Council meeting: And then there were none
We’ve written before about situations in our county’s public sector that give rise to conflicts of interest.
In some cases, the conflicts undermine our faith in government to manage our affairs and our money, many people believe. This also fuels the perception of the “good old boys/girls club.”
The latest example of a conflict occurred on Tuesday night when not one, but three Grass Valley City Council members ” Mark Johnson, Lisa Swarthout and Dan Miller ” recused themselves from a vote on whether to ban offices from the ground floors of buildings in the heart of the historic downtown. Their action stemmed from direct ties to downtown businesses.
But it also left the council with less than a quorum to even cast a vote on the issue. As a result, a name of one of the three council members had to be drawn out of a box to provide the third vote. The incident reminded me of Agatha Christie’s book, “And then there were none.”
As it turned out, Swarthout’s name was drawn out of the box to create a quorum. The vote then passed 3-0 to ban the ground-floor offices, with Chauncey Poston and Janet Arbuckle joining Swarthout.
It was heartening to see the three council members recuse themselves, at least from the standpoint of acknowledging that a conflict of interest existed. This has not always happened in our county on previous occasions, at least in many residents’ minds.
On the other hand, the action also shines a light on the makeup of the Grass Valley City Council, raising some questions about its diversity. The voters spoke last November, electing Miller and Poston to the council. Arbuckle was appointed after being unanimously selected from 10 other candidates.
This is a small community, so the idea of six degrees of separation is inevitable. I also think it’s good to have business owners represented among our elected officials.
On the other hand, our community is big enough that we need to constantly remind ourselves of the need to cast a wide net and be as inclusive as possible when it comes to forming decision-making groups in our public sector. As for the Grass Valley City Council, its Web site sums it up best: “The legislative power of the City of Grass Valley shall be vested in the people through” the council. That’s definitely worth remembering.
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