PD Editorial: Too much self-praise, not enough repair

  • Santa Rosa City Council candidates speaks during a candidate forum at City Hall in Santa Rosa, California on Monday, October 1, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

It's the story that won't end. Santa Rosa council members and city administrators had a much-needed review last week on what they did right and wrong in the aftermath of the Andy Lopez shooting. Unfortunately, most of it focused on what they did right.

In the end, too much of the discussion during two key items on the agenda was devoted to patting city staff, community groups and themselves on the back and being defensive toward any legitimate second-guessing of some decisions and instructions in the days following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.

"Nothing happened, and no one was hurt. What is wrong with erring on the side of safety?" Mayor Scott Bartley opined.

Plenty. Particularly when it appears city officials are searching for safety from a public torn apart by a tragic shooting, holding public meetings behind locked doors and squabbling over who can say what when, leaving the city coming across as cold and indifferent to a shooting that for all practical purposes -#8212; and for all national media -#8212; was a Santa Rosa tale.

Much of this centers around the city's response not just to the shooting on Oct. 22 but to a large protest march that occurred a week later. Although the march began two blocks away from City Hall at Old Courthouse Square and was headed for the county government center, city officials closed City Hall and, after inexplicably considering going ahead with a council meeting behind locked doors, canceled that as well.

Making matters worse, council members during this time were instructed by the city attorney to keep quiet about the Lopez shooting for fear it might send mixed messages and could somehow compromise the police investigation into the shooting by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy.

As a result, as Councilwoman Julie Combs pointed out on Tuesday, "We had a situation where nobody spoke."

At one point during the meeting, City Manager Kathy Millison acknowledged that she had heard from community groups that "we do need to be more sensitive to the pain felt in the community. And we take that to heart."

But that was the closest that onlookers would hear to acknowledgment that errors were made.

Kudos to Councilman Gary Wysocky for pressing on two issues: One, that no council meetings should be held behind closed doors. And, two, that if city leaders decide to shut City Hall, council members should be able to review -#8212; even if it is in closed session -#8212; the facts behind that decision.

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