Official: PR citizen action dangerous
May 2, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
The city of Paso Robles faces only one big fiscal threat these days, according to city council member Fred Strong — and that’s the people of Paso Robles.
Strong summarized his philosophy in an email to a resident last month who had asked the official if bankruptcy is in Paso Robles’ future. (CalCoastNews is not identifying the citizen with whom Strong corresponded; Strong, however, sent copies of his response to the entire council, Mayor Duane Picanco, and others.)
Strong wrote, “At this time the only danger of the city going into bankruptcy is from citizen actions and initiatives which have been, or are, proposed without assessing their unintended consequences.”
That appeared to be a direct reference to a newly-formed citizens’ action committee called Change Paso Robles Now, or CPRN2012, said Karen Daniels, a downtown business owner and chair of the non-profit group.
She asked Picanco and the other council members if they agreed with Strong’s assertion, and she suggested to Strong that he should explain or disclaim the comment.
In a string of emails that followed, Strong claimed he was referring only to “state” actions. Strong wrote to Daniels on May 1, “Although I’m unable to find our original correspondence on this computer, I believe this [issue] related to suggestions made to me that [mismanagement and overly-generous pensions] in the city would eventually bankrupt Paso Robles. I indicated that we already had (and are) addressing that issue and there was considerably more likelihood that citizen actions would bankrupt us” rather than mismanagement and benefits.
“I must clarify what I meant by ‘citizen actions,’” he continued. “That was based upon my interaction at all government levels and the misunderstood ‘initiative process.’ Initiatives were created so that citizens could correct situations which the government, especially at the state level, refused to address or correct.”
Daniels, who raised the issue Tuesday at a council meeting, told Strong in an email that “the comment you made…was pretty clear. I didn’t misunderstand it; I didn’t amend or otherwise alter it in any way. It didn’t mention all the things you have now expressed in your retraction or clarification of the statement you offered in a previous email. It did not mention the state nor offer any further explanation other than your precise view.
“Having discussed your statement with several others, we all came to the same conclusion: you would blame the citizens of Paso Robles for their own actions and initiatives, and absolve the city administration from any wrong doing should the city fall into unintended financial hardship: bankruptcy.”
Daniels added, “I feel you made that bold statement to put us in our place. But what I don’t understand is why the city council turns a blind eye to the obvious: [City Manager] Jim App needs to go. But the entire city council seems to stand behind him. As long as he remains the city manager, the community will be divided, and will continue to push for change of those who administer their city.”
Strong, in a final missive to Daniels, wrote: “I would never have said ‘the citizens of Paso Robles’ could cause a bankruptcy of the city. Nor would I ever absolve the city council of responsibility for those things under its control.”