When asked to explain his record at a recent Pleasant Hill City Council candidate forum, 12-year-incumbent Michael Harris replied, “You know me.” Posturing as everybody’s pal allows Harris to dodge scrutiny of his record.
Experienced politicians frequently employ tricks like these because they work. They know that most voters are too busy to pay attention to what city government is doing. Most people lead hectic lives, trust their elected officials and have neither the time nor interest to follow what's going on at City Hall.
But it is critical to know what is going on and to understand the facts before you cast your vote on November 4.
Today Pleasant Hill is at a crossroads. Since the 2012 election, the balance of power has shifted. Today, instead of five independent Councilmembers, Pleasant Hill has a majority power bloc that:
- Conducts City business in secret, outside of public view;
- Ignores rules, procedures, statutes and regulations;
- Discourages public participation and obstructs the public's right to know “what the government is doing, why it is doing it and how.”
On Election Day, City Hall needs to receive a clear message that:
- Residents choose the direction of our city – our public officials represent us.
- Council members represent all 34,000 residents in Pleasant Hill – not just the special interests and the favored few "insiders."
- We elect representatives to do what best serves residents' interests -- not politicians’ personal or political agendas
THE BOTTOM LINE: Pleasant Hill residents will be properly represented only when the composition of the City Council is changed. That's why we urge residents to vote for Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund for Pleasant Hill City Council.
REASON #1: Incumbent Michael Harris’ Support for New Taxes
Harris was a vocal supporter of the City’s 2010 Measure T tax measure that would have increased utility taxes by an estimated 600%. Voters soundly rejected the tax and those who opposed the tax should reject Michael Harris.
It was only after the defeat of Measure T -- and with newly-elected Councilmember Jack Weir's leadership -- that the City changed its labor contracts to require employees to pick up a greater share of costs for pensions and other benefits.
Harris has demonstrated he doesn’t mind raising taxes. For Harris, government’s “needs” are top priority. For example, Harris has approved every City Manager contract during the twelve years he has been on Council. In 2013 Pleasant Hill’s City Manager received $263,000 in taxable income, which is more than the California Governor, as well as more than City Managers in the surrounding cities of Concord, Martinez, and Walnut Creek.
REASON #2: Harris’ Habit of Concealing City Business from the Public
In April 2013, then-Mayor Harris asked Council to establish an “ad hoc” Public Health and Safety Committee that would enable him and one other councilmember to consider issues in private in meetings closed to the public.
Harris’ proposal was illegal because, under state law, such committees must have a specific task and cannot consider general topics in which the Council has “continuing subject matter jurisdiction” – that is, areas that are the City’s ongoing responsibility. Clearly the subject of public safety does not qualify as an “ad hoc” committee.
Fortunately, at that meeting on April 1, 2013, Dorothy Englund reminded Council that what Harris was proposing was in direct violation of open meeting laws. As a result, Harris withdrew his recommendation.
It is also noted that Harris previously participated on another illegal ad hoc Public Health and Safety Committee from February 7 to May 2, 2011. At the January 23, 2012 Council meeting, Dorothy Englund diplomatically reminded Council to exercise care in forming ad hoc committees. She provided staff a copy of another city’s policies and procedures concerning ad hoc committees and recommended that Council consider adopting similar rules. To date, the City has not done so.
REASON #3: Harris’ “Classless” Conduct at the December 2, 2013 Mayoral Election
At the December 2, 2013 City Council meeting, Michael Harris again demonstrated his habit of conducting city business behind closed doors. In what appeared to be a carefully choreographed and scripted exchange, Councilmember Flaherty nominated newly-elected Councilmember Tim Flaherty for Mayor, passing over then-Vice Mayor Jack Weir. Michael Harris cast the final, deciding vote to bypass Weir and elect Flaherty. By opposing Weir’s promotion to Mayor, Harris, Flaherty and Carlson abruptly broke the City’s longstanding, decades-old tradition in which the Vice Mayor becomes Mayor.
This crude power grab shocked residents and elected officials throughout Contra Costa. Councilmember David Durant characterized the move as “classless” and the Contra Costa Times editorial board agreed.
Harris told a Contra Costa Times reporter that he had asked Ken Carlson before the meeting if he would be comfortable nominating “someone” for Mayor. Clearly, that “someone” wasn’t Vice Mayor Weir who was next up in the rotation and eminently qualified to serve as Mayor. (Carlson denied having conversations with any Councilmembers prior to the meeting, so apparently everyone didn't have their stories straight before making public statements about the controversy.)
In addition, then-Mayor Harris failed to call for discussion regarding the Mayoral question. Neither Harris, Carlson nor Flaherty provided the public any explanation for their votes, as the state constitution requires.
REASON #4: Harris and the City Clerk
In early 2013, during City Clerk Kimberly Lehmkuhl’s first few months in office, a problem emerged: she was not producing minutes of City Council meetings, which is one of the chief responsibilities of the job. Week after week, month after month, she produced no meeting minutes.
Instead of taking steps to ensure the responsibilities of the City Clerk’s Office were accomplished, the City’s only action was “talking to” Ms. Lehmkuhl, to no avail. City Manager June Catalano and then-Mayor Michael Harris did little more than throw up their hands in helplessness while the public was kept in the dark.
As Times columnist Daniel Borenstein observed, “council members let this problem fester too long.”
The throw-up-our-hands-in-helplessness routine is nothing more than a bogus and misleading excuse. The City Manager had the authority — and the duty — to ensure that City business was done. Likewise, Mayor Harris had a duty to lead — not just stand by, doing nothing and pleading “there’s nothing we can do.”
After the first failed attempt to convince Ms. Lehmkuhl to produce the required minutes, Harris and the City Manager should have promptly brought the matter before Council. Council could have given direction to the City Manager to appoint a Deputy City Clerk to take minutes and to advise Ms. Lehmkuhl that she was welcome to sit with the public during future Council meetings, and either take minutes or continue to tweet on Twitter to her heart’s content. Read more here.
REASON #5: Harris and His Opposition to a Historical and Cultural Resources Commission
On December 16, 2013, Harris vote to oppose formation of the Historical and Cultural Resources Commission (“the Commission”) called for in our 2003 General Plan. Jack Weir voted in favor of forming the Commission.
Because the City Council did not approve the Commission, Pleasant Hill is at risk of losing its historical and cultural treasures – including our World War I Monument.
Harris’ vote to oppose establishing the Historical and Cultural Resources Commission is puzzling to say the least. Harris was on the 2003 General Plan Policy Task Force. He voted to approve the 2003 General Plan. He also approved the 2003 General Plan Environmental Impact Report that indicated the Commission was necessary to mitigate the significant risk of losing our historical and cultural resources.
At the December meeting Harris expressed concern about individual property rights. However, he has imposed restrictions on individual property rights or businesses in other instances, such as his support for the city's smoking ordinance that imposes restrictions on apartment owners while exempting group homes; and his support for a zoning law restricting sales of firearms and ammunition, currently under legal challenge. Harris did not explain how these circumstances differ from Historical and Cultural Resources..
Any councilmember who says s/he will preserve Pleasant Hill's small town character should do everything possible to preserve and protect our historical and cultural treasures. Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir both support the formation of a Historical and Cultural Resources Commission or other measures to preserve and protect our historical and cultural treasures.
REASON #6: Harris and the Hilton Homewood Suites Hotel
During fall of 2013, the City quietly commissioned a hotel-feasibility study. Six months later, the City blindsided residents with plans to build a massive, four-story hotel in the Ellinwood neighborhood, at more than double the maximum allowed density in our General Plan. Harris expressed support for the tax-revenue-generating prospects of the project.
It must be noted that Pleasant Hill's General Plan is its local land use Constitution. The General Plan is developed with extensive public participation and designed to guide future development consistent with residents’ wishes. Accordingly, residents expect and deserve to have public officials vigorously defend our General Plan.
At the Hilton Homewood Suites Hearing on July 7, 2014, Jack Weir was the only councilmember to defend the development limits contained in the General Plan. Michael Harris did not. In fact, Harris’ questions to staff appeared scripted and invited staff responses that were misleading. Confronted by a room full of angry residents, and given there were already three votes to support the project, Harris' vote to oppose it smacks of election-year pandering.
REASON #7: Harris and the Library
On August 27, 2014, Harris met privately with two members of the Recreation and Park District Board of Directors to discuss a proposal to build a new library at Pleasant Hill Park on Gregory Lane. This became public knowledge when others present confirmed what was discussed at this private meeting
Harris is the Chairman of the Library Task Force. As a long-term elected official, he knows that California’s open meeting laws require committee meetings with representatives from two or more agencies to be noticed and open to the public. Residents have cause for concern about Harris – he knows better than to conduct city business outside of the public view.
The future of our Pleasant Hill Library concerns every Pleasant Hill resident as well as residents from surrounding communities. All residents, including the many students and families at Pleasant Hill Middle School, should know about any plans to move the Library to a new location.
Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir are both vocal proponents of open government. They will eliminate hidden agendas and “backroom deals.” They’ll ensure all public meetings are properly noticed and the public has access to all public meetings, records and information.