By Kirk Vartan
Tonight, the Santa Clara City Council has been asked by a resident to consider censuring Councilmember Kevin Park for his remarks that some people consider offensive.
First, let me say that I understand the sentiment. Park has a history of making statements that could be considered offensive, antagonistic, or even inappropriate. However, I think it would be a mistake to censure him, and I offer another idea.
I’ve noticed for many years, even before Councilmember Park was elected, he attempts to speak last at council meetings. Many of us believe it’s his way of drawing attention to himself. Sometimes during these attempts, Park uses humor that is just inappropriate for a public setting. While testifying as a resident at the speaker’s stand a few years ago, Park referenced a water bottle in his pants pocket. Many of us cringed. That was clearly an inappropriate joke with sexual innuendo.
As a Councilmember, Park was reprimanded by City Manager Deanna Santana at the June 8 Council meeting, when he insulted the city staff by calling their work “FUD”, a derogatory term to describe professional work. Park missed last week’s meeting when the discussion of how he violated the City’s Code of Ethics with his statements criticizing staff was agendized for discussion.
The current statement by Councilmember Park that’s creating controversy is relatively mild for him. While it may be politically dumb to refer to your constituents as “toddlers,” it shouldn’t be an offense that results in censure or admonishment by the City Council.
Many will argue as I have, that Park himself created the environment for a censure when he felt offended when he was not allowed to speak at an event organized by his City Council colleague Kathy Watanabe earlier this year. Park led the effort to censure Watanabe for that oversight. Some consider that action to have lowered the bar for censure; it may have. Park even insulted Watanabe during the debate by saying she “was a mother who acted like a child.”
But I think this is an opportunity to raise the bar and perhaps stop the contentiousness that has created the most dysfunctional City Council in Santa Clara history in the opinion of many longtime City Hall observers, including me.
I have been around since this council was led by the most anti-resident voice: Patricia Mahan. And while I think both councils were and are dysfunctional in their own way, at least the Mahan chaos kept Santa Clara’s city business on track. This new council majority has multiple areas of risk for core city services and functions. That is a shame.
My idea is simple. Park should simply issue a public apology for insulting Santa Clara residents and city staff who may have a different opinion than him.
In fact, this idea was partly inspired by Park himself. At the July 13th City Council meeting, during the debate about whether or not the City Council should apologize for the CVRA lawsuit, Park said:
“I think that people who have real relationships understand apologies are, as I said before, the lowest denomination currency in a relationship. It is an understanding that whether we intended it or not, people were hurt, and we recognize, understand and apologize for these actions that cause them to be hurt.”
Using Park’s own words and reasoning, it should be easy for him to understand that an apology is the right thing to do. With an apology tonight, Park can spare his colleagues from dealing with a contentious issue, and he can show the kind of leadership that all elected officials should regularly demonstrate: honesty and humility.