An important lesson for our ‘dumbfounded’ and ‘confused’ mayor
At the Susanville City Council’s Tuesday, Feb. 15 meeting, Susanville Mayor Quincy McCourt went on what some have characterized as a “rant” or a “tirade” when members of our community expressed their concerns about the city’s relationship with LARP — the Local Area Revitalization Co-op that manages the Susanville Farmers Market, the Thompson Peak Education Farm in Janesville and the Susanville Community Garden that also has a contract with the city some allege has not been followed. They also questioned LARP’s desire to use the hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent government grant funding it received to hire and pay its leaders, asked for an accounting of the nonprofit organization’s finances, urged the city council to void its contract with LARP and alleged the city leaders have appointed cronies to boards and commissions to further their own personal agendas rather than abiding the vision of the community that elected them.
The mayor and other councilmembers may not appreciate these concerns and comments arising from the public, but they are completely legitimate and should be respectfully heard. The Brown Act, California’s public meeting law, explicitly states public agencies such as the Susanville City Council, “exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business” and “the people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of the Brown Act knows the public comment portion of meetings (business from the floor in city council lingo) is the time for leaders to listen to what the public has to say. It is not the time for the leaders to speak, respond or engage in back-and-forth conversations with the public. Formal Brown Act training is mandatory for elected officials in California, and as a now seasoned elected official, the mayor should know this. The traditional and proper response is simply, “Thank you.”
Instead, he took offense to the public’s concerns about LARP, lectured the community about his expectations and insisted comments and opinions that rub against his judgement of LARP only serve to divide the community.
“I am so dumbfounded,” the mayor responded to these genuine public’s concerns. “What in the heck is happening here? … We’re talking about volunteers growing food … I’m so confused … We are down to meet. You will listen because we hope to be a model for all of you to learn. Here’s what we want to do. Up here we want to be a model so it’s OK to think differently, OK to vote differently and even better to listen to each other and consider each other and exercise the highest level of respect.”
The mayor dismissed former mayor Mendy Schuster with, “Not a second,” when she tried to intervene and remind him his response was inappropriate during business from the floor.
“In this town we are a community, now start acting like it,” the mayor continued. “I have no idea why anybody is bothered by LARP. They are literally volunteers, and when they get the opportunity to pay themselves for their hard work, good job. Earn that money. Because they’re already working full-time jobs and then volunteering on top of that. So, what in the heck is going on here? We don’t need to divide, OK. We do not. Now I want the next person (to) who(m) I will listen because we all have freedom of speech. I will continue to remind everybody that respect — and if you’re shaking your head because you don’t like it — we don’t want to divide, OK? I’m sick of it.”
One member of the public stunned by the mayor’s remarks said there were other community members in the standing-room-only chambers who also wanted to weigh in on the LARP issue, but they were too intimidated to address the council after the mayor’s admonishment.
Obviously, everyone in the community does not share the mayor’s view of LARP, and they have every right to express their opinions at a Susanville City Council meeting without being chastised from the dais. The mayor needs to realize those who disagree with him are not rascally, disrespectful dividers — they are members of our community addressing their city’s leaders on topics of concern to them. They are his constituents, the people who elected him to office. In the future, I hope the mayor will recognize business from the floor is the people’s time to speak and his time to listen, not the other way around.