Aaron Wharton, Aaron Wharton Cambria, Amanda Rice Cambria, Cambria, Cambria community services district, CCSD, Greg Sanders Cambria, Harry Farmer Cambria, Jim Bahringer Cambria
The unsuccessful attempt to fill the open director’s seat created a few question marks for the community. Much was made of the chaotic process used in the September 19th special meeting. Many Cambrians felt that process was poorly thought out and unfair to the candidates. A lot of heat was directed towards board President Amanda Rice. As the keeper of the gavel, it was assumed that she would be the person responsible for defining the process and managing the execution. While I agree she owns the hot seat, I’m not in the camp that sees the weakness of the attempt as solely her fault. Governing is a team sport.
President Rice, to her credit, reached out to members of the community to solicit ideas on how to do a better job with the next round scheduled for October 3rd. I don’t know how much helpful input she received, but it wasn’t quite enough to fix it all before the meeting.
Post 9/19, the community was buzzing with thoughts, suspicions, complaints and the odd call for revolution. Business as usual in this crazy, awesome town. Candidates that had submitted themselves to the Circus Minimus that took place between the hills over the skate park and the hills over the Fiscalini Ranch had time to rethink their commitment to service. Many decided to remain in the competition, despite not quite knowing the rules.
Let Us Try Again
I was unable to attend the October 3rd meeting but did manage to catch a portion of the proceedings via the Slo-span.org live feed, and later watched the whole session via the archived recording.
The community came out in force, with different candidates having groups of supporters rooting for their success. There were a lot of the usual attendees and an increased number of citizens who came to speak in support of Aaron Wharton. Aaron is a local business owner who decided that he wanted to contribute to the community that he and his family chose as their home. He bore a different profile from most other candidates. He had acquitted himself reasonably well in the original round of interviews and was one of the six chosen for the bonus round.
To the surprise of some, multiple speakers rose to vocalize their support for Wharton’s candidacy. So many that those not in his camp began to voice suspicions that the whole thing was planned, perhaps in cahoots with one or two directors. The word “puppet” made its way into the conversation. It seemed that some of the regulars, who frequently pack the meeting and regularly speak about this and that couldn’t believe that another group of folks would take advantage of the public comment period to advocate their cause!
I’ve got no strings, so I have fun
I’m not tied up to anyone
They’ve got strings, but you can see
There are no strings on me
Written by Dickie Jones and performed by Pinocchio
After public comment, the meeting turned to the business at hand – fill the seat. Here’s where the whole thing went sideways again. Since no meaningful progress had been made in structuring the selection process, the previous month’s chaos came back for an encore. It was unclear – would candidates have a chance to speak? Would there be more interview questions from the board? At some point, President Rice noted that in her view any member of the community could still submit themselves for consideration. Oh boy!
Suddenly there was a cavalcade of citizen activists marching to the podium to declare their candidacy. It was like a mashup of Bullworth, The American President, Forrest Gump and Waiting For Guffman. Yes, those are four loosely associated films with tenuous plot ties strung together to make an inconsequential point.
Things settled down a bit though candidate DeWayne Lee, a strong contender for the seat, was unsure if he would have an opportunity to present himself again. It was assumed he would, so he deferred his public comment slot with the expectation that he would present later in the proceedings.
Aaron Wharton made his way to the podium for a second round of grilling. He began by referring back to some of the answers he had given in the first round. He inartfully tried to clarify that his answer to the question on how many permits should be allowed wasn’t quite right, and it had been given as an effort to “tell them what they wanted to hear.” Not the best or most thoughtfully constructed statement; it gave the impression that he was just appeasing a few directors.
It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here…
Director Farmer picked up the oven mitts, turned up the heat and started grilling Mr. Wharton. It was clear that he was not a fan, and was using his time to aggressively challenge Wharton’s answers. The exchange got a bit weird, with Farmer rejecting Wharton’s answers by interrupting him and repeating his questions in an even harsher tone. Mr. Wharton, clearly bemused, asked Mr. Farmer “what do you want my answer to be?” – turning his earlier misstep into a humorous and de-escalating jibe.
After the cross-examination ended, Director Bahringer nominated Mr. Wharton. (note: he had also nominated him during the seven rounds at the previous meeting.) The nomination was quickly seconded by Vice President Sanders. Director Farmer looked quite stunned by the quickness of the nomination process, and during discussion asked for clarification on whether he could abstain. That took a few minutes, and then the intrepid clerk called the roll.
Director Bahringer – AYE. Vice President Sanders – AYE. Director Farmer (more clarifying discussion, then…) ABSTAIN. President Rice – AYE.
Aaron Wharton, come on down and raise your hand!
It was me against the world, I was sure that I’d win, but the world fought back, punished me for my sins.
Mike Ness, Social Distortion
How do we view the job of an elected official? Why do we choose one candidate over another? Positions or personality? Values or attitudes? Comfortable or charismatic? Familiar or mysterious?
After we make our choices, how do we expect our chosen few to execute their duties? How long do we stick with them, or more accurately how soon do we abandon them?
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”
- I vote for a person with the expectation that they will do what I want them to do because they work for me.
- I vote for a person because I believe they have the capacity and skill to make the best choices based on all the facts available, combined with their experience and discernible character traits. I don’t expect to agree with or like every decision or position, but my vote is a sign of confidence in the person.
There is also the question of how an elected official views their responsibility once they assume office.
The proper view should always be “regardless of how many votes I garnered I am obligated to represent all the members of the community.”
What we sometimes see, however, is the view that “I represent the people who voted for me, and I will decide based on their wishes.”
Are We, We Are
During all this tumult it again became clear that Cambria is a community of many tribes. Some are very vocal, which can give the impression that their numbers are much larger than they are. Some, in their passionate zeal, ignore social norms and fall back on volume and venom to move their position forward. Some rely on quiet negotiation, using relationships and positive persuasion to advocate for their views. Some follow along, and some just ignore it all. When hard times hit, or someone needs a helping hand the community frequently drops the animus and acts with a level of unity that reminds me how great this town is. When it comes to the CCSD, and to a lesser extent the CCHD (Cambria’s Community Health District) that unity heads to Costco for a big box of “NOPE.”
Watching from afar and watching from the back of the room are two very different experiences. Being “in the room where it happens” adds dimension to the experience. You can see and hear the murmurs, sharp comments, snorts and quiet affirmations from the audience. You can watch the body language of the crowd, see furious scribbling or iPad tapping, catch the fleeting smiles and nods as well as the darkening scowls and grimaces depending on what is being said from the dais or the speaker’s podium. You can also catch the interaction between citizens as they comment to each other or, frequently about each other.
Occasionally, rude or disruptive outbursts or steady streams of angry chatter cause others to turn around, stare or comment, communicating the request for courtesy so everyone might hear the words of those who legitimately have the floor. This general sense of courtesy and reasonable public behavior sadly falls apart when some citizens feel their right to “free speech” trumps the rights of others to focus on and listen to the rightfully recognized.
This story is not intended to be “gossipy,” but it is meant to shine a light on behaviors and attitudes that sometimes diminish the principle that everyone has the right to participate in the proceedings without harassment or undue disruption.
While getting feedback from people who attended the October 3rd meeting, a few relayed an exchange that happened between two locals. One, a noted activist and frequent disruptor, and the other a local business owner attending the meeting in support of a candidate.
As the proceedings went on, a group of folks stood in the back of the room, talking loudly and distractingly. The business owner turned around and asked for them to quiet down so people could hear what proceedings. The requestor was met with the following response. (stealing a masking tactic from the Megan Amram-scripted hit comedy series “The Good Place) “FORK OFF, BUB.”
After the meeting ended, he approached the disruptor to express his dismay at being treated so rudely. That earned a second “FORK OFF, BUB.”
Now, this type of truculence isn’t all that surprising, but I wanted to be sure what I was told was accurate. I reached out to the recipient of this verbal assault, who after ascertaining that I wasn’t out to cause him grief, agreed to meet and fill in the blanks. Those blanks included a third invitation to “FORK OFF.”
Still, I wanted to understand if there was more to the story, or perhaps gain an understanding of why the responder felt it was appropriate to behave in this fashion. I sent an email to the orator asking if the story was true and accurate and if there was more that could be shared that might provide a different perspective on the exchange. As of today, I’ve not gotten any response.
Next – The new guy takes a seat, just in time to do it all over again.