Saturday, October 27, 2007

City Council healing requires return to basics

There were no winners at Thursday’s City Council deliberations that led to the Mayor Tom Potter’s walking out.

The clip of the proceedings that is on-line gives a different impression of the mayor than the one portrayed in print. He isn’t angry. He’s being matter of fact: He has been marginalized and feels “irrelevant.”

What he apparently doesn’t realized is his own role in his marginalization.

Should he have been made to feel this way? Should he have put himself in this position?

Clearly not.

Should he have walked out?

Probably not, but when he did so, he did it with no apparent rancor. He was simply acknowledging a fact.

Anyone who knows anything about group dynamics, knows that you must work at being inclusive, and you must remain open to change. The problem with raw majority rule (and that is what we were witnessing at the council) is that it doesn’t require inclusion. All it requires is a majority.

And the problem with stake-planting like the mayor's, is that you lose your flexibility and place in the discussion.

Commissioners Randy Leonard, Erik Sten and Sam Adams were shaping a majority solution that Potter had rejected out of hand. Hence the mayor became a non-person at the table.

Consensus has no non-persons. You have to address the minority’s concerns. You have to respect their views, even if it is going to take more time and force you to be flexible too.

Everyone has to work together.

Majority rule, which produces winners (and often arrogance) and losers (and often resentment), should be the last resort. (Sadly, partisan government hinges on majority rule. Fortunately, city government is non-partisan and offers the opportunity of consensus and inclusion — Thursday’s session notwithstanding.)

Thursday's meltdown is evidence the council has a lot more work to do on the street naming issue. It is time for the five members to go back to fundamentals by asking what is important.

You don’t honor a Cesar Chavez or a Rachel Carson, a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mahatma Gandhi, a Dag Hammarskjold or a Rosa Parks by naming streets, schools, parks or fountains after them.

You honor them by honoring what they believed in and struggled for.

That's worth repeating: You honor them by honoring what they believed in and struggled for.

It is far, far more important to keep their ideals before our eyes than their names.

Name the familiar places of our Commons after the values they espoused.

If you could ask these leaders whether they would prefer a street or park be named for them or for their cause (Justice, Stewardship, Equality, Fairness, Respect, Peace, to name a few), who could doubt what their answer would be?

Honor them by honoring that answer.

3 comments:

  1. Randy Leonard4:59 PM

    I appreciate your thoughtful observations about last Thursday's council session, Rick.

    Erik and I both met with Mayor Potter privately a number of times the past few weeks in order to find a middle ground. Unfortunately, he has rejected any suggestions for a new process that did not guarantee Interstate Avenue being named after Cesar Chavez.

    We had a choice to make. Either agree with Tom and vote for Interstate or stick with the principle that we should not hold hearings with the public on done deals. Clearly, we chose the latter.

    While I agree his walking out was not necessarily done in anger, it still sent a strong message to his colleagues about his perception of our role in developing public policy.

    However, I do think there is some good news in that the public is at least being listened to by the governing body known as the Portland City Council.

    In the end, it is my goal that the Latino community will feel honored and recognized while the entire Portland community will feel listened to and respected.

    It is truly unfortunate Mayor Potter cannot see that those two goals are not mutually exclusive.

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  2. Thanks for your response, Commissioner. I wish you would address the larger point. We honor these heroes by honoring and memorializing their ideals and struggles. That is what they would have us do. Let's do it! Name a street for Justice; name a boulevard for Dignity; an avenue for Equality. Are we so afraid of the ideals Chavez struggled for that we can't proclaim them?
    How about this: A sign reading "Justice Avenue" and then under it, in italics, an attributed quotation by Cesar Chavez?

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  3. Randy Leonard7:28 PM

    I am pretty sure your suggestion, if it is intended to be a substitute for naming a street after Cesar Chavez, would be met with the same hostility any suggestions are currently received that do not agree that Interstate Avenue must be renamed to Cesar Chavez Blvd.

    Unfortunately, this debate has become more about those arguing their side than it has about Cesar Chavez and the principles he fought for.

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