Opinion » Street Talk

Look who’s not talking

Say hi to Judas while you’re there. Tell him I liked his gospel, but I thought The Da Vinci Code was more believable.

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I don’t like free speech. If there’s any way I can squeeze a buck or two out of my words, I go for it, every time. I wouldn’t waste one fraction of a half of a blink of an eye on this column if I weren’t monetarily compensated for it. I don’t make much, mind you, but it’s more than peanuts—or at least it was more than peanuts before seven-figure oil execs started pumping everyone at the pump and drove truck drivers to drive up what they charge for shipping. I hear that corn will be worth its weight in gold next fall. Or is that the other way around? Doesn’t matter. I don’t eat either of them.
 
That about sums me up: I don’t eat corn or gold, and I’m a proponent of paid speech, especially when I’m the one getting paid for speaking. Or writing, as in this case.
 
I also support everyone’s right as a member of this here United States to say whatever they want, whenever they want—except for shouting “Theater!� in the middle of a crowded fire. That’s just confusing.
 
Atascadero city leaders, I hear, aren’t big fans of free speech either, but they aim their ire more at stuff like the First Amendment and the Brown Act. Yeah, that kind of free speech. The kind that guarantees that I can write about how messed up they are and not get carted off to the stocks, wherever the nearest set may be. Maybe Parkfield?
 
Everybody knows that Atascadero has been out a-courtin’ Wal-Mart for a while now, and if you didn’t know that, now you do. The city’s hoping to land not just any Wal-Mart, but a Super Wal-Mart, even though some people think stepping foot inside one of the everything-and-more stores is akin to plunging headfirst into the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno. Say hi to Judas while you’re there. Tell him I liked his gospel, but I thought The Da Vinci Code was more believable.
 
Wal-Mart, however, isn’t the actual issue here. Well, it is for some, but I’m not writing about them right now. The heart of this tip of the iceberg is communication, or lack thereof. The things that city leaders aren’t saying about Wal-Mart speak volumes, if you’d just shut up and listen.
 
Until recently, Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley wanted conversations between council members and members of the public to be off limits to other city council members, as per, he said, the Brown Act, which, in my experience, is an often-cited but rarely understood piece of legislation, much like the First Amendment and those other nine amendments that follow all in a line to make up the Bill of Rights. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the Constitution.
 
As far as I know, Tom may still want the aforementioned conversations to remain hush-hush on the QT, but that’s not going to happen. Despite the mayor’s insistence otherwise at the May 23 City Council meeting, City Attorney Patrick Enright explained that the Brown Act doesn’t stop Joe Sixpack, John Q. Public, Joe Blow, John Doe, Average Joe, or anyone—no matter how ridiculously generic their name is—from talking about anything with any of the council members. Everything’s on the table now, or it would be if someone were so inclined to put it there.
 
In the middle of all this quiet hubbub, the rabble rousing David Broadwater has been hoarding information and checking it twice, pointing out that Mayor Tom told him that city staff would most likely have a summary report on any formal requests or discussions about the potential Wal-Mart site ready and waiting for the next council meeting.
 
That meeting, by the way, came and went, and David says that he didn’t learn a thing about what he wanted to learn about. Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis said that he had bupkis. Nada. Zilch. After three years of talks and negotiations, there were no e-mails or letters or anything. Well, to be perfectly precise, there were no formal e-mails or letters or anything.
 
So everybody’s blaming everybody else for knowing too much and saying so, or knowing too much and not saying so, or knowing too little and saying so, or knowing too little and not saying so. Take your pick. One of those has got to be right.
 
A more suspicious person than I would wonder who was actually pulling Atascadero’s strings. Is it City Manager Wade McKinney and his now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t-no-matter-how-hard-you-look parlor tricks? Is it Rottman Group, salivating over the thought of bringing Wal-Mart’s “always low prices!� to more people than ever? Is it Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the candlestick? It’s certainly not the people of Atascadero, who, to top it all off, have been complaining that the city council tried to sneak a half-cent tax into their wallets, right under their noses. Someone posted the tax info on the library just before the meeting, which led the more vocal attendees to question whether the City Council wanted its constituents to know about it at all.
 
To come totally clean with you, I’m no legal expert. I don’t know the nitty-gritty haggling bits of posting public agendas or the First Amendment or the Brown Act or the Miranda rights or just about anything to do with words. As I said before, I just write this dreck to earn a paycheck. If someone learns something along the way, don’t sue me. Please, please, don’t sue me. ∆

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