I’ve been watching Fullerton politics and governance for for a long time – since 2008 or 2009, in fact. One thing that has consistently struck me is the way in which Fullerton’s elected officials have completely and almost happily abdicated their responsibility to determine the direction of policy.
It has always been the goal, in principle if not in practice in modern representative democracy, that policy would be established by electeds, and administrated through a protected civil service bureaucracy.
Determining policy – the philosophical direction you want the town to take – isn’t easy in the “City Manager” form of government, a form deliberately created to remove any sort of executive authority from elected representatives. But with that set-up came something else, too: the difficulty of people’s representatives in establishing policy direction, and doing it without violating the Brown Act strictures on open meetings.
Nevertheless, the responsibility is still there, even if it easier to have photo ops, and ribbon cuttings and the like. Sadly our electeds have failed; failed with remarkable banality and complacency. Former Councilman and Fullerton Police Chief Pat McKinley once illustrated the point when challenged for his “failure to lead.” He exclaimed that councilmen weren’t there to lead – that was the City Manager’s job.
Lately the policy role abdication has been seen with the regurgitated, spit out, re-consumed and regurgitated again noise ordinance, an ongoing embarrassment that has plagued honest citizens for over fifteen years. I read the staff report on the recent noise effort, a report that justifies a decision to actually increase acceptable levels, protect offenders by including an ambient noise mask, and locates the noise metering away from the source whence it can be muddled by an equally noisy neighbor.
The staff report is nothing but a list of events that have occurred since 2009 when the City Council last expressed a coherent position. Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion on the policy decisions behind any of the activities. Why not? Because there weren’t any. In the same way that the incredibly costly, drunken binge known as Downtown Fullerton has escaped any intelligent policy conversation, the noise nuisance issue, a subset of the former, has evaded policy discussion as City staff – behind the scenes – has diligently avoided doing anything to enforce existing code, and worked very hard to reduce the requirements.
So what has happened is a vacuum in which each new action seems disembodied from policy conversation; that’s because it is. And our council steadfastly refused to have an open and honest conversation of what it wants, abdicating its responsibilities.
There is a long list of issues that our elected representatives should be addressing from an overarching policy level and aren’t. This sort of thing takes thought; and some hard work in ascertaining whether your city employees are really doing the thing you want; or not, as in the case of the Trail to Nowhere. It’s easier just to ram through the Consent Calendar on the nod, rubberstamp the ridiculous, clean your plate like good kids, and move on to the photo ops and the trophy ceremonies.