ST. HELENA — Council members are split over the pending recall of Mayor Alan Galbraith, with one opposing it outright and two calling for some kind of mediation between the mayor and his critics, according to statements solicited by the St. Helena Star.
Two council members, Paul Dohring and Mary Koberstein, say they support conflict resolution between Galbraith and those seeking to recall him.
“Now is the perfect time to focus on conflict resolution so that we may avert the need for a recall,” wrote Dohring, who said he opposes the recall effort but sees the need to clear the air between the two sides. “To that end, I would very strongly encourage the parties — the Mayor and the core leaders of the recall effort — to participate in a confidential, facilitated mediation process.”
Koberstein declined to specifically criticize the recall effort or support the mayor, but called for an alternative resolution.
“In the interest of sparing the community from the full brunt of the inevitable rancor and turmoil that is already brewing, I urge the parties — the Mayor and the proponents – to voluntarily enter into good faith negotiations with a neutral mediator and work to understand and resolve the issues,” she wrote.
Vice Mayor Peter White does not support the recall.
“The issues raised by the petition filed with our City Clerk are opinions, personal points of view and some of the statements are just not true,” he wrote.
Council member Geoff Ellsworth declined to take a position.
“I’m not prepared to make a statement on this yet, perhaps once the initial list of proponents is verified there will be more clarity and basis for a statement.” he wrote.
Those seeking to recall Galbraith served him with a “Notice of Intent to Circulate Recall Petition” at about 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 6, and later in the day, the mayor released a statement that said in part, “I do not welcome a recall effort. If the voters are dissatisfied with my tenure as mayor, they have an opportunity to elect a new mayor in November 2018.”
Proponents would need to gather at least 835 election signatures in order to put the recall to a vote next year. Election officials say a special election would cost up to $10,000.
St. Helena City Clerk Cindy Tzafopoulous confirmed that she received a copy of the notice Monday afternoon. It lists the 26 people who signed it: Kathy Coldiron, Marina Hoffman, Thomas P. Belt, Michael J. Giffin, Sharon Dellamonica, Philip Joseph Murphy, Lana S. Ivanoff, Anthony Michael Micheli, Lynn H. Fontaine, Anthony Batista Montelli, William Henry Ogletree, Todd Miller, Andrea Murphy, Susan McWilliams, Terry McWilliams, Thomas A. Rinaldi, Charlotte Lord, Beverly A. Kinney, Pamela J. Griffin, Deborah Schlesinger, Peter R. Scott, Jordan Coonrad, Susan Billings, Bob Mathewsen, Nancy Morell and Connie Wilson.
So far, none of those listed have stepped forward and identified themselves as the leaders of the recall effort.
According to the “Notice of Intention,” the grounds for recall say that Galbraith has failed to effectively:
- Maintain an open and fair democratic process at public meetings.
- Protect our residential zoning.
- Balance residential and business interests.
- Provide public financial statements to determine St. Helena’s fiscal health.
- Ensure traffic safety for visitors and local citizens with adequate code enforcement.
- Operate a well-functioning, modern and cost-effective municipal water system.
In response, Galbraith’s statement continues:
“Besides disrupting the work of the City Council, a recall campaign is all but guaranteed to polarize our community in ways that it will make it more difficult for us to find good solutions to shared problems, many of long-standing. With all the challenges we face, now is the time to work harder than ever to come together as a community. It is hard to imagine a worse time for divisive political actions.
“There will always be differences of opinion over major policy decisions, but for as long as I have been a public servant here in St. Helena, I have sought to contribute my experience and perspective in ways that serve the long-term interest of the community as a whole. I truly do not know how else to approach my responsibilities as Mayor.”
White said part of his position is practical, based on the cost and effectiveness of a recall.
“If the petition is successful in gathering enough signatures to be placed on the June ballot, the City will incur substantial costs,” he wrote.”This recall will become a distraction to the City Council and divisive to our community. For what? There is only five months more to our general election where the Mayor, mine and Mr. Dorhing’s seats will be up for election. It would serve our City well to concentrate on our issues at hand in open dialogue, in a transparent and fair forum where all sides can be articulated — at our Council meetings — not in front of the Post Office.
“I would like to know, in the name of transparency, who is funding the recall, the Beringer lawsuit and the Davies’ lawsuit? Are they city residents, do they vote here? We are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars that are paying for attorneys, campaigns and PR firms. There are a lot of issues before us, a lot of questions to ask and become informed about. I would hope that our citizens consider all of this with great depth of thought. I urge you, not to sign this petition.”
A Bay Area public relations firm, Public Good PR, first announced the recall on Sept. 6. After a request was made for its proponents to meet with the Star’s editorial board, a PR agency representative said the proponents would let the statement stand for itself.
Dohring’s statement expressed doubt about using recalls in this way.
“I have long held that the use of recall should be reserved for instances of malfeasance, corruption or wrongdoing,” he wrote.”In this case, I have not seen or heard of any such disqualifying charges. Rather, it appears from the proponents’ statements that Mayor Galbraith has become the target of a recall in large part for his public policy votes and for his facilitation style at public meetings. But, as we all know, there is already a less disruptive and distracting way for voters to speak on these concerns through the November 2018 election.
“Still, it is apparent from this recall effort that the proponents feel deeply disappointed, dispirited and aggrieved. Unless we are willing to fully explore the underlying source of these deeply held feelings, we likely will never reach a satisfactory resolution. So rather than choosing sides or staking out our positions, it is my humble view that we all need to focus more on the parties’ underlying interests. We need to come together as a community, for the good of the community.
From Koberstein: “I have been asked to indicate whether I support the recall, or by implication the mayor, and to provide my reasons. Respectfully, I decline to jump into that debate.
“What I do support is conflict resolution. After eight months of Council actions on a host of controversial issues, I recognize that these recall proponents, as well as other disparate interest groups, are sometimes disappointed by our process and the results. Split decisions do not necessarily signal that this Council is dysfunctional or on the wrong track. Nevertheless, as a Council and as individuals, we must always be willing to examine and take steps to improve our participatory process.
“My view is that St. Helena has much to lose by reinforcing the battle lines, and far more to gain by working together to diffuse this issue ... The real cost of this recall will not be measured in dollars spent. The real cost is that we will undoubtedly further divide into opposing camps, and at a time when we face a multitude of important decisions that require our collective and thoughtful attention. We have a new city manager; we have a fresh opportunity to improve our civic engagement processes. There is another option to taking this recall to its legal conclusion. It is my sincere hope that the proponents and the Mayor take that step.”