Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rhenda Strub's response to people thinking she's a big meany

Via email, her response to a constituent who asked her about the incident:

I appreciate your concern. There is much more to the exchange between Mr. Segal and myself than is apparent to the public. I have a history with him. He does not like me and I hold him in low regard as well. I think he is a man who engages in politics as if it were a blood sport and I have little patience for that. I also believe he came to the first meeting after the election to gloat because some of the people he supported won. His comments were entirely politically motivated and wrong. He was wrong on the facts and he was wrong in his demeanor. I called him on it. For that I will not apoligize. Rather he should apologize for using an issue as important as how much money the City of Olympia spends on social services as a ploy to dig at Joan Machlis and Doug Mah. This is an issue very dear to my heart. I want to spend more money on the poor and hungry. Mr. Segal almost certainly knows that. He also knows I have advocated for two years to build a dog park. He coupled those two issues in his remarks to insult me along with spewing his venom for Joan and Doug. We don't deserve that sort of treatment from anybody and I just won't sit quietly and take it from Mr. Segal who doesn't even live in Olympia but comes to our chambers regularly to engage in his sport.

Olympia spends $3.76 per citizen to fund social service agencies as recommended by the Human Services Review Council (HSRC--which is the interjurisdictional board that has, for the last 18 years, has been the place we all come together to provide some relief to the homeless and hungry). Last year, Thurston County, eliminated its funding to HSRC. This year, Commissioners have indicated they may be able to spend $50,000. If so, that would put them at 36 cents per citizen. That's not all county citizens either, that's just the ones who live in areas unincorprated by any city. Stephen Segal is such a citizen. He lives in unincorporated Thurston County. I really believe that if his concerns for the poor were genuine, as are mine, he would be leading a public effort to get Thurston County to increase its level of social service funding. Who better to fight for it than a person who enjoys political engagement and has strong speaking skills? Why would you not do that if you really cared about poor and hungry people more than you cared about hammering a political opponent you had just bested in an election? But, there he was coming before the Olympia City Council after election day to wag his finger at us. We are people who work hard for the City of Olympia and are already doing much, much more than anybody else to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. His words were repugnant, his motivation transparent, and his manner disrespectful. I won't apologize for responding to him as I did.

As for Ms. Gates, her concern for Mr. Segal's welfare may have been genuine. Perhaps she really sees him as a victim and thinks him incapable of fighting his own battles. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and did not respond to her remarks. I can't imagine why you think I would owe her an apology. I did suspect at the time that she was using the podium to launch her 2011 election campaign, but I kept silent on it. Mr. Segal was in the chamber long enough to watch Ms. Gates make her comments. He did not speak for himself but stood in the back glaring at me while his advocate, who was visibly nervous, spoke on his behalf. Ms. Gates strikes me as a woman deeply committed to her community and I respect her for that. But she is wrong about the interaction between Mr. Segal and me. I was not unprofessional, I gave him all the respect he deserved, and I will do it again if he brings his game back to the Olympia City Council Chambers.

On a positive note, I look forward to working amiably with my new colleagues on the Council. I have already met privately with two of them and have pledged to do my best to help them be successful in their new roles. I have offered to meet with the third and hope to do that soon. The citizens of Olympia deserve our best effort, not more political gamesmanship. I only wish everybody understood that.


Rhenda Iris Strub
Olympia City Councilmember

It does sort of support my original point, that Rhenda may have been pointed with her original comments. But, if Segall was in the room when Janine was talking Tuesday night, he should have stood up for himself.

I'm just going to throw this out, but maybe Rhenda should bring cookies to the next city council meeting. Just a suggestion.


Rhenda said...

We had cookies at the last meeting. We celebrated Joan Machlis' service on the Council and served cookies to everybody. I did not watch Mr. Segal to see if he took one. But, he had his chance.

Mark Derricott said...

I am sure those were marvelous cookies.

Let's not conflate the issues here. This is NOT about someone speaking for him or herself, or even defending him or herself. The point is, and with some conjecture into Ms. Gates' testimony, people have a right to testify to the council and receive respect in return. That goes whether they are constituents or not. (If the Council has a legal basis to exclude non-residents, they are free to implement such an exclusion.) Comments relating to a tumultuous history, not directly arising from testimony, have no place in public meetings. This behavior, among other problems, stifles and dissuades people from speaking. I think this is what Gates was saying, though I have no basis for that but the plain language of her comments. For example, I personally don’t fear someone calling me out on my nonsense during a meeting. I am sure Emmett and Councilmember Strub feel the same way. Remarkably, I am sure that Mr. Seagall isn’t affected by Strub’s verbal articulation of her frustration. However, there are many others who could look upon this course of events and get cold feet or even undue anxiety over the prospect of testifying before the Council. That ultimately leads to a lack of confidence in government. At the local level, we cannot afford people feeling that way. We need more, not less participation. I am somewhat disheartened to read that Councilmember Strub has not mentioned this in her analysis, and you too, Emmett seem to be giving it short shrift. Are you arguing that personal thoughts on the merits of the testimony outweigh this concern?

For the Olympia Time record, I agree with the substance of Councilmember Strub's comments entirely and admire her work and commitment to the city’s causes. Further, I agreed with her comments in response to those at the meeting on 11/17 regarding the city employee who was laid off. However, we can do without those little swipes to political opponents. (Save it for Facebook or Olympia Time.) Unfortunately, testimony may descend below the belt, but we elect our leaders to behave at a higher level.

Emmett said...

"However, there are many others who could look upon this course of events and get cold feet or even undue anxiety over the prospect of testifying before the Council. That ultimately leads to a lack of confidence in government. At the local level, cannot afford people feeling that way. We need more, not less participation

Ok, this I get and agree with. I can blame Segall for putting the bait out there to begin with, but like I've said, this is more about there being little love between Segall and Strub, and much less about Strub being a meany.

That said, there is a certain emotional reaction to watching people argue, not matter who is right.

Rhenda said...

Point taken, Rolandovich. And I do recognize how the whole exchange sounded to the casual observer. In my own defense I will quote Brendan Sullivan from the Iran-Contra hearings "Well, sir, I'm not a potted plant."

The simple truth is Councilmembers are human. Its been a rough year and at some point a person just wants to call a technical foul.

Mr. Segall is much better at the political shenanigans than I am. He does obsequious very very well. You would really have to be a regular attendee at all council meetings to see through his manner and words and decode his message.

So, here's my (I hope) final word on this episode. I actually did show some restraint in dealing with Mr. Segall's attack. (I will refer the reader to my "baby raper" comment of last year) So, I'm getting better at this. I still have a way to go.

Just so you (and the rest of the interested internets) can try to understand how difficult this is for me, a word about my personality. I am the same in public as I am in private. Exactly the same. I know many people in elected office who behave very differently when it is only other electeds and staff in the room than they do when the public is watching. Some of the behavior you would find much more shocking than anything I've ever said in chambers. I'm not that way. If I get cranky with someone I do it right out in the open with everybody watching. I recognize that some people respect that and others abhor it.

Maybe I'll never be any good at developing a sort of dual personality. I don't have the sort of demeanor to make me a good diplomat, because I am terrible at mincing words. Some people love that about me "Rhenda, I love that I always know where I am with you. I don't have to try and sort out subtle messages or look for deception." Others hate that about me "Rhenda, you are always just so blunt. Can't you learn to approach things with more diplomacy".

Maybe I can. I'm only 54. There's still time.

Matthew Green said...

"There is much more to the exchange between Mr. Segal and myself than is apparent to the public."

This statement is the key to this episode. Pointed debate is good. When it becomes personal, it is bad.

As a councilmember, I crossed the line once. I publicly apologized. Every other city councilmember who has crossed that line -- a list that includes multiple current and past members -- has not apologized, but instead has made up excuses.

The personal attacks -- not the pointed, sometimes heated, but still legitimate policy debates -- are what degrade public trust in office.

Rhenda said...

Thanks, Matthew. I know you are trying to be helpful, and I mean that. You have sat where I sit and you have felt the frustration I feel. You care deeply about poor people, you speak your mind, and you have trouble tolerating nonsense, just as I do. You are one of the few people in this town who can really understand how mind numbingly frustrating this job can be.

I saw the prototype for Olympia Power & Light, it was very good! I wish you and Meta the best of luck with it. It must be really tough trying to launch a newspaper that will at least break even financially. I hope you pull it off.