WatchSonoma Watch

Short honeymoon for new Santa Rosa mayor


Santa Rosa’s new mayor is refusing to apologize for calling a neighborhood activist “clueless,” but his critics say he’s the one who needs to get a clue about being the leader of the North Coast’s largest city.

During his first full meeting in the mayor’s chair, Scott Bartley said he wouldn’t apologize for his published comments about Jack Swearengen, the president of the Friends of SMART and the former head of the Northwest Santa Rosa Neighborhood Association.

The new mayor of Santa Rosa Scott Bartley spent Friday morning setting up his email and calendar in his new office in City Hall on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

“I have nothing to apologize for,” Bartley said Tuesday.

But Jenny Bard, past president of the Santa Rosa Junior College Neighborhood Association, said she was shocked and disappointed to see Bartley publicly demean a neighborhood activist whom she described as thoughtful, and then refuse to apologize for it.

“He is now the mayor of our city and there’s a huge responsibility to treat people with respect, particularly people with whom he disagrees,” Bard said.

The flap began in response to a Tuesday article in The Press Democrat in which Bartley called Swearengen “clueless” for characterizing Bartley as someone who favors “auto-dependent development” over “pedestrian- and user-friendly development.”

Bard sent an email to the City Council defending Swearengen, a retired engineering professor, asking Bartley to publicly apologize, and blasting him for his “continued condescending attitude and arrogance” toward those with whom he disagrees.

“How do you expect to build trust, or for the public to want to become engaged with the city, when you treat people with disdain?” Bard wrote.

New Councilwoman Julie Combs, who campaigned on a promise to listen to the views of neighborhoods, rose to Swearengen’s defense at the council meeting Tuesday, calling him a friend.

“I have found him to be a kind and gentle man who volunteers his time tirelessly for the betterment of Santa Rosa,” Combs said.

She then suggested the council discuss at some point reviewing its code of conduct regarding “how we refer to members of the public and other community leaders.”

When it appeared that Bartley didn’t intend to address the issue, Councilman Gary Wysocky asked the new mayor whether he intended to apologize. It was at that point Bartley said he had nothing to apologize for.

He said Wednesday that he “could have chosen a more appropriate term if I pondered the question more thoroughly,” but that he wouldn’t apologize for it.

“I’m only a human being, and sometimes in conversation you say something and you have to take it in the context as a whole,” Bartley said. “I can’t go through life defending every word I say. There are more important issues facing the city.”

Bartley said he wasn’t questioning Swearengen’s intelligence. Swearengen has a Ph.D in engineering, retired as a professor from Washington State University and, before that, spent 26 years as an energy researcher and adviser on nuclear nonproliferation issues at a nuclear weapons design laboratory.

The context of the “clueless” comment was that Swearengen was criticizing him and misrepresenting his views on important issues, and he felt the need to respond, Bartley said.

“He was dismissing me, and that’s why I said he’s clueless,” Bartley said.

He said he’s amazed that people now claim to be disappointed because he “didn’t just turn the other cheek and say ‘Thank you,’ ” Bartley said.

The people really to blame for the stink are his council colleagues, Combs and Wysocky, who brought the issue up Tuesday unnecessarily, Bartley said.

“Basically, they were kind of calling me out at the meeting,” Bartley said. “They waited for the opportunity in public to call me out, and that’s inappropriate.”

Bartley said he remains committed to changing the tone on the City Council, which has been plagued by polarization and infighting in recent years.

Newcomer Erin Carlstrom cited her trust in his ability to bring the council together when she cast the deciding vote elevating Bartley to mayor last week.

Whether the dustup sets back that effort remains to be seen.

Swearengen said he’s amused by the affair and is heartened by the outpouring of support he’s received from people who view Bartley’s remarks and refusal to apologize as revealing.

“It’s one thing to disagree with your approach to development; it’s another thing to try to insult or dismiss or demean your opponents,” Swearengen said. “I’m disappointed that our mayor doesn’t see the difference or, if he does, doesn’t think it matters.”

He said he’s not looking to escalate the issue and wants to just let it go.

“He needs to be mayor and I need to be quiet and try to live in his city,” he said.

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

26 Responses to “Short honeymoon for new Santa Rosa mayor”

  1. Danielle says:

    Let the circus commence led by an arrogant mayor who publicly demeans a member of the community. Bravo Erin Carlstrom for electing yourself and this tool as vice mayor/mayor. Everyone just sit back and enjoy this train wreck of a city council self destruct.

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  2. James Bennett says:

    A moderate in an era of an extremist takeover.
    The adherent local “newspaper” complicit in the propaganda pile on.
    Setting a tone of intimidation.
    Next they’ll show at council with face covered, goggles and helmets.
    Add the bicycle coalition to the army of NGOs, boards, commisions, “advocacy” groups, “social justice” and planning cronies and “consultants”.
    Ready to deploy, at ICLEI’s disposal when needed for a “job”.
    Creating an illusion of “consensus”.

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  3. Joe merckx says:

    This “pedestrians and bike friendly theme” sounds fine, but is really managed and controlled by a much greater force. Social engineering and the folks behind it are brainwashed. read this..It has all the same buzzwords. It doesnt work, haven’t we learned.”The Ideal Communist City” published by the former Soviet Union’s University of Moscow (circa 1970) well before the UN came out with the Sustainable Development definition in 1987… But the book is chock full of all the current designer planning buzz-words like “high density, mixed-use walkable, livable, less-auto dependent communities”

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  4. Caller says:

    WOW!!! It looks like Laura Gonzalez got caught posting as “Victoria Rose Pierce”!!! She and her bully buddies have criticized people for posting anonymously, but apparently she doesn’t have a problem with posting under a fake name. Anonymous is one thing, but a fake name that is supposed to appear like someone’s real full name… WOW!!!

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  5. Elephant says:

    @ Victoria Rose Pierce

    I beg to differ. Cluelessness by voters in electing people who don’t care about the real needs of the masses is what caused this problem (along with countless others throughout Sonoma County) in the first place.

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  6. Chris says:

    Victoria Rose Pierce sure looks a lot like Laura Gonzalez an elected member of the school board…did she forget how to write her own name?

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  7. Victoria Rose Pierce says:

    “It is funny how the left has no problem characterizing people as racists, homophobics, or some other vile term, but “clueless” leaves them speechless, demanding apologies.”

    Racism and homophobia are vile things which must be called out and uprooted from our society. Cluelessness, otoh, doesn’t cause nearly the same amount of destruction.

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  8. Mark Bowman says:

    Although we don’t expect city council members to agree on everything, they certainly need to show respect for each other. A deeply divided city council is not going to function well. Healing the current division is going to take conscious effort on the part of all the council members.

    In this case, it would have been better if Mr. Wysocky and Ms. Combs had shown some support for our new mayor, instead of dividing the council even further. Let’s put political infighting aside and work on the issues facing the city.

    Mayor Bartley made a relatively restrained response to the frustration of someone who was attacking him and misrepresenting his views. The public needs to keep that context in mind and ALL of the council members need to back him up. You may call that naivete–I call it good for our city.

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  9. Steve Klausner says:

    Well it is reassuring to see that Santa Rosa is still a little cow town. Nothing important going on here. The council, the public and the press will be debating this for the month.

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  10. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    It was not a fine day for young ducks. Ms. Carlstrom may have lost future votes.

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  11. Vinyl Rules says:

    In politics, if you are explaining you are losing. Obviously, Bartley has no notion of such a simple concept. This should be an entertaining next two years. Thanks Ms. Carlstrom!

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  12. Mark Epstein says:

    I would start by objecting to the term activist and insist on the term special interest advocate. I think with this change, we clear up the intentions of the causes of the cluelessness in one fell swoop.

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  13. Alex Cartwright says:

    Get a CLUE, Jenny! The whole city does revolve around your neighorhood, nor you!

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  14. Professional, mature behavior? Nah. says:

    The newly selected mayor has sadly started out on the wrong foot. If this is the kind of disrespect that we can expect from him when he doesn’t agree with us, on any particular issue, this is a bad sign for the future.

    And for all the yahoos who have posted on this thread, wait til you’re on the other side of some snide remarks by the mayor, and let’s see how you defend that.

    The mayor has a different role in the city than other council members: he is supposed to work hard to facilitate public participation at the same time that the city’s decisions are being made and facilitating real discussions. The mayor can not work well by shutting down citizens of the city and representatives of neighborhoods.

    That’s a very different task than being a cheap-shot politician. Now’s the time for Bartley to learn some new skills and behavior. Pronto.

    Does Bartley’s rudeness demonstrate Erin Carlstrom’s “reaching across the aisle” to “reduce conflict”? Seems like there are at least 2 rookies on the council, and quite a bit of naivete got one of them to be mayor. Good luck, Santa Rosans.

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  15. Mac E. Velli says:

    The Neighborhood Goon Squad aka the Neighborhood Alliance shows its vicious claws right out of the gate. Jenny Bard, who rivals Vladimir Putin for number of times she’s taken ‘office’ in her little fiefdom, marches right down and defends little Jack Swearingen.

    This nasty band of self-appointed neighborhood ‘bosses’ would be swept right out if anyone knew who they were. They run their Alliance out of a secret location and won’t let any real neighborhood people in to see what they’re plotting.

    Their fangs are already dripping as they get ready to make life hell for anyone who won’t renounce cars (they have them), single family homes (they live in them), and green house gases (they emit them.) This band of chest-beating hypocrites deserves the boot.

    Mac E. Velli saying ‘Enjoy the show!’

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  16. Fiscal Conservative says:

    More political actions taken from the textbook ‘rules for radicals’ written by the communist activist Saul Alinsky.

    Nobody on any neigborhood coalition was elected, they represent themselves and a whack-o agenda. The whole neigborhood Czar thing needs to be scrapped. Same with the Bicycle agenda. Let’s replace it with freedom and liberty.

    Offending an attacking collectivist by calling him clueless is not an offense.
    It’s Leadership.

    I think ‘clueless’ is kind a gentle.

    Give them Hell Mayor!

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  17. The Hammer says:

    Watch out for the Neighborhood Alliance. It’s full of wackoes. Lots of them. Don’t let them push you around Mayor. Most real folks don’t agree with their ideas. They just seem to have a lot of time on their hands to attend meetings.

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  18. RICHARD says:

    This debate could degenerate to hate. Time to stop it, before it’s too late.

    There has been a conflict between Wysocky and Bartley that neither have handled smartly.

    To those who fan this flame, I say shame, shame, shame.

    Pleas put your ego away, get to work and earn your pay.

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  19. Real Truth says:

    Rule 1: When you say something stupid, apologize. Only then will it go away.

    Rule 2: Grow up and accept the fact that when you hold elected office, you don’t get to publicly excoriate your citizens.

    Rule 3: Apologize. It’s that simple.

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  20. Marc says:

    If He is doing his job for EVERYBODY and looking at the big picture he will offend a Lot more people to get his job done! And this is a good start.

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  21. Caller says:

    Wysocky has been treating people a lot worse than this for years, but Bartley makes one comment and it gets blown out of proportion with multiple news articles. When are all of Wysocky’s articles coming out? Wysocky and Combs were politically grandstanding. It sure seems hypocritical for Wysocky to be calling anyone out for how they treat people. Will Combs call out Wysocky’s behavior, or just her political opponents?

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  22. Grapevines says:

    Whine, whine, whine, the big bad new mayor call him names.

    Get a life people, bunch of girly-girls.

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  23. Nora Gonzales says:

    It is funny how the left has no problem characterizing people as racists, homophobics, or some other vile term, but “clueless” leaves them speechless, demanding apologies.

    The Mayor defined correctly the leader of the band, friends of unsmart and the little marching pontificaters.

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  24. elephant says:

    I have seen many clueless people at council and commission meetings of numerous cities, both on the dais and speaking at public comments. On one hand, these meetings are no place for personal affronts by any appointed or elected official. On the other hand, in my personal opinion, any staunch supporter of SMART is clueless at the very least.

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  25. Dan Drummond says:

    Much ado about nothing. Personally, I appreciate a mayor or any public official who says what’s really on his mind rather than being so afraid of offending someone that his public remarks are so bland as to be meaningless.

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  26. Jean Anderson says:

    Hooray for Mayor Bartley for telling it like it is.

    I would have used the term “useful idiot” or “fiscal dope” instead of clueless, but his terms works fine too.

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