By PETE GOLIS
Just in time for Christmas, there is peace on Earth, good will toward men in Rohnert Park.
Good will toward women, too. The new mayor in Rohnert Park is Pam Stafford, who was elected unanimously last week.
“Something that’s different about this year is how seamless this will be,” Stafford told Staff Writer Jeremy Hay. “There’s no contentiousness.”
Not long ago, it seemed as if everything was contentious in the town that likes to call itself “the friendly city.” Rival factions took turns claiming narrow majorities on the council, making 3-2 votes as commonplace as shouting matches and name-calling.
The economy changed. Jobs went away. Tax revenues plummeted. In Rohnert Park, the hard work of balancing budgets compelled council members to recognize that they were all in the same (sinking) boat. They could either work out their differences or wallow in their acrimony while the city traveled down the road to municipal insolvency.
They chose to be grown-ups, and that made all the difference.
Which brings us to the Santa Rosa City Council, a disharmonious band of people who could learn a thing or two from their brothers and sisters in Rohnert Park.
You may have read last week that Councilman Scott Bartley chose to introduce himself as the city’s new mayor by insulting a political critic.
Responding to criticism from neighborhood activist Jack Swearengen, Bartley might have said, I have a different point of view than my friend, Jack.
Instead, Bartley chose to say that Swearengen is “clueless.”
Being Santa Rosa, the usual huffing and puffing ensued. It was an attack that could only set in motion what my colleague Chris Coursey described as the latest round of tit-for-tat.
As Staff Writer Kevin McCallum recounted, new Councilwoman Julie Combs joined the chorus by suggesting it was time to review the City Council’s code of conduct — and many of us learned for the first time that the City Council has a code of conduct.
We can only imagine what saintly person would be assigned to judge who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Then, Councilman Gary Wysocky asked Bartley if he was going to apologize, and we came to a moment rich with irony.
Flashback a couple of weeks when new Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom cast the deciding vote for mayor.
Carlstrom wrestled with the decision for several days, and we could see that she was trying to do the right thing: Identify the candidate she thought would bring a more collegial approach to city government.
She chose Bartley because he has a reputation for being more conciliatory than the other candidate for mayor. Yes, the other candidate was the very same Gary Wysocky.
Sometimes, it turns out, elected officials are left to choose between two less than ideal options and then hope for the best.
Whether Carlstrom now regrets that decision, only she knows for sure.
But, then, name-calling is nothing new for rival political clans in Santa Rosa. By now, they barely remember why they started fighting in the first place.
In towns such as Rohnert Park and Windsor, city leaders understand that economic and demographic changes bring a new set of challenges for local government.
Rival groups in Santa Rosa — and Petaluma, too — seem to be trying, but as we learned again last week, it’s not yet their season of peace and joy.
It’s worth noting that Carlstrom, the would-be peacemaker, is 29 years old, which means she isn’t carrying the same political baggage as her elders.
If you think Carlstrom, or 30-something supervisors Mike McGuire and Efren Carrillo bring a different approach to government, maybe it’s because they do.
More than their elders, their generation has experienced how the recession has changed Sonoma County. More than their elders, they’ve learned that acrimony distracts from the hard work of getting their community back on track.
Rather than fight the last war, we need a conversation about an educated work force, an infrastructure that supports job creation, the wise stewardship of natural resources and innovations that help government maintain essential services.
Nobody is pretending that change will happen overnight. But in towns such as Rohnert Park and Windsor, the old political clans are beginning to disband and people are coming to understand their shared sense of responsibility.
We’re all in this together, they’re saying, and we need to keep that in mind as we make decisions about the future.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at email@example.com.