Addressing July 15 Council Meeting

Last week, two letters appeared in the Alameda Sun about the public dialogue I had with Ms. Irene Dieter and Ms. Karin Lucas during the July 15 City Council meeting. These letters ("Open Letter to Mayor Gilmore" and "Rein Russo In," July 24) were very angry and accused me of having been "vitriolic," "intimidating," "condescending," "aggressive," "belittling" and "hostile. The letter writers said I had "interrogated" Ms. Dieter and Ms. Lucas and, even worse, had subjected them to an "inquisition" with the intent of "humiliating" them; and, finally, that my behavior was "controlling," "manipulative," "defensive" and "intolerant."

Wow. That’s a lot of pejoratives. So what actually happened? Notwithstanding the letter writers’ claims that I "disrupted" and "interrupted" the presentations, both Ms. Dieter and Ms. Lucas had concluded their prepared remarks and had used their full speakers’ time before our dialogue began.

I spoke with Ms. Dieter in the hallway immediately after debate on the item was over and she did not seem to feel that our exchange was other than respectful. We may have disagreed on some things, but that back and forth is the essence of a living, open and democratic process.

As for the discussion I had with Ms. Lucas: I didn’t have the chance to speak with her afterward, but I note that, as a former City Councilmember, Ms. Lucas is not only very smart, she is very capable of advocating for her position in public debate.

The essence of our disagreement that night was that Ms. Lucas stated publicly that it seemed to her that no one had "given any thought" to the possible financial consequences of the City’s actions at Neptune Point before the past several weeks. This was not true.

The potential financial penalites being threatened by the State of California against our city were extensively and publicly discussed and examined by city staff and council before the passage of the 2012 Housing Element.

I took the time to correct Ms. Lucas, as her premise (that no one at city hall cared about money issues associated with this issue in the past), led her to — what I believed — were erroneous conclusions about city hall’s current motivations regarding the protection of Alameda taxpayer money.

That’s it. One of the big problems with being accused of being "defensive" is that any reply will be characterized by the accuser as Exhibit A proving that the accused is defensive. The irony is that the letter writers would have you believe that they want to promote open discussion at council meetings but, in reality, they want to silence those with whom they disagree. They want to say whatever they please without any prospect of challenge.

Everyone is entitled to express their opinion in a civil manner. This is a sacred principle for transparency and real debate. But we shouldn’t be confused into thinking that free expression is a one- way street in which every assertion is off limits for rebuttal, or a right only reserved for those with whom we agree.

One of the letter writers closed by suggesting that "if you think" their accusations against me were "an exaggeration, please review the meeting yourselves online, and come to your own conclusions." I think that is a great idea. I am confident that fair-minded people will conclude that the dialogue I had on July 15 with Ms. Dieter and Ms. Lucas may have been passionate but was never less than civil.

John Russo is Alameda’s City Manager.