[A letter campaign affixing blame for the council's replacement councilmember deadlock on the Mayor and Vice Mayor is misguided, in our opinion. If you agree, you may wish to lend your support to their position - or suggest the blame doesn't lie squarely with them - by emailing the council by clicking the link towards the bottom of this page]
We don't often (ever?) come to the defense of anyone over at Town Hall nor have we agreed with every decision Mayor McCluer and Vice Mayor Woehleke have made during their three year tenures on the Town Council (and we've disagreed strongly with some of them), but a large number of letters to the Town Council that we believe are missing the mark compels us to set the record straight and interject some knowledge-based reality into the discussion on the present deadlock associated with appointing a person to the seat vacated by Councilmember Stromberg.
A fairly significant letter writing campaign to the Town Council affixes blame for the deadlock to appoint a replacement council member squarely on the Mayor McCluer and Vice Mayor Woehleke. That conclusion misses the mark by ignoring zero-risk, viable alternatives put forth by the Mayor and Vice Mayor and - more importantly - fails to account for what was said during council meetings or acknowledging the reality of Moraga politics, recent experience, or legitimate concerns McCluer and Woehleke expressed.
As detailed in our earlier story here and in contrast to nearly a dozen candidates for a council appointment a few years ago, this go-round had only four candidates apply. That pool quickly shrank to two, followed by a 2-2 impasse over appointing either candidate or reopening the application process.
The letter writers (we note that some are clearly form letters) appear to not have watched the meeting videos, during which McCluer and Woehleke do not come off as the "obstructionists" some of the letters would lead one to believe; instead, they appear genuinely disappointed with being unable to unequivocally support either of the two finalists while seeking alternatives to a special election, which both characterized as a "last choice" during two recent meetings. It is worth noting they also complimented the two finalists while opining they currently lacked the breadth and depth of experience for a current council seat but quite clearly would be future councilmembers.
As the Mayor and Vice Mayor found themselves unable to vote in favor of appointing one of the two finalist candidates, Councilmembers Sos and Onoda rejected suggestions by McCluer and Woehleke that reopening the application process might provide additional candidates or at least additional time to consider the alternatives, with no downside risk (Councilmember Sos initially had supported a limited reopening window, but later disfavored it).
McCluer pointed out that despite the objections as to fairness, precedent or opinions that two qualified candidates exist already, that the reason to reopening applications was the quite simple and pragmatic "because we couldn't get a majority on a limited number of candidates".
There is far more backstory and Moraga politics underlying the present standoff, as we alluded in our earlier story about the two meetings that already have occurred. That includes a general "dysfunction" (the polite way of putting it) that often has put McCluer or Woehleke in the losing minority to a frequently-aligned majority during the past three years. In many instances, it hasn't been a simple disagreement as to direction but instead has resembled a squelching of their concerns and ideas for improving town governance and performance.
Consider the totality of (1) those experiences with (2) relatively junior finalists for the current opening, (3) associated concern for true independence/objectivity, and (4) the level of pressure and emotion displayed to persuade and guilt them into making a rapid decision. It doesn't seem unreasonable to take a breath and perhaps see if a universally-agreeable candidate might not have stepped forward since two longtime residents had already stepped forward for a yearlong appointment.
If those perspectives alone don't seem reason enough to proceed with the level of caution McCluer and Woehleke have taken, consider this additional nugget that's indicative of some of the unfortunate politicking that occurs in town:
One letter to the town council from previous councilmembers and mayors urging immediate action was tendered to the council by one person but reportedly was generated by another entirely. One must wonder why that is.
Further, we are aware that at least one of the named supporters of that letter felt misled as to its content and intent when its originator requested an endorsement; he reportedly has asked for his name to be removed.
Those types of shenanigans are unsurprising given the source. Beyond that peculiar letter, others quite clearly demonstrate they're written without much background, knowledge or attention to the meetings that have occurred. One of our favorites was one in which the writer said she "absolutely disagrees" with the Mayor's concern about the adequacy of the finalists' depth and breadth of experience for serving on the town council, and then continues with "I haven't seen [the candidates'] resumes or applications, but...[t]hey both have plenty of experience..."
Finally, keen observers have noted a Planning Commission and community group candidate "pipeline" that has saddled the town with some Councilmembers undertaking backroom deals, clearly entering meetings already aligned as to their ultimate votes, lacking transparency, and otherwise demonstrating bad decisions and poor governance.
While unfortunate the council has not yet come to consensus on a replacement candidate, we agree that reopening the application process is a no-risk proposition that might provide additional candidates for consideration; those candidates may generate consensus by the council for either the new candidates (if any) or for an existing candidate. At the very least, it also would provide some additional time to consider alternatives without the artificial pressure that has emerged during and since the previous two meetings on the topic.
Irrespective of the ultimate outcome, our assessment is that McCluer and Woehleke have shown over the years that they're open, honest, forthright and genuine in serving Moraga and its residents' best interests. Affixing blame onto them entirely is misplaced and underinformed, and undue pressure to rush an important decision does nothing to enable a good one.