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In a Fraught Moment, Mayor Gillmor Keeps Her Eye on The Civic Ball – Opinion

Last weekend, someone pasted a sign on the St. Clare statue outside Santa Clara City Hall saying: “Mayor Gilmore [sic] Supports Genocide.” (Editorial advice: The correct spelling is G-i-l-l-m-o-r.)

Although we cannot know for a fact the spelling-challenged defacer of public property’s reasons for this offensive screed, we’re guessing that it’s because the Mayor declined to issue a foreign policy statement — and quite properly so — on a matter completely outside the duty, power, action and boundaries of Santa Clara city government, of which Mayor Gillmor is the head. Namely, a resolution about a Gaza ceasefire.

Even if Gillmor wanted to pass such a resolution, she couldn’t do so alone; she would need at least three other votes. Unlike the U.S. president, city mayors don’t have unilateral foreign policy powers. For those who missed high school civics, the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) offers briefs on how municipal government works.

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Now, you can disagree with Mayor Gillmor about her policy positions, her council votes, the way she runs meetings and her opinions on public issues. The Weekly certainly has over the years. You may even think the Santa Clara City Council should pass a Gaza resolution. But to suggest that Gillmor is an endorser of genocide because she keeps her eye on the ball of city governance is indecent, fatuous and, ultimately, self-defeating.

Calling people you disagree with mass murderers doesn’t increase anyone’s awareness of or insight into the war in Gaza. Everyone knows this is grotesque hyperbole and, as such, can be dismissed out of hand.

There is a difference between Pol Pot and a public official choosing not to do something whose only effect would be to inflame emotions on every side and increase the probability of hate crimes in the community that is her primary responsibility. Mayor Gillmor’s duty — and the council’s — is to make sure that Santa Clara is vigilant in preventing and prosecuting harassment and hate crimes in its borders.

Gillmor’s conduct, in fact, was unimpeachable. She chaired the council meetings in a professional way: letting people have their say, keeping the meetings civil and in order, and refraining from any expression of personal opinion.

Not only did people have the opportunity to speak, Gillmor, as chair of the meeting, allowed people to speak at such length that City business — the legal duty of the city council — didn’t get underway until late hours. City employees were forced to stay at City Hall into the wee hours of the morning, after they had already done a day’s work and had another day of work ahead of them.

Some have complained that everyone who wanted to speak didn’t get a chance to do so.

But the First Amendment doesn’t say that anybody has an unlimited right to commandeer municipal meetings to the exclusion of the public’s business. As the MRSC explains: “The public meeting of a board or council is considered a ‘limited public forum,’ which means the government can regulate the time, place and manner of speech.”

The business of the Santa Clara City Council and its mayor is the community’s business. When people sidetrack that business for hours on end, it amounts to stealing time from the community. Time that could be spent on things that the council does have control over, like rebuilding the International Swim Center, expanding library hours or building affordable housing.

While the frustration some members of the Santa Clara community have with the Council’s decision is understandable, a response like the one that occurred over the weekend is inappropriate and unwarranted. Mayor Gillmor did not deserve that level of vitriol and hate from the Santa Clara community. No one does.

Related Posts:
Santa Clara Stands “United Against Hate”
Op-Ed: We Will Prevail (insha’Allah)

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4 Comments
  1. John Haggerty 6 months ago
    Reply

    I agree with you that the Santa Clara City Council is not the United Nations General Assembly or the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Santa Clara City Council is responsible for MUNICIPAL affairs, not foreign affairs. Will other activists soon be calling upon our Council to pass resolutions on Taiwan, the Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Venezuela, the Sudan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Tibet, and elsewhere at future City Council meetings? The business and expertise of our City Council is police, fire, parks, libraries, streets, housing codes, the civil service, a power company, and a sports stadium, not diplomacy and international arbitration. Our city government cannot be a jack of all trades.

    At the past two meetings I had wanted to address the City Council during the Public Presentations portion of those meetings to ask about the current status of the FIFA Information Agreement and the Benton Street interim housing proposal application (i.e., municipal affairs) but could not do so because a hundred or more Santa Clarans or non-Santa Clarans (I am a Santa Claran) were repeating their opposing positions on the Gaza conflict.

    To rectify this matter, I suggest that our City Council pass a resolution asking the California League of Cities to lobby the state Legislature to amend the Brown Act so that going forward California city councils may adopt a rule limiting the Public Presentations portions of their meetings to MUNICIPAL affairs.

  2. Sara 6 months ago
    Reply

    Thank you for writing this piece and your coverage of important issues! I definitely agree that using hyperboles and insults is not the way to go about making a point. However, I do wonder if you may have missed the point of why residents are asking their elected officials to call for an end to the war (ceasefire).

    As you may have heard or watched at the last few council meetings, there are many local Palestinian folks who have had hundreds of family members killed, injured and displaced. While the rest of us don’t have family or connections to the Middle East, we are tax payers, voters and people with a conscience. We are seeing thousands of civilians living in flimsy tents, fighting for food because Israel bombed their home and then bombed the refugee shelters/schools/mosque/church/hospital they had evacuated to in Gaza. I am horrified to know that my tax dollars are paying for war crimes like the murder of over 10,000 children these past few months. Because the situation is so catastrophic you see hoards of Santa Clara residents asking their elected officials to do something in their capacity.

    I cannot fathom how calling for a ceasefire would result in an increase in hate crimes in our beloved city someone please educate me on this. 🙂 Are we not supposed to speak up against hate and if you see something – say something? We are watching an attempt to starve an indigenous population that looks like our children – speaking up for them is the least we can do.

    Mayor Gillmor definitely chose a side here make no mistake that it will be recorded in history.

    Finally, calling for a ceasefire at a municipal level is important in that it signifies to leaders at higher levels that the people of this city are not okay with our government’s handling of the war.

  3. Common Sense 6 months ago
    Reply

    No one argues that there are local policies in place that prohibit Santa Clara’s City Council from doing so.
    The group asking for a Santa Clara issued cease-fire resolution isn’t calling on Hamas to return kidnapped hostages or hand over the militants who orchestrated and carried out international murders but they are labeling an American citizen a “supporter of genocide” for not issuing a statement for actions that have nothing to do with her?
    In her Op-Ed two weeks ago, Sameena Usman wrote that she saw “two brave souls battling the elements to put up banner signs with messages to SAVE GAZA.” But the petitioners for a city issued cease-fire resolution won’t even issue their own resolution calling for authorities in Palestine to hand over the architects and perpetrators of organized murder and return Hamas’s kidnapped hostages.

    • Sara 6 months ago
      Reply

      Common sense, were you even at the meeting? Local residents advocating for a ceasefire are calling for hostages and prisoners on BOTH sides to be returned safely. This was done successfully last month during the short pause in fighting – where hundreds of people were released on both sides. I know you value human rights and safety for all people in the Middle East – maybe you can take a look at Israel’s detention policy where thousands of Palestinans (many of them children!) and kept in horrendous jails.

      https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/11/israel-opt-horrifying-cases-of-torture-and-degrading-treatment-of-palestinian-detainees-amid-spike-in-arbitrary-arrests/

      Anyone who pays works and pays taxes in this country should be concerned where their hard earned tax dollars are going. Our government has given the Israeli military billions and supplied them with weapons used to massacre thousands of civilians. Yes, it’s a complex situation but anyone with a conscience should be calling for an end to the war and end the cycle of violence. I do not think Mayor Gillmor or other elected officials in our city support genocide of any group of people but honestly I am sad that only two council members cared enough to speak up for justice.

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