"And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends."
— William Shakespeare, &‘The Taming of the Shrew'
"You don't win friends with salad." — Homer Simpson
Every other year, it's customary for the Santa Rosa City Council to keep the agenda light for the first or second meeting in December. That's because at the end of the session, they swear in new council members, say good-bye to departing ones and elect a new mayor and vice mayor. They then retire to an end-of-year dinner party where, despite their differences, they share a meal, make speeches, pass out gifts and, in some sense, bury the hatchet.
It's a civilized custom.
But civility is not high on the agenda these days at any level of government. In fact the animosity is so deep among Santa Rosa council members — particularly following last week's fractured vote on the bike bridge — that the traditional dinner planned for Tuesday night at Legends at the Bennett Valley Golf Course may be in jeopardy.
"They might as well cancel that dinner because we are going to be there (at the meeting) late," said Mayor Susan Gorin.
Gorin expects the council chambers to be packed with cycling enthusiasts upset at the prospect that Councilman John Sawyer will be a stick in the spokes of plans to build a new bike-pedestrian bridge connecting the Santa Rosa Junior College and Coddingtown Mall. In brief, Sawyer voted in favor of moving ahead with the bridge, which is estimated to cost from $13 million to $20 million, although some consider both numbers high. Sawyer said he did so only so he could move to reconsider this week when two new members, Jake Ours and Scott Bartley, join the council. Presumably, Ours and Bartley will be less supportive of the bridge. Reconsideration votes can only be requested by someone who supported the original motion.
"I don't think John thought this through," said Gorin as she joined me for coffee before cleaning out her mayor's office last week. "Is this really how you want to start a new year? It really is a power play."
Gorin is angry. It's obvious. And she seems more determined than ever. Part of that may be the fact that she was the top vote-getter in last month's election, which, no doubt, is a confidence builder even in an election in which her majority lost power. After Tuesday, she also will no longer be mayor. That's something of a relief, she confesses.
"I don't have to worry about bringing the council together," she said. "I just have to do what I believe is in the best interests of the city."
That includes having her own plan for disrupting Sawyer's maneuver. Although she wouldn't go on the record, in talking with other sources, I believe Tuesday's meeting will go something like this. Before the new council members are sworn in, someone will call for a reconsideration of the bike bridge vote. The reconsideration will then fail, likely on a 3-3 vote. (Marsha Vas Dupre is out of town.) Under council procedures, once a reconsideration vote has been taken, it cannot be brought up again.
As politics go, it's a shrewd move. But doesn't this have the potential to make the divisions worse?