In a refreshingly candid commentary, the Contra Costa Times editorial board blasted Pleasant Hill Councilmembers Michael Harris, Tim Flaherty and Ken Carlson for their move last month to bypass fellow Councilmember Jack Weir in the traditional Pleasant Hill Mayor rotation.
The editorial states:
“I’m shocked and embarrassed by my colleagues,” Councilman David Durant said. “Absent some heinous behavior, criminality, moral turpitude, no one should be deprived of the opportunity and honor of being mayor. …
“We’ve always done this in a nonpolitical way, and this felt blatantly political. It’s crass to do this kind of thing without explaining on the record, publicly, in a transparent fashion what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
How does ruining the traditional Pleasant Hill Mayor rotation help the City?
While Councilmember David Durant characterizes the Mayor decision “classless,” some residents call it “an embarrassment” and a “coup.” To date, two formal complaints have been made by residents alleging violations of open meeting laws, though City Attorney Janet E. Coleson thus far sees no reason to investigate.
In short, the bizarre, destructive stunt has turned Pleasant Hill politics into a soap opera — the last thing any community needs when facing critical challenges. With public trust in government at an all-time low, this kind of bad publicity sure doesn’t help build credibility with residents.
Absent a plausible explanation for the Mayor pick, the public is left wondering about the motives of Councilmembers Harris, Flaherty and Carlson. How and why did they do this?
Handicapping the Pleasant Hill Mayor Rotation fiasco
Here are a few of the theories heard floating around Pleasant Hill during the past few weeks:
- THE QUID PRO QUO THEORY
Harris and Flaherty made a backroom deal: Flaherty would give Harris a third vote for his controversial firearms ordinance (key provisions of which Flaherty is on record opposing during his 2012 campaign), in exchange for Flaherty becoming mayor prematurely – before serving as Vice-Mayor (which is unprecedented). Carlson joined the pile on because he apparently has own beefs with Weir – perhaps related to Police Association labor contract issues (Carlson’s Council campaign was supported by the Pleasant Hill Police Association).
- THE CUT-THROAT POLITICS THEORY
This November terms of office expire for both Harris and Weir. Harris couldn’t stomach the thought of Weir having the campaign advantage of serving as Mayor while running for re-election. So Harris cooked up the scheme and incentivized Carlson and Flaherty to join him in denying Weir the Mayor spot.
- THE “SAVE THE CITY MANAGER AT ALL COSTS” THEORY
Harris, Flaherty and Carlson are protective of long-time City Manager June Catalano who, in turn, defends City staff and employee labor contracts. As Carlson’s recent public statements suggest, Harris/Flaherty/Carlson are “the three votes” key to Catalano’s continued employment. Thus they conspired to deny Weir the Mayor spot, in order to insulate Catalano from greater accountability and avoid having City labor contracts more closely scrutinized and possibly pared back in future union negotiations. (Harris, Flaherty and Carlson all received campaign support from city employee labor groups.)
- THE SMACKDOWN THEORY
Harris and Flaherty did not want Weir as Mayor while the City defends the lawsuit challenging the controversial firearms ordinance. (Weir and Carlson opposed the ordinance.) So together Flaherty and Harris conspired with Carlson (who apparently has his own beefs with Weir) to deny Weir the Mayor spot.
- THE LEONA HELMSLEY “RULES DON’T APPLY TO US” THEORY
Weir is an outspoken advocate for government transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility and public participation. Harris, Flaherty and Carlson come from the “we know best” brand of Arrogant Elected Officials who disdain the public and would prefer to govern without interference from pesky residents (an attitude reminiscent of the famous line by billionaire tax cheat Leona Helmsley, who said: “only the little people pay taxes”).
Some Weir supporters are also outspoken critics of some Council actions and frequently irk the “we know best”-type Councilmembers. Denying Weir the Mayor’s seat was a shot across the bow, intended to frighten and intimidate Weir supporters by signaling that Harris’ re-election campaign promises to be a mud-slinging, below-the-belt, dirty politics affair.
Are any of these theories even remotely accurate? We’ll likely never know since the Councilmembers involved fail to offer an explanation.
In the meantime, residents continue gossiping over the back fence in an effort to fill the information vacuum by devising theories and attributing motives. That’s just what human nature does when no plausible explanation is offered for strange events.
For many Pleasant Hill residents, “crass” and “classless” don’t begin to cover it.