By Dennis Osmer, former Watsonville Mayor
Hardly anybody likes to work with somebody looking over their shoulder. And of those, nobody likes getting advice from somebody outside the circle. But for City Council and the City Manager, that’s the job they sought and got. According to the Watsonville City Charter, the City Manager agrees to act at the direction of the Council and the Council agrees to listen to the people of the city. And, maybe, lead.
The recently reached decision that the fireworks would be allowed to be sold and used for the Fourth of July was made public by the Police Department on Facebook Tuesday. Staff acknowledged that the decision was made by the “City Administration” which of course is led by the City Manager. This indicates that (1) the decision was made without any public discussion and (2) the City Council did not have an opportunity to discuss the issues openly or vote on the decision.
In similar hot topic cases, the Council may be polled privately by the City Manager or designee but that would be a violation of the Brown Act if it involved a quorum. In any case, this is clearly an issue of such importance, in this time of emergency, that neither the City Council nor the public should be denied the right to open discussion. Just on the basis of the inconsistency with the decisions to cancel the Fourth of July Parade and Fire in the Sky Airport Event, the issue screams for transparency and accountability for the decision. The increase in Santa Cruz County Covid-19 cases came from Watsonville. It was traced back to Mother’s Day celebration “clusters.” That’s another name for family get-togethers, which are traditionally epic in our town. We should also be concerned about how the many community-based organizations will sustain themselves without the money from selling fireworks and that again argues for a public discussion. There could be other ways to help these groups. The potential for loss of health or even life should transcend the arguments about noise and animal protection in consideration of this decision, but it should still be a matter for public discourse.
I ask the City Manager and City Council to place this decision on hold until the Council may decide after public input is encouraged and respected in an open meeting. I am driven by a concern for the health and safety of my neighbors and the many people from Watsonville I work with. Not only was the decision wrong, but it was also made the wrong way and local leaders have a chance to rectify one or both issues.
Editor’s note: Dennis Osmer is a former Watsonville Mayor and City Councilman who runs Central Coast Energy Services, Inc. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.