As part of a community group, Conley and other citizens rallied to replace council members who didn’t want to work with constituents with those who do.
Elk Grove voted to become a city in 2000 because we citizens wanted “local control.” Color us naïve in that we believed that meant local control by the residents of our city. We soon found out differently.
There were no classes for us citizens to take so that we could gain knowledge of what “local control” really entailed, and so we learned the hard way. It was a school of hard knocks and certainly not for the weak.
Suddenly we saw our city take on a life of runaway growth – a sea of rooftops, with no business parks to balance the jobs to housing ratio. A small army of us attended every council meeting and pled with the city council to take a step back.
Unfortunately, the original council would stop listening even before the three-minute buzzer went off, and most of the time we were turned away.
As an example, one former Elk Grove City Council member once said to a group of citizens, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Is that what participating in local government is supposed to look like?
Nevertheless, ever vigilant, we still attended every meeting, sitting in the back corner. In council chambers, it has become known as “Citizens’ Corner.”
Unfortunately, because council arrogance got in the way of good government, we had to take our complaints to the Sacramento County Grand Jury so that our council members could learn that you can’t threaten citizens. And you certainly can’t threaten them using official government channels to do so. The city becomes liable the second the council member hits the send button.
We even tried the Maya Angelou approach, “When you know better, you do better.” Back in 2004, we wrote and proposed a code of ethics that the city council passed to get out of hot water with the grand jury. But they wouldn’t follow it, violating the code the very night it was passed.
However, all was not lost and people can institute the Fourth Amendment. We did just that in Elk Grove. We decided to give new meaning to the definition of local control, and here is what council members everywhere should understand.
We call it “The Bill Cosby Rule.” From his famous television show, Mr. Cosby warned his children, tongue in cheek, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.”
In Elk Grove, it means, “We put you in office and we will take you out if you don’t understand you work for us.” Three didn’t listen, and so we invoked “The Rule.”
The majority of the Elk Grove City Council has changed out and it changed out because we strapped on our walking shoes, ground pounding to get the message out.
Now, we have a majority of council members who give their constituents a seat at the table. No more do we have to bang our fists on the podium to be heard.
We all know from our side, none of us will ever get everything we want. But having a council that honestly believes in public participation makes everyone’s job easier, including the council members. Who wants to constantly battle with the very people you were elected to serve? It does get tiring from our side as well.
Elk Grove will be 10 years old on July 1, and our council member/constituent growing pains have left us in a better place. Imagine partnering with your constituents to do the hard work necessary to make your city the best it can be? The good news is, it can be done, and we are living proof.
For example in 2006, after the death of a 14-year old boy from a street racing crash, we citizens wrote, and then partnered with Council member Jim Cooper, to pass strict ordinances. Those ordinances were then submitted to the League of California Cities as a resolution that every city in California passed. From the education component we wrote, the Elk Grove Police Department implemented a program that won the highest award given by the League, The Helen Putnam Award.
That, my fellow citizens, is now local control Elk Grove style.
Conley is the founder of the Elk Grove Community Connection, a citizens group who work for positive, transparent local government by putting on public outreach summits, writing and introducing proposals and ordinances which include the Youth Commission, the Street Racing and the Social Host ordinances; all passed and implemented by the Elk Grove City Council.