Tucked into an otherwise routine city council story on Tuesday was a little gem that warmed the hearts of anyone who has ever served on a board or commission or council, whether private, non-profit or government.
"I'm not in favor of having a few buttheads dictate how we go about our business," Sonoma City Councilman Ken Brown declared.
Amen to that, Brother Brown.
The statement could apply to any number of issues that come before a governing body. In this case, Brown was referring to a proposal to change his city's policies regarding the public consumption of alcohol. Sonoma, which depends heavily on wine tourism, has fairly liberal alcohol rules that allow consumption in public places – including the town Plaza or on the streets – from 11:30 a.m. until dusk.
Ordinarily, this is not a problem. It's not unusual to see tourists in the plaza with a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a brick of cheese purchased at nearby stores. It's part of the city's ambiance.
But last July 4, when 10,000 people packed into the center of Sonoma (population 10,648) for an Independence Day celebration, 13 people were arrested and more would have been if police had more resources available, Police Chief Bret Sackett informed the council.
According to Derek Moore's story, the chief blamed the unruly behavior on large crowds, warm weather and Sonoma's "liberal alcohol laws." Tighter regulations could help "mitigate" problems, Sackett wrote in a memo.
To which Brown responded with his sagacious comment.
We're taught from an early age that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," but that attention and maintenance shouldn't be provided in a knee-jerk way, or at the expense of other, well-functioning wheels.
Too often, though, the leaders of an organization – and I've observed this at every level from social clubs to government bodies – spend their time and formulate their policies based on the squeaking that comes from individual members or small groups. Sadly, the decisions that come out of such deliberations are directed more at "mitigating" the behavior of the buttheads than providing benefit to the membership or public at large.
Brown gave voice to the many in his position who are too polite or too timid to say what needs to be said: Don't give the buttheads the power to set the agenda; don't turn over the management of the circus to the clowns. Deal with them within the framework that exists, rather than changing the entire framework to get grease to their wheels.
In the case of the unruly Fourth of July patriots in Sonoma, the state already has laws on the books about being drunk in public, about assault and battery, about resisting arrest. Nine thousand nine hundred and eighty-seven people – give or take a few – apparently were able to stay on the right side of those laws on Independence Day. That's a pretty good percentage.
Changing the rules for the law-abiding doesn't mean the law-breaking will change their behavior. It only punishes the people who choose to follow the rules.
This week, the City Council declined to make changes to Sonoma's alcohol rules, instead telling Sackett they support beefing up enforcement at future large events.
Which will give police the resources they need to treat buttheads like buttheads, and will give the council the opportunity to get back to the business of the non-buttheads in the community.