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.
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.