Just a Thought – Ethics 101

I teach yoga when I’m not writing journalism.  For years I have taught Hatha Yoga at the YMCA, and I close the class with the traditional “Namaste.” It does not translate directly, but the way I explain it to my students is “The divinity in me greets the divinity in you.” It’s a common greeting in India, and like ‘Shalom’ or ‘Aloha’ it is used both arriving and departing. When I’m writing about politics, I try to remember that the people involved have good intentions, that they believe they are doing the right thing.

The City Council meeting on Monday April 30, 2018 was surprising to me in ways that it should not have been. I’ve been covering politics here for a decade. But to have both of the new council members reveal themselves to be devoid of ethics was appalling.

Not only did Council member Daniel Lee admit with a proud smile on his face that he made a statement because it was ‘just politics,’ both Mayor Thomas Small and Council member Alex Fisch shared an interesting auditory challenge – that breathy, back-of-the-throat voice that occurs when you are saying something even you don’t believe. There’s a lack of eye contact, an odd up and down syntax. It’s the sound of justification.

If you are making a decision that you feel you need to justify, it’s pretty clear you are making a bad choice.

So, on his first evening on the dais, Lee flipped his position on supporting a particular policy because “politics,” breaking the land speed record for insulting the folks who voted for him, and letting the city know that he will be doing whatever – no accountability- whenever he feels like it.

I’ve seen a number of local political figures go through many kinds of ethical challenges, but this was different. This was not a challenge, this was just no ethics. First evening in the chair, and he’s hoisting a middle finger flag at the people who voted for him. Astonishing. I can’t imagine anyone but Daniel Lee trusting Daniel Lee from here on out.

For those of us who have been following the saga on a long term basis, the plot twist here is the revenge of Gary Silbiger. In his last year on the council, when it was expected he would be given the mayoralty, he was not. The sitting council members opted to give the ceremonial title to someone else.

I had just begun covering the council – I was then the freshly minted editor at the Culver City News. I did not understand why it was such a big deal, to not be given this totally symbolic title. By the time I was running my own masthead, I was truly happy to see his term end.  So noted –culvercitycrossroads.com/2010/04/26/just-a-thought-and-dont-let-the-door-hit-you/

These council members have decided to play this game over the mayoral succession – again, a ceremonial title, there is no money or legal authority involved – satisfying their mentor’s need for revenge by overturning a policy that that the council passed unanimously just last year.

Because – politics.

So, when the first evening of a new council can get this crazy over something as trivial as who is running the meetings and wearing a title, I can’t wait to see what happens when there is real property, or funding, or someone’s job at stake. As a chess move, it’s a very weak opening. This council has business to conduct that will be affecting the city’s long term future, and knowing that ethics is not in the picture is deeply discouraging.

I am about to get credentialed in a different style of yoga – kundalini yoga – and the greeting is different from ‘namaste.’ What we say in Kundalini is ‘Sat Nam.’ It means ‘I am with the truth.’

 

Judith Martin-Straw

www.culvercitysymphony.org

17 Comments

  1. Great article Judith. I firmly believe you make a great point about ethics. Thanks

  2. Thank you Judith. I am usually optimistic that people who step up to run for a public position will act with integrity and consistency. I am not as optimistic now regarding our current City Council.

    Plea to our city council members:
    Do your homework, if you ask staff or a sub-committee, or a consultant to give you advice or information, read it carefully and make sure you understand what you see.
    Put aside any personal agenda and act on behalf of the interests of the majority of the citizens of the city. Decisions by their nature have “winners” and “losers” we have given you a mandate to act on our behalf, weigh your decisions carefully, but ALWAYS make decisions that benefit the entire city and all of our people who live here, not the loudest group in the room.

  3. Thank you for the article. It took Lee all of 10 minutes to show his true moral values.

  4. Spot on Judith! Thanks for speaking out. I fear our new council will be acting on their own adgendas and could care less about the community as a whole. Very disturbing and disappointing.

  5. Wow Judith! It’s interesting how first impressions and lies can be strange bedfellows. What I mean is a first impression takes a millisecond (or a Monday Council night) and when it is bad, it can take almost an eternity for that impression to change. Just as lies…when someone lies to you trust is lost (just takes a moment), to regain it back can take a lifetime, if ever. Integrity (or ethic,s as you say) will always rule. I have to/want to believe the new council will do what is right for all of the residents and our great city, not just the ones that think along their lines on most things. I guess the honeymoon is over!

  6. Judith, you have such a way with words!Thank you for expressing what so many are feeling! It took me a good 48 hours and multiple re-writes to get my head around what happened that night. Truly deplorable.

  7. I took Mr Lee’s “politics” explanation a bit differently. To me, it was an example of extreme honesty, telling us that he believed the (political) ends justified the distasteful means. I don’t believe this particular end justifies this particular means. To me it looked like a political “tit for tat” in response to the choice by a previous council to ignore the policy. I am much more concerned by the fact that the public was not properly notified, so that only people who heard the rumor knew to come comment on the issue. Until the last moment, most of us thought it was cut-and-dried, with a policy in place and only a pro forma vote. I voted for Goran, and would have liked to see him as mayor. I voted for Meghan as well, and I expect she’ll be a good mayor next year, but this was the wrong way to get there. It was wrong when other councils did it, and it was wrong when this council did it. In future, the council should only ignore existing policy if the agenda says they are considering doing so, and invites public comment on the policy.

  8. I know people who voted for Lee and Fisch who feel very let down right now. The members who orchestrated this lost a lot of political capital Monday night. Still not convinced that there has not been a Brown Act violation.

  9. Judith, you know I have always respected and valued the work you do, but this is extraordinarily harsh and one-sided. I am disappointed. There was nary a peep from Crossroads in 2016 when the same policy was violated to put Jeff Cooper on the path to a second term. It may well be that the wrong decision was made this time, but the intense and personal nature of your attack on Fisch & Lee in combination with your failure to acknowledge any of the complexities is a disservice to your readership.

  10. Judith, your writing gets right to the heart of this matter.

    Subsequent to this City Council action, I heard/read comments to the effect that this action is not a big deal, as our mayoral position is just ceremonial. By this I assume the commenters mean ribbon cuttings and such, with no special powers or privledges. This viewpoint leaves out the possibility that the 70+% who did not bother to vote may have a different perception. They may believe our mayor has the powers of office that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti does. In the realm of politics, perceptions (some call these optics) are very important. Also, let us not forget that the mayor controls the City Council meetings. This is a very real power. Used with a deft hand, this power can be inclusive and inviting. In someone else’s hand, it can be stifling and disheartening.

    Count me as another active citizen who is disappointed that this 180 degree turn away, from a policy adopted unanimously in February 2017, was not done as an agendized item for discussion. The transparency many of us crave for in our local government is opaque at this moment in time. It’s up to those who muddied the waters to clean it up.

  11. Thank you for commenting, and I appreciate you offering your thoughts. This is why I make a very clear distinction between my journalism and my editorials. This was not a personal attack, it was a comment on the behavior of elected officials and how they do their job.
    The past ‘irregularities’ in rotation have all been odd but did not actually violate policy, which the council set in 2017. There is a difference.
    You have my word that my journalism is AP stylebook, and my opinions are my opinions. Again, I very much appreciate your commenting, and I hope we can keep the lines of communication open. Your thoughts are a very welcome reflection on my ‘Just a Thought’ and I’m always willing to publish other opinions.

  12. As unseemly as the events may have been, there was no Brown Act violation. Fisch & Lee weren’t council members until they were sworn in, so they weren’t under Brown Act rules prior to the meeting. And the Brown Act wouldn’t prevent two members (e.g. Sahli-Wells & Small) from discussing an agenda item in advance.

  13. Thank you Judith. I usually stay out of these conversations because they can get so vicious, but I appreciate the way you wrote about this very charged topic and you’ve encouraged me to speak. Many of my friends talk about the divide in our community, and there is an incredible array of descriptions of the divide: Some call it “The Hatfields and the McCoys.” Some refer to is as “The Silbiger Dynasty and the Subjects.” Some call it “Just politics.” Some say they know something ugly is happening but are too uncomfortable to examine it. I feel it every election, and I always experience three separate heartbreaks: one for my city, one for my community and one for my self as I get closer each time to saying out loud what I think and thereby losing some cherished friends. Thank you for writing this Judith.

  14. Thank you Judith! You said what so many of us are feeling. This entire City Counsel election was vindictive, mean and SAD! I truly am so disappointed in what is happening. I pray for our City.

  15. I am concerned about all the charges of Brown Act violations thrown out, as these are serious charges that need to be taken to the City Attorney instead of being brandied about to raise suspicion. If you know that three members (including the elected ones, as the Brown Act applies to them), you should provide facts to the City Attorney. Rumors are just that and we cannot prosecute our new Council members based on that. If the concern is what Steve suggests, about the public not being informed that the policy would not be adhered to, I have a couple of issues to raise. First, the agenda was created by the former Council as the new Council was not yet seated, so why would we hold the new council responsible? The actual policy was included in the agenda item so that the public was notified. Second, I think what Alex made clear that the Council could not be constrained by its own policy. I took that to refer to the matter of having to make a case about extenuating circumstances to change the order of the policy, which was his logic for what made the previous policy invalid. Importantly, during the entire proceeding, the City Attorney was present and it would have been their job to call any potential for Brown Act violation and they did not. We may want to consider what the end goal is with these allegations, to discredit the new Council? Whose interests does that serve? Certainly not the people of our City.

  16. Thank you for this editorial, Judith. It took me a few days after the council meeting to process what happened, and I think that our citizens and voters have reason to be disappointed in our elected representatives. It’s tough to witness friends and people I supported do something like this, and I continue to be baffled by the various ways defenders of the action (which seemed planned) twist themselves into pretzel knots to attempt to convince others that it was fine.

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