The series of meetings with Mayor Galbraith and the group who petitioned for his recall has concluded. We want to thank the Mayor, moderator Judge Scott Snowden, and most of all, members of the community who listened and voiced their opinions during these forums.
We recognize this was a difficult and often contentious process. However, we feel meaningful progress was achieved and as a result, we look forward to a better civic dialogue as we chart the future for St. Helena.
These meetings, like many other civic initiatives, began with a group of citizens who were concerned with a series of decisions championed by the Mayor, that we felt did not adequately consider full public opinion. Most notable was the Mayor’s advocacy to implement dramatic rate increases on the public to pay for past administrative failures and mismanagement of our water and wastewater structure. After initially passing the second series of increases through the City Council, the public reaction was quick to reject the new rates and petition the city to look at alternative financing; a move the Mayor voted against. Even with a revised rate in place, St. Helena still has the dubious and painful distinction of having the highest water rates of 21 Bay Area cities.
The Mayor’s solution to solving all water problems by passing the burden to citizens was followed by his strong support for agendizing a proposal to sell the entire Adams Street property to a private developer. Many citizens feel these, and other leadership decisions demonstrate a lack of connection with constituents. That is not to say we are against progress or even the Mayor’s positions, we simply want greater public involvement on major changes.
Public requests to open further discussion on these key issues were rebuffed or limited to the three-minute comment rule in council meetings.
In short, this is how the frustration of a few grew to the collective concern of several hundred residents who sought a recall petition as a last-ditch effort to tell the Mayor that he needs to listen more to the community before taking unilateral positions. Thankfully, with the generous intervention of Judge Snowden, this admittedly contentious recall was averted in favor of public meetings whereby the Mayor agreed to hear and respond to grievances on key issues.
Regardless of the inquisitional appearance of the meetings where the Mayor agreed to defend his leadership positions on issues that were challenged by frustrated citizens, we believe the overall outcome will benefit us all.
For starters, we are already seeing City Council activity on the following requests: A re-examination (and hopeful rate reduction) of the water/wastewater report that led to our incredibly high water rates; a review of our city attorney relationship that has cost the city over $900,000 in a single year; the introduction of a logical Code of Conduct as matter of sound governance policy; and finally, the recognition and inclusion of St. Helena’s Latino community in regards to rate and policy decisions.
However, perhaps the most significant outcome of these meetings is related to the two overwhelming requests we heard from citizens who signed this recall petition: “Please ask Mayor Galbraith to balance his expert decision-making process with human input from constituents” (even if it means taking a position against his instincts). And secondly, it is time to implement the long discussed public forums or workshops to address our town’s direction and open public discourse on key issues affecting our community. While we would prefer these forums be led by our City Manager, implementing this fundamental democratic process will provide St. Helena with an open and transparent platform to build a foundation for our future direction.
Once again, we thank everyone involved in this process, and we look forward to finding solutions together on the issues that preserve our character, respect our citizens, and address the thoughtful, pragmatic growth and prosperity for our community.