Editor’s note: Due to technical issues with email routing with the new city of Galt domain, writer Karen Watson did not receive responses to questions regarding council discussion at the May 19 Galt City Council meeting. Vice Mayor Rich Lozano, Councilmembers Paige Lampson and Curt Campion, as well as Interim City Manager Tom Haglund all replied to Watson’s inquiries; however, they were never received. Below find some of their responses.
More than 50 residents had written emails to have read at the May 19 virtual City Council meeting during public comment, 51 of which implored Council to allow all businesses to be opened, despite state and county direction and two emails asked Council to follow the county and state directives. Many emails asked Councilmembers to declare Galt a sanctuary city for businesses as other cities have done.
After City Clerk Tina Hubert read each email, Interim City Manager Tom Haglund gave his regular COVID-19 update, which included how Sacramento County officials were slowly giving some businesses the green light to open under strict guidelines.
During his report, Haglund said that neither the city nor the county have the authority to move more rapidly than Governor Newsom allows.
All Councilmembers voiced their frustrations regarding the restrictions on business owners.
The meeting continued on to other business; however, near the end of the meeting during Councilmember Comments, Farmer suggested the city explore options, as other cities have done, to open businesses sooner than later.
His comments were interrupted by Campion who asked what Farmer wanted to do.
“What is it that you want to do?” Campion asked. “We can’t do anything illegal.”
Campion went on to talk about a business owner who had appealed to the city and City Council.
Visibly rattled, Farmer fired back his response, and both Councilmen started speaking over each other and the discussion touched on several topics.
Sandhu twice tried to take control of the meeting to allow Farmer to finish his comments uninterrupted.
After the heated discussion, Vice Mayor Rich Lozano asked to speak and said that he was “extremely disappointed” at what had just happened and requested that the handbook addressing council conduct be put on the next agenda.
There was no definitive discussion as to whether or not seeking possible options for businesses to open earlier than later would be put on the next agenda; however, Haglund did ask for a consensus for the council conduct to be placed on the next agenda, despite Sandhu saying there were many other important matters to address at the future meeting.
Although Farmer acknowledged that he and Campion “spoke over each other” and what could have been a debate turned into an argument, Farmer said that neither he nor Campion crossed any lines.
“But we each deserve our chance and turn to speak and express our views,” Farmer said. “We need to be respectful of that right and not try to cut someone off or distract from the topic. But I hold no hard feelings toward Councilman Campion.”
But, despite Farmer’s acknowledgment that their behavior needed improvement, Farmer said that City Council has more important things to address right now than Council conduct.
Farmer went on to list all of the obstacles the city and local businesses have faced over the last 18 months, including the “worst waste contract ever”, the cyber-attack, budget issues and now the unprecedented COVID-19.
“And with all of that, is it the appropriate time to be discussing employee handbooks and codes of conduct?” Farmer asked.
Like Farmer, Sandhu said he did not think any Councilmember was “out of line”.
“I don’t believe that conduct was out of line by any Councilmembers,” Sandhu said. “It is typical for there to be disagreement, discussions and debates over topics affecting our city and its citizens.”
When asked if he felt the city has fulfilled its obligations to the local businesses, Sandhu said that “looking outside the box” is necessary.
“The city has been working with Sacramento County officials on what we can do to help our businesses,” Sandhu said. “However, just as Councilmember Farmer was suggesting, I believe we have to look outside the box. There is always room for improvement, and I think it is a good idea to look at all the options we have to reopen our city and businesses safely.”
Lozano told The Galt Herald that he has brought up addressing the handbook several times since being voted into office, but that the incident at the May 19 meeting once again reminded him that conduct needed to be discussed.
“This has been an issue since I was elected in November 2018,” Lozano said. “The disappointment I had with the mayor having to intervene twice did spark an urgency for me. I would hope it would spark urgency for my colleagues. The community expects and deserves better from its city. We will not always agree on topics or even how to resolve issues; however, we should be respectful of our colleagues. I think we could do a better job at it.”
As for helping to open businesses that are closed, Lozano feels that the city should explore options.
“As I stated many times before and at the last meeting, I think Galt is in a unique situation and we should not still be ordered closed,” Lozano said. “I hope in the coming days we will continue to see movement on the front of our community opening up further. I will continue to work with my colleagues in other government jurisdictions to apply all the influence we can muster (for) change so that we can have all of our businesses back open and thriving.”
Lampson agrees with Lozano.
“I believe a lot of the restrictions on businesses here in Galt are too stringent,” Lampson said. “Our problem is that we are in Sacramento County and are lumped into the same restrictions the City of Sacramento is on, and we are not a big city. I have been working with staff daily to appeal to the powers that be to consider Galt as a special rural case, an island if you will, (and) to try to get some of these restrictions lifted or move us faster up the levels.”
Lampson said Council has a responsibility for both businesses and residents, and that responsibility includes the overall public health and safety.
“Thriving businesses usually mean a thriving healthy community,” Lampson said. “We also have a responsibility to the public health and safety of our citizens. This is a time like no other in our nation’s history where others are making decisions for our health and welfare like never before.”
Lampson said she’s looking to join forces with Sacramento County supervisors in hopes of reopening Galt “sooner than later.”
“Galt is unique with very few infected with COVID and, joining with our Supervisors like Don Nottoli and Sue Frost, I am hoping we can get Galt open sooner than later.”
But Lampson warns of opening before permission is granted.
“I also don’t want our businesses to suffer the repercussions of having their state licenses pulled by going against the state mandates,” Lampson said.
Campion said that, although he does not support reopening all businesses within Galt before given the thumbs-up from the county as other cities have done, he does wish things were different and that businesses could open.
“Do I wish that things were different, allowing for business to operate in a pre-COVID environment? I certainly do,” Campion said. “Do I have empathy for those who have lost jobs or been displaced by these circumstances? Absolutely, it is tragic. I recognize that many businesses have suffered severe economic loss during this global pandemic and that recovery will be difficult, if not impossible, for some. I also believe that measures will be instituted at the local, regional and other levels to assist in turning this devastating event.”
However, Campion is not in favor of going against county and state orders.
“As I expressed in the meeting, I do not support the reopening of businesses, as it is contrary to the state orders and directives issued by the Sacramento County Public Health Department,” Campion said. “No member of this City Council is in a qualified position to second guess the medical professionals, guiding our country, state, county and city through this global pandemic. This is further substantiated by the fact that the city has no legal authority to do so outside of established protocol.”
Campion further explained his position.
“It is my opinion that it would unnecessarily expose the general public, business owners and their employees to health risks.”
Campion praised the Haglund’s efforts in circumventing the pandemic impacts on the city.
“The city manager has done an outstanding job at guiding this community through unprecedented circumstances,” Campion said. “He has led our city in a professional and efficient manner, which I am very grateful for. His concerns are based on ensuring the best possible outcome for the public health and safety of this community and, at the same time, push the city’s agenda for reopening businesses at directed levels of government. The city manager does not have the freedom, nor ability, to conduct the city in a manner which is in violation of state orders or county policies and directives. In summary, this community should applaud the efforts made by our City Manager Tom Haglund.”
Haglund said that he has been regularly keeping councilmembers updated on all aspects related to the impacts of the pandemic on the city and its ability to provide services, as well as providing information regarding local and regional meetings he and other city staff members have been attending.
“The city’s role in this pandemic is to work with the federal, state and county levels of government to provide for the public’s health and safety, including residents, business owners and customers,” Haglund said. “The city has also been providing the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses with information about crisis related stimulus opportunities, as well as advocating for Galt to reopen earlier based upon local conditions.”
Haglund did not weigh in on whether or not there was inappropriate behavior at the May 19 Council meeting; however, he said that members of the Council had the responsibility to “police” themselves.
“Every elected official is solely responsible for their own actions and conduct in open public meetings, and in their own activities and actions as elected officials outside public meetings,” Haglund said. “A City Council is responsible for policing itself and setting forth rules or agreements on Council conduct if it so desires.”