Three members of Sonoma’s City Council have resigned during the past six months, all for personal reasons. From citing displeasure with each other to the pressures of work and family, Rachel Hundley, Logan Harvey, and Amy Harrington appeared to represent a new generation of political leaders, but ultimately have chosen to make their personal lives more important than their commitment to the community. It’s disappointing.
Serving on the City Council is not a side gig.
It’s not an easy job, if taken seriously. It has a steep learning curve and demands considerable time and attention. Yet this is the first time in Sonoma’s history that three resignations in the middle of terms of office have happened in less than a year. Council members in the past had jobs and raised families, and have regularly included working attorneys, accountants, professors, business people, and parents of young children; none of them resigned.
People run and are elected to the City Council for a variety of reasons; some think it will be fun, and are disappointed to find out it is not. The council job is filled with numbing details and complex decisions about matters most of us rarely consider. Others seek office as a stepping stone to higher office; most of them are disappointed too. And yet others, and historically most, have served on the council to better this community. Political affiliations and beliefs, terms of residency, gender, and age have all varied widely, yet despite these differences, a solid commitment to placing the needs of the community above their own produced a continuity of care in our city’s highest governing body.
That sense of deep commitment, symbolized by an actual swearing-in ceremony, seems to have softened, and we’re worse off for it.
A new City Manager is about to begin his job in July. We’re still emerging from a frightening pandemic. Our local economy is beginning to return to normal, but has a long way to go. The financial impact of the fires and Covid-19 will last for years, and the City of Sonoma projects operating deficits in its budget until 2025. Housing is much too expensive for most local workers, and companies like Pacaso are challenging the way residential neighborhoods can be regulated. In other words, the challenges facing Sonoma are mighty, and if ever there were a time when steady, experienced leadership is needed, it’s now. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened.
Bob Felder has been appointed to fill-out Logan Harvey’s term of office, and he will do a fine job. Bob has held commission leadership roles and volunteered in Sonoma for a long time. His maturity and experience are welcome. We’re lucky he was willing to accept the appointment. Harrington’s seat, however, must be filled through an election; state law does not allow a majority of council members to be appointed.
Whoever runs for City Council should commit to serving out their full term of office. Continuity on the City Council is an essential ingredient in its ability to function well; lacking it means it spins its wheels in making policy and decisions, and a new City Manager can’t provide historical context or institutional memory. Emergencies that force someone to leave office are one thing, but personal choice is another.
To all potential council members: please don’t take the job unless you plan to stick with it and make serving the city your highest priority.