NO NYHOFF, NOW WHAT?

My tomato plants are going crazy this year. I blame it on the mulch I purchased in American Canyon last winter. This has nothing to do with today’s topic, I just wanted to brag. Drop on by, I will make coffee and show you my garden.

Greg Nyhoff is gone and with him another $600,000 of our tax money. Do not blame him. And do not blame the City Council. As the saying goes, “We have only ourselves to blame.” And by WE, I definitely included myself. While I have taken time away from our missives, I do believe in some small way that these writings have been able to attract attention to certain aspects of our City government that needed it. One of those things was the close–to-the-chest card playing style of our now former City Manager. He ran his city on narrow gauge rails, rarely veering off on a siding unless WE pushed hard enough. But, that’s how a Democracy is supposed to work, right?  Recently on Facebook, I saw a straw poll asking if it is time for a Strong Mayor initiative in Vallejo. (A debate that I will leave for another time.) Of the few respondents, a clear majority favored it. A strong mayor? What would that really change?

In my personal life I have for many years espoused the philosophy of personal responsibility. Too many stories of spilt coffee in laps and of people falling off the tops of ladders. Combine that with the joke/adage; “It shouldn’t be called common sense, it doesn’t seem that common to me,” has made me a believer in it, personal responsibility that is. When I wake up in the morning, if I want a cup of coffee then I have to make it myself. If I spill it on a tender spot and burn myself, well, that is my fault. I mean, who would I blame? The water company for providing the fresh water I used to brew my coffee? The company who manufactured my electric kettle that accurately boils that water to the limits prescribed by the laws of physics: 212 degrees F? Perhaps I should sue Fabrice for making his coffee taste so good that I decided to purchase a pound and make the brew myself? Who should I blame for tripping over my dog and splashing my bare feet? (This question answers itself.)

Before I go further I want to acknowledge the efforts of all of those who spoke out against the LNG plant and the Orcem cement factory. These are two things that our City did not, and does not, need. These were good fights which employed the democratic process to its fullest. Ad hoc committees were formed, careful research was done and cogent arguments were made. This allowed the proper information to be made public and a rational decision to be made. Those indeed were heady times. Times when the will of the people was heard. But . . . while we do indeed have the right of free speech, were are not immune from its consequences. We have proven that, as a group, we can effectively change the course our City. We spoke, and the world listened. So did developers and so did Greg Nyhoff.

Did your mother ever tell you this? “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.”  Do me the smallest of favors and right now ask yourself this next question honestly. When someone tells you, “You should do this or you should do that,” how do you feel? Do you feel like it is constructive criticism? Do you feel like it is coming from a good place? Or does it feel like that particular someone does not know the whole story and in fact their comments have become so tiresome that you ignore them entirely and actually seek to avoid that person in the future?

Well guess what, our former City Manager figured this out and did just that; he just ignored us. He did it because he had a job to do. He did it because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. He was given a directive by our council to bring development to Vallejo. We may not like the fact that we are not getting a grocery store in South Vallejo but he did not break any laws in recommending that development. He provided his solution to our growth problem and stuck to it. That was what he was hired to do. (FYI, we do have a directive from the State to increase housing in Vallejo. It is a real thing and we have very little to say about it at this level.)

Now in my opinion he took it a little too far. Were I, and other members of the Planning Commission, lied to at times? Most definitely. Were our comments, the ones that did not align with staff recommendations, ignored? Absolutely. But he figured out that if he presented complete packages to the Commission for an up or down vote only, that he could push through his agenda. This is how he was able to attract developers. This was his way of bringing much needed growth to our City.  As for lying? I personally was told that because I was a Commissioner, that I could not attend regular Economic Development meetings for GVRD because there might be information that could possibly influence my role on the Commission. A former assistant City Attorney later shared with me that since the meetings are open to public agencies and not just City of Vallejo employees; it is not subject to work product protections. At first I was upset. Then it hit me. It was time for me to get out of the way. It was then that I decided to resign the Commission. I did it, because my protestations were getting in the way of Vallejo’s success, not moving us forward.

We have a City Manager form of government. The City Manager is the boss. They are the ones responsible for our growth. WE, you and me, are not always helping. Yes we should shine the light on illegal and unethical behavior. But it is my very strong opinion that we should listen to, and hear, the advice of Lee Iacocca: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Here is the hard part. Complaining is not leading, it is not following, nor is it getting out of the way.  Leading is joining a committee and learning about the topic. I mean really learning. Extracurricular studying and everything.  Leading is supporting our underfunded and overtaxed City staff. Leading is bringing solutions, not problems to the table. Real solutions, not just internet articles that say how some city across the country fired their entire police department and started over. Rather, it means researching exactly what happened. What were the costs? Financial, societal and emotional. How was it achieved?  When and how was success measured?  Our words have impact. These words I write today will nudge the conversation, ever so slightly, but nudge it they will.

We have such a wealth of wisdom and intelligence in our City and I love speaking with each and every one of you. Your insights and experience are needed. I openly ask you, if you have a solution; write it down. And take more than the 1000 words I do when sharing my thoughts with you. Become the expert. Make Vallejo better because of it.

Personal responsibility. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Lead, follow or get out of the way.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Ask not what . . .

Until the next time,

Tommy Judt

p.s. I am currently studying our drought problem, developing relationships and working on a solution to restore our natural watersheds in a way that reduces carbon, controls flooding, topsoil erosion and recharges California’s aquifers. In my spare time I am also opening a coffee shop in Berkeley. How about you?

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