The way Santa Rosa officials responded in the wake of the shooting of Andy Lopez continues to divide City Council members, with some continuing to criticize key decisions while others are seeking to move on.
In the tense days following the 13-year-old's death, Santa Rosa officials made three decisions that have dogged them since: instructing City Council members to say nothing about the shooting; planning to hold a public meeting behind locked doors; and closing City Hall and canceling a City Council meeting in response to a nearby protest march.
City Manager Kathy Millison on Tuesday night defended those decisions to the council during a study session meant to explore how the city communicates in emergencies and critical incidents. She said City Hall staff acted "admirably" in the face of protests a week after Lopez was killed. The result was that city employees and protesters alike were kept safe, she said.
Mayor Scott Bartley agreed, stressing public safety was paramount in the various decisions taken.
"Nothing happened and no one was hurt. What is wrong with erring on the side of safety?" Bartley asked.
But Councilman Gary Wysocky again leveled criticism that the measures the city took were either poorly thought out or lacked transparency.
City officials responded in two ways to reports that protesters were planning a large march on Tuesday, Oct. 29, beginning at noon at Old Courthouse Square.
On Monday afternoon and evening, seeking to strike a balance between the safety of City Hall employees and the need for the public's business to go forward, city officials planned to lock lobby doors at noon on Tuesday but keep city staff on the job.
There were two public meetings planned for Oct. 29, a noon meeting of a three-member council financial subcommittee and the 4 p.m. full City Council meeting. Because the subcommittee meeting has historically been sparsely attended by the public, city staff figured they could unlock the doors for anyone seeking to attend that meeting. This would give them the ability to keep the doors locked in the event protesters turned their attention to city offices.
It had happened before. During the Occupy movement there were instances where protesters crowded into the lobby of the City Manager's Office and shouted demands, rattling some city staff. The goal was to avoid a similar episode.
But on Tuesday morning, the game plan changed. After city officials were further briefed by then-Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, Millison made the decision to close City Hall at noon and send employees home. That left the City Council with no staff, forcing Bartley to cancel the council meeting, a decision he said was "perfectly logical."
Wysocky has taken issue with both decisions.
"How do you have a public meeting in a locked building?" he asked "That to me should never be repeated."
After a robust debate, Bartley and Councilwoman Robin Swinth both conceded that Wysocky had a point, but urged him to spend more of his energy focusing on the future instead of the past.
"Where do we go to advance this?" Bartley asked. "Because we're looking for a place to move forward and it seems like we just keep going back and repeating the same thing."
Wysocky also questioned why more detailed information about the decision to close City Hall wasn't being shared with the council.