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GOLIS: One step forward and one step back


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.”

Pete Golis.

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.

What changed?

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 golispd@gmail.com.

8 Responses to “GOLIS: One step forward and one step back”

  1. Anthony Coopersmith says:

    Kearney, Carrillo and Carlstrom care about one thin- themselves. All of them have made deals with developers, the Chamber and business for one reason only- to advance themselves at the expense of those who actually care about issues. They all have the same playbook and their first rule to do business with anyone who can advance their career no matter how dirty or unsavory. You will notice that the only people who praise them are the business interests and developers who can’t wait to turn our county into Sunnyvale or Cupertino. The old saying “if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything” suits these three to a T.

  2. Chris says:

    @Real Truth seems the younger elected officials, especially Carlstrom, Kearney, and McGuire are the only ones with a value system. Elected officials like Wysocky, Fudge, Saunders, etc. are continuing battles that are more about personality than progressing our communities.

    Case in point, when Pam Torliatt pushed a Target onto the citizens of Petaluma, it was a politically expedient action that the “progressives” did not hold against her. In contrast, when Kearney voted for a local business, Friedman’s, to return to Petaluma, he was attacked by the same progressives that supported Torliatt’s Target Store.

    The younger leaders support local business, the environment, social justice, and productive governments. The old guard only seems to care about keeping power.

  3. Real Truth says:

    The young people with “no baggage” have also shown that they have no value system to uphold, which is why young councilmembers Erin Carlstrom in Santa Rosa and Gabe Kearney in Petaluma flit about from side to side, mistakenly calling themselves independent and conciliatory. They are in politics for no reason but the power — and that is the worst reason.

  4. Anthony Coopersmith says:

    Efren Carrillo is hardly the role model for ‘turning the other cheek” His last arrest for bar brawling showed that. He has been vindictive and petty to his political enemies (including removing one critic from a public board because of her social media criticism of the thin-skinned Carrillo) Mr Golis should do some fact checking before he writes his opinion pieces.Abusing your power as a public servant to punish those who criticize you is hardly role model behavior.Golis is either “clueless” (to use a well used descriptor) or simply a shill for Carrillo.

  5. Nora Gonzales says:

    Politics is not about being nice, nice, it is about getting the job done and elected politicans are suppose to be leaders, not church ministers or social mediators. If the city wants that kind of leadership they should elect zen masters.

    I say all hail, Mayor Bartley for his forthright description of a pompous jester.

  6. Bill Parkhurst says:

    Well written article. The new kids are better because of less baggage. I would agree. Better yet a policy of single terms would bring more new blood to governance.

    Politics is not a business. No more than 2 terms would only allow those seriously interested in community and keep those who think it is a life long pursuit away.

    Having the council choose the mayor may not be the best idea.

  7. Reality Check says:

    On a scale of epithets, from mild to harsh, clueless must surely rank on the mild side. And in this case the word chosen was apt, a fact Golis apparently considers not important enough to mention.

    “Neighborhood activists,” whatever that means, seem to have assumed the right to fling insults in any and all direction, while the targeted official is expected to smile and reply, if at all, meekly.

    Bravo to anyone who resists these self-anointed street activists who claim to speak for people when in fact they don’t.

  8. There is a classic Jewish proverb that says “Whenever two partners in business agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

    A city council that agrees on everything is as profoundly unhealthy as a one-party government in a banana republic. It is healthy differences and vigorous debate that forge the best ideas.

    To see how dysfunctional a council of serial 5-0 voters is, Rohnert Park need look no farther than its sad little cousin to the south. In Cotati, 5-0 votes are virtually the only votes ever cast. The results are painfully clear to anyone who sees Cotati’s stunning lack of growth and prosperity.