COURSEY: A risk-averse Santa Rosa council makes a safe choice
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 12:54 p.m.
The City Council played it safe Monday night, choosing a competent, careful insider to join them at the helm of Santa Rosa municipal government.
Robin Swinth was a natural choice for a group of council members who don't trust each other and were bending over backwards to prevent the other side from gaining an advantage. Even as they prepared to vote on the appointment, some council members jockeyed for last-minute position, insisting no votes should be revealed until all members had made their choices secretly.
As it turned out, Swinth was named on all six council members' ballots in each of three rounds of voting. In the end, she was chosen unanimously.
The 45-year-old Santa Rosa native and former Agilent engineer struck all of the right chords in her 15-minute presentation to the council, including:
A nod to the Chamber of Commerce crowd by saying that we need to make it easier to do business in Santa Rosa.
A nod to neighborhood groups by proclaiming that “neighborhoods should always be stakeholders” in council decision-making.
A nod to public employee unions by noting that city employees have “taken a huge hit” for the “benefit of the city,” and that those sacrifices need to be acknowledged.
A nod to progressives by calling out the need for the city to “reach out to working poor families” to better include them in civic life.
A nod to the government wonks, by demonstrating a working knowledge of the city budget, including Measure P and Measure O.
Swinth's appointment is the product of a risk-averse council, whose members chose one of their own — she has served for nine years on the Planning Commission and Board of Public Utilities, the city's two most powerful boards after the council — rather than reaching outside of City Hall.
Several other candidates offered that option, but they quickly fell by the wayside as the council narrowed the choice. Ten of the 17 applicants were eliminated in the first round of voting because they did not receive support from a minimum of two council members.
Curtis Byrd, who stood out from the crowd as an African-American, a divinity student and a resident of the west side of town, survived into the third round of voting. But he was obviously considered too much of a risk by the faction of the council that leans toward the business side of the line; his only votes came from Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs. Only Wysocky supported him in round three.
Caroline Banuelos, a planning commissioner and unsuccessful council candidate in the November election, also made it to round three, but also had no support from the business side. Likewise George Steffenson, a retired union official and former president of the Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board. He received votes from Combs and Erin Carlstrom in the first round, and Wysocky and Carlstrom in the second. His only vote in the third round was from Combs.
On the other side of the ledger, restaurant owner and west-side resident Don Taylor had solid support from Mayor Scott Bartley and Councilman Ernesto Olivares, but couldn't muster any votes from the progressive side of the aisle. Businessman Gary Saal faced the same problem, with votes in the first two rounds from Bartley and Jake Ours, but no help from the other side.
And David Rosas, the Roseland resident with the impressive resume and history of community service, couldn't make it out of the second round of voting. Perhaps his use of “Slumdog Millionaire” as a metaphor for his appointment confused the council. It did me.
The choice of Swinth dashes the hopes of those who hoped for more diversity on the council. She's not a member of a minority group. She's not poor or unemployed. She's not from the west side of town, which once again goes without a representative on the council.
And maybe that's why she became the obvious choice. In her, each council person saw a little bit of himself or herself, each council person saw a peer, each council person saw a potential ally.
That's the way these choices are made. Usually, though, a candidate has to convince the majority of a whole city of voters that he or she is on their side. This time, Swinth only had to convince four out of six.
She convinced them all. Well done.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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