The five City Council members who are part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance are expected to adhere strictly to the recommendations of the RPA steering committee when voting on city policy – or face internal political opposition, according to an email sent Friday by the organization’s co-founder.
Juan Reardon wrote the email to address what Mayor Tom Butt called an “internal schism” impacting the RPA following last Tuesday’s City Council vote to move forward with the process of annexing North Richmond.
While RPA members on council typically vote as a bloc, three of the five members broke ranks on the annexation vote, with only RPA members Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles opposing. The vote in support of annexation apparently went against the wishes of the 28-member steering committee.
“[RPA officials] make important decisions through a process that is very democratic, and we expect all members to follow these democratically made decisions,” Reardon wrote. “This expectation also applies to the RPA members who are in the City Council.”
The email was republished by Mayor Butt in his e-forum newsletter.
The email continued, “Councilmembers who explicitly go against the votes of the RPA (steering committee) and membership on key issues should not receive further electoral support from the organization or the activist members. The RPA is a membership organization. They are either with the RPA or not.”
The email drew harsh criticism from Mayor Butt, who accused RPA leadership of acting “more like a gang or a cult than a group of free thinkers.”
“It appears that the old guard, largely old, white lefties and firebrands (co-founder) Andres Soto and Juan Reardon are gnashing their teeth as the RPA millennials begin to wander off the reservation,” Butt said.
The following is Juan Reardon’s email to RPA members, as re-printed in Mayor Butt’s e-forum:
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Juan Reardon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 10:59 AM
Subject: [rpa-sc-discussion] We need to build a better, more democratic RPA
To: RPA-SC-Discussion <email@example.com>
We need to build a better, more democratic RPA Democracy has been an RPA key value since day one. We created this organization because Chevron ran Richmond like a feudal lord. We created the RPA to be democratic and to defend and build democracy.
Over the years our organization has taken steps to expand our democratic nature. In recent years we became a membership organization and the general membership assembly is the ultimate decision making body. We also formalized bylaws and a steering committee elected directly and periodically by the members.
We make important decisions through a process that is very democratic, and we expect all members to follow these democratically made decisions. This expectation also applies to the RPA members who are in the City Council.
Having all members follow the democratically voted policies and recommendations makes the RPA a more democratic organization, and obviously a stronger one.
There are hundreds of issues that come up for a city council vote regularly. We expect the councilmembers to hear from all interested parties and vote on those items as they see best.
However, when it comes to matters of fundamental importance to the RPA, which are brought-up and voted on by the RPA Steering Committee and/or General Membership, we expect the RPA councilmembers to adhere to the recommendations and preferences of the RPA.
Some years ago, an RPA councilmember dismissed the RPA recommendations on key issues which were part of the core of the RPA values. This councilmember voted against the City employees’ union, voted also to re-zone light industrial the North Richmond open shoreline, and voted to cut a deal with Chevron inferior to what we had fought for. This was wrong.
Following the RPA democratically voted recommendations only when it is not inconvenient, or when friends or other advisors are not opposing them, is a serious problem. It damages and weakens the resolve of RPA activists when they see that their democratically discussed and voted positions are dismissed by those we elected into office.
Not one RPA councilmember can say that they got into office by themselves. It was the collective efforts of the RPA who put them there.
We need to build deeper into our collective thinking the understanding that a democratic progressive movement needs democratic loyalty to advance its goals.
We will always have differences of opinion, but in the key junctures and issues all members of the organization must follow the decision arrived by the democratic process.
The RPA cannot do much immediately when an RPA councilmember chooses to ignore the democratically voted recommendations on key issues and go on their own way.
Nevertheless, all potential RPA candidates must be made aware during their candidacy exploration that this is the RPA expectation, and that the RPA as an organization, and the RPA members as individual activists, will take into account how this expectation was fulfilled, when subsequent endorsement and campaign processes come up.
Councilmembers who explicitly go against the votes of the RPA SC and membership on key issues should not receive further electoral support from the organization or the activist members.The RPA is a membership organization. They are either with the RPA or not.
If this common-sense understanding has not been clear to all RPA members till now, it is time that it becomes clear, so that in the future we avoid tragic situations like the one mentioned of our former RPA councilmember years ago, and other situations which may come to mind.
All the 2018 city council candidates must be made clearly aware of this expectation, and of the consequences of not fulfilling it.
The RPA cannot be an organization used to get into office and ignored and dismissed afterwards.
Co-founder of the RPA
14 year member
Chair of the RPA Outreach Team