The Backroom is a column by the staff of the Long Beach Post with notes and analysis, along with bloops and blunders, from the city’s political scene. It runs every Thursday. To contact us, email [email protected]. For questions or concerns, please contact Managing Editor Melissa Evans: [email protected] or 562-437-5814.
It was Elie Wiesel who said the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. In the same way, being ignored stings way more than being yelled at.
Like a boyfriend playing video games while you’re spilling your heart, the City Council accomplished a shrugging sort of indifference Tuesday night, after, we’ll note, what seemed like an extraordinary overture to include advocates and critics in the budget process.
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For years, the “People’s Budget”—a list of priorities for youth, immigrants, renters and others who often don’t have a strong voice—has been presented on the steps of City Hall at a news conference that often attracts little attention. Local media write stories that are swiftly forgotten.
This year, as we know, is different. After months of protests and calls to defund police, two councilmembers, Jeannine Pearce and Mary Zendejas, backed an agenda item that allowed a cohort behind the People’s Budget, for the first time, to give a presentation before council.
Four members of different groups got a chance to speak, starting with Black Lives Matter organizer Dawn Modkins, who set the tone.
“Mayor Garcia, you recently posted on social media your support for BLM and racial justice as have other councilmembers,” she said. “Some of you have said nothing and your silence speaks volumes. Your decisions today mean more than your platitudes on social media.”
It was harsh. She accused the councilmembers of negligence, indifference, corruption with regard to police union donations, protecting “killer cops” and a range of specific allegations that were emotional, if not always accurate or fair.
Public comment by Black Lives Matter Long Beach co-founder Dawn Modkins: pic.twitter.com/KalHvH6G4I
— LBC Meeting Notes (@LBCMtgNotes) August 12, 2020
We’re not here to defend or berate the council on the specific allegations—that’s above our pay grade—but we do expect them to listen and respond.
After the 10-minute presentation, the only one who spoke was Pearce, who acknowledged the emotion in the room. Pearce then made a motion to “receive and file” the report—the equivalent of stuffing it in a shoe box on a shelf in the spare room closet—and another extraordinary thing happened: No one offered a second to the motion.
This is rare; usually someone will second a motion so it can at least be discussed. The last time we recall this kind of snub happening was in 2013, when then-Councilwoman Gerrie Shipske offered a motion to ban political contributions from city contractors and require disclosure of personal communications about public business.
“How sad,” Schipske said in an op-ed written after the motion was rejected.
On Wednesday we called all nine councilmembers, as well as the mayor, to ask why the silence.
We got zero response from the mayor, Robert Garcia, via his chief of staff. We were told by the chiefs of staff for Dee Andrews and Roberto Uranga that they would not be available (Uranga due to a Coastal Commission meeting).
Many of the others said they were surprised and caught off guard by the presentation, hoping presenters would talk about specifics in the People’s Budget, which included money for language translation, youth programs, legal representation for immigrants and other requests.
“I don’t want to say shocked or offended, but it was very unique,” Councilman Daryl Supernaw said of the presentation. “All of us had the same conclusion that we didn’t want to second it, that we didn’t want to have our name on it.”
Echoed Councilwoman Stacy Mungo: “It was supposed to be a budget. It wasn’t a budget.”
Councilman Al Austin, chair of the council’s Budget Oversight Committee, said leaders have been listening to concerns raised in the People’s Budget. “Advocates from People’s Budget have been involved in most every public forum that we’ve had.”
Councilwoman Suzie Price, also a member of the budget committee, said in a message: “I really don’t have a comment on why there was no comment by the council members on the item last night. I don’t comment on every item and I have not talked to any council members about why they didn’t comment. We heard the People’s Budget proposal the week before at BOC so I was familiar with the details.”
Councilman Rex Richardson noted that there have been hours of discussion on the city budget, and all have been welcome to participate. He said the city has been more responsive to the People’s Budget priorities over the years.
“In every one of the items, you see there’s progress even between the mayor’s budget or the City Council. So this budget was responsive,” he said.
Zendejas, the newest member of council, said she was eager to support Pearce’s motion, as she supports priorities in the People’s Budget.
But “unfortunately,” Zendejas said, “once the presentation began it was not what I expected.
“I understand that there are strong feelings, strong emotions. I think that as a city, I think we’re going a really good job of trying to implement a lot of things that the People’s Budget has been asking for.”
And finally Pearce, who is leaving council in December:
“I can’t speak for why nobody made a second [on the motion], I can only speak to the fact that some of the public doesn’t feel heard and they expect real changes in our police department, coupled with the fact that we have real needs in our community.
“Systematic changes are uncomfortable,” she added, “and that’s OK.”
The presenters didn’t follow the rules. You were offended. So what.
It’s well within the pay grade of the City Council to sit still for a second in the most public venue of City Hall and acknowledge the hurt some are feeling. That’s at least worth a “receive and file.”
While we had councilmembers on the phone, we also asked about another topic that came up Tuesday: Whether they’d be willing to participate in a 10% pay cut as most other city workers are doing through furloughs.
Though all were supportive, Supernaw questioned how much of a difference it would actually make in the city’s budget problems—especially because the city still has to contribute to each of their retirement and pay taxes.
Councilmembers make roughly $38,000, so you do the math (god knows we can’t).
“I’m not better than any of our city employees,” Austin said. “Our council should do this.”
Is The Backroom covered with mud from head to foot with only a couple of spots where our pretty hazel eyes are?
Why, yes. Thank you for noticing. It is, as we race through September, Election—or should we say Mud-Slinging—Season. It’s the time of year when we put up our good clothes and just walk around in plastic garbage bags.
A recent example could be—we’re not saying it is, but we tend to err on the side of mud-slinging—a posting in the watch-doggy blog 2UrbanGirls which attempted to claim Councilman Rex Richardson caught some shade for voting in favor of a cell-phone infrastructure firm in Long Beach, a firm he didn’t begin working for until two years after that vote.
The blogger wrote, “L.A. County District Attorney spokesperson Greg Risling confirmed they have an open investigation into Richardson’s current employment.”
However, that’s not what Risling told the Post. In a no-frills email, devoid of bantering and comedy, Risling stated, “Our office has received a complaint and it is under review.”
Semantics, schmantics. “Under review” isn’t the same as “an open investigation.” The DA reviews all complaints. Only if the complaint warrants, does the office take on an open investigation.
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