Friday, August 15, 2008

Obfuscation: Thick?

This is posted more in the interest of disseminating intriguing local political YouTubage than it is out of any particular desire to revisit the city council meltup / blowdown yet one more time.

It is notable, however, that this video (which fell off the back of a truck) appears to cut out and restart at 2:17, at what was obviously a key juncture.

Shields: Did you or did you not contact M.J. Tocci to get this RFP at [$]91,000-plus negotiated down?

Trant: Yes.

Shields: Thank you. When you you asked her to do that, were you aware of what the scope of the contract was?

Trant: I was aware -- yes.

Shields: Did you ask her to get all the other stuff out of there and just get to the wage and disparity study which was the original intent?

#Apparent Video Edit#

Trant: We talked with Selena [Schmidt, chief of staff to Shields]...

Shields: And I disagree with that too, I'm gonna -- I have one footnote for this Council. I had a conversation...

Motznik: Would that chairman -- would the Chairman let the Director answer the question?

Shields: No wait a minute -- because we have a pack of lies here, Jim, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of this, and what she just said was a lie.

So it's not completely clear from this what she said.

At some later point in the meeting, Shields did get to reference the conversation he had attempted to "footnote" -- which he claims he held with mayoral chief of staff Yarone Zober. That portion of the meeting did not make it into this video, either.


  1. I'm not sure why they would post this. After actually watching it, it wasn't that bad. Trant was smiling. Shields wasn't polite but he wasn't off the hinge.

    And cutting out a key portion is only suspicious.

  2. Oh yes, Trant liked it so much that she had to leave...

  3. Jake sure seems to be enjoying himself as well.

  4. Clearly Doug Shields was so angry that he could not control what he was saying. And that's unfortunate and kind of a problem.

    But I am willing to believe he was provoked, by the back and forth on the Council, and by administration officials who do try to stonewall.

    What struck me is that he seemed to be behaving like a TV lawyer, directing Ms. Trant to answer only the questions he asked, and making speeches about what she said. It was a little like watching Law and Order, except it was more entertaining. Burgess absolutely got the best zinger in.

    If I had been Ms Trant, I would have walked out too.

  5. That's an interesting side conversation. Again and again, we rediscover that Doug Shields seems to believe that the Council is entitled to have its questions answered simply, honestly and straightforwardly, and again and again we find a lot of other people who think that's just an outrageous thing to expect.

    Maybe legally, they're right. Maybe those who come to the table have every right to answer the Council in Esperanto, to the tune of Button Up Your Overcoat, while shining a laser pointer in the councilors' eyes.

    And maybe the only possible consequence for doing so should be the possibility that the 4th Estate will report, "Mr. Smith was evasive and refused to answer Council's questions". However, that doesn't happen very often, because it's a lot easier to confidently identify frustrated rudeness than glib bullshit.

    I'm not saying that's what Ms. Trant committed on that day, and I'm not remotely giving Doug a pass on his emotionality. I'm talking about the principle of what Council members have a right and an obligation to attempt. This is not the first time someone has accused Doug of "trying to sound like a television lawyer". Aside from being a nice shot at him for "only" having worked as a paralegal, I'm not sure that's any kind of criticism.

    There's a reason TV lawyers sound like they do. If your aim is to get the truth of a situation out of a less-than-cooperative respondent in a way that those listening to the exchange can follow, that is a very good way to sound.

    I suppose we can take it upon ourselves to assume that all City employees only have an interest in telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on all occasions, but at the same time, it may sometimes be more productive to leave fantasyland.

  6. Ed, I think Burgess' zinger (if you're referring to the one about insulting women) was shallow at best. The idea that any given woman cannot be subjected to criticism or grilling simply because she's addressing the issue of gender pay equity is indefensible. If we abided by this principle, then we wouldn't be able to disagree with any one of the numerous female opponents of pay equity -- or at least, not as vigorously as we should.

    Much better, I think, was Shields' response to Burgess' line that the lack of civility is uncalled for: "The lack of truth is even more uncalled for."

    I'd rather have a Council full of assholes who get to the bottom of the issue than polite people who don't stand up to stonewalling. Bram said it best in his first paragraph above.

  7. my problem with this is that he does it all the time. he asks a question then refuses to let someone give him an answer.

  8. Well, my point with the TV lawyer comparison was that real courtroom's have different rules than City Council. I don't think Council is set up or able to function like a courtroom. For one thing, there is no impartial judge or jury to convince, no appeals process and the goal of a trial is not so much to get to the truth as it is for two competing lawyers, within the rules of procedure, to present a more compelling case to a jury.

    A City Council session should be less formal. If a Council person feels a City official has been less than candid, they can ask for clarification. They can use what the official says as justification for voting for or against legislation. But Mr. Shields scores no points by badgering the City Personnel director. He may be absolutely right that the Ravenstahl administration has systematically stonewalled Council, but he needs to rise above his frustration, to adequately represent his constituents.

    My opinion, anyway.