bosco ? And others that don’t live or are effected by any useless ‘conclusions’ that will never be acted upon ?

    Good governance has been lost, wasting time and millions on studies and useless ‘feel good’ projects that actually harm our economic well-being to the delight of some proponents of America’s demise.

    I believe that we have already gone over the cliff, we just haven’t hit the rocks yet. I’ll give it 2 years max for a severe depression that will ruin us all, therefore dependent on our imposed nanny state.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

  14. End the Spending NOW says:

    This committee is an excellent example of why nothing ever gets done in government. Starting with the committee group think concept it goes down hill from there. The first thing a bureaucrat thinks about is getting as many finger prints on the knife as possible. They do this so no one can be charged with the crime. How to do this? Form a committee.

    Having SEIU on the committee is like having an old russian commissar set in on a U.S. defense meeting during the Cold War.

    The business community is totally off the social list as are regular citizens who actually live in Santa Rosa.

    The only thing coming out of this party will be some vague goals and lots of self back slapping about what a good job they all did.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 12

  15. Graeme Wellington says:

    How many more “Cover your A___” ideas do our “leaders” have to come up with before we decide to vote them out at the earliest opportunity? That’s the ONLY successful idea to improve government you’re going to hear from any source.

    This kind of thing is extremely insulting to the voters. Come on! Voters of Sonoma County… IT’S YOUR FAULT.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  16. Cedric Pigg says:

    With few exceptions, the usual suspects. The three former city employees are part of what have been long-term problems in City Hall; none of them should be on the committee.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 10

  17. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Foxes chosen to suggest how to improve guarding the hen house?
    I feel so much better…

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 8

  18. Jim says:

    How about eliminating 1/2 of the bloated workforce in the government? How about eliminating pension? How about running the government like a business, with limited resources, rather than with the mindset of endless money?

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 15

  19. Social Dis-Ease says:

    A well meaning commitee out for public’s best interest shouldn’t have a problem with an interactive forum, right?
    Can you post the date PD?
    Should be on cable too.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 6

  20. Liz says:

    My good friend applied and I was going to apply for the position, but as I can see what was the point. Why did the city council even ask the public to to apply when they had no intention of picking us?!?!?!?!!!!!
    Same ol’ same ol’ govt’ Time to clean house and get all new city council members. And I mean ALL new.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 7

  21. Dan Delgado says:

    I suppose the headline could have just as easily read, “Those With Proven History of Community Involvement Selected for Charter Review Commission.” I heard both Scott Bartley and Gary Wysocky at separate events solicit applicants for the commission. I’m wondering how many of the naysayers out there bothered to submit an application to serve on the commission. Perhaps the better story, if there’s one at all, would be who was not selected.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 6

  22. Canthisbe says:

    Jim M

    “But I believe the only power this committee has is to put a few items before the voters, so really anyone able to get 8% of the electorate to sign a petition has the same power”.

    The Committee has even less power than that:

    “The City Council decides what ultimately to place on the ballot”.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  23. Jim M says:

    Best of luck to everyone on the committee, the city charter does need to be modified address the current financial situation, especially concerning pensions. They shouldn’t be looking for solutions so much as removing the obsticles in the way now, such as the Calpers only cause, and the measure O minimum for police and fire. But I believe the only power this committee has is to put a few items before the voters, so really anyone able to get 8% of the electorate to sign a petition has the same power.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 11

  24. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Here is another way of looking at this list.

    This is a short list of who the council represents. This is a list of people they respect and work with/for.

    I do not see small business represented at all. Nor the average taxpayer or homeowner.
    Plenty from the planning,redevelopment,public employee unions,political consultants and NAACP.

    Will we see Santa Rosa transform into a better place, more conductive for business and families? or will we see more of the current failed red collective-green agenda be supported?

    To me it looks like a list who will support the ships sinking while still in port tied to the dock.
    There are a few exeptions, but they are a minority who I hope will raise hell.

    In my opinion, We need to vote in some better representation in 2012.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 5

  25. John bly says:

    Decent idea. Way too many committee members for any meaningful change.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 8

  26. Bill me says:

    I have respect for several members of this “Dream Team” but if consensus can be reached on anything, I will be amazed. I am particularly surprised that SEIU is represented for “what works and doesn’t”. Uhhh-perhaps what doesn’t work are the defined benefits pensions? Oh well, transparency should be the order of the day and I cannot wait to hear what changes and revelations are decided upon and who recommends them.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 7

  27. Greg Karraker says:

    The phrase “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” has never been more appropriate.

    Is there one person in this group of 21 who would describe themselves as an independent, much less a libertarian, conservative, or (gasp) Republican?

    More importantly, is there one small businessperson (there should be at least five), schoolteacher, homemaker, or college student? Why not?

    With this group,Santa Rosa can look forward to ten more years of wallowing in the same sad failed policies.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 10

  28. Canthisbe says:

    Headline should be: “Inmates to review if they want to change the way they run the asylum”.

    Thumb up 40 Thumb down 12

  29. Money Grubber says:

    “A group dominated by Santa Rosa City Hall insiders has been selected…”

    Would you put a group of bank robbers onto a jury to hear the case of a bank robber defendant ?

    Does anyone trust an investigation of a corrupt police officer by other police officers from his circle of co-workers?

    Would we trust former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned due to sexual addictions, to teach sex ed to our children?


    Thumb up 40 Thumb down 16

  30. Brian Brazoot says:

    What a relief.

    The liberals and their Agenda 21 type initiatives clearly demand that we question the status quo in government forward planning — they implore us to search for intelligent ways to innovate and change those governmental strategies that are failing us and damaging the health of our communities.

    I applaud those Santa Rosa council members who have chosen the same cast of characters for these important planning posts. We need to be resolute in denying those who call for alternative views to solve our community’s challenges.

    We must listen to the olds. They simply know better than those young business owners who may ride a bicycle to their companies.

    Thank you Mr. Sawyer, Ours, Bartley, and Olivares. It is an honor to see that you will not cave to changing a thing!

    Yay same old ways! Boo new approaches!

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 11

Leave a Reply