Campaign finance and election laws are two topics politicians should only touch in the calmest, most impartial of settings—impossible two weeks before a contentious national election. And yet touch them is exactly what the Sebastopol City Council did at their Oct. 20 meeting.
The problem is that two members of the Sebastopol City Council, Councilmember Neysa Hinton and Councilmember Michael Carnacchi, are running for reelection, and election reform is a hot topic, divisive issue…at the national level. By raising the topic now the council starts a brawl over election rules two weeks before two of their incumbents stand for reelection, then hands those same incumbents a city-sponsored platform to make their pitch. If that sounds complicated, then a real-world example of this would be Trump holding the Republican National Convention at the White House.
Not explicitly illegal, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
“Not all of us have a council seat to use as a platform,” said Diana Rich, who is one of five candidates on the ballot for the Sebastopol City Council.
The discussion, originally put forward by Carnacchi, called for the establishment of term limits for Sebastopol, ranked-choice voting, campaign finance limits and restrictions on endorsements. Rich voiced her opposition to all of these measures, saying, “One of the biggest issues I’ve heard from the community is ‘communicate,’ engage me. That’s what they want. All of these provisions? They’re about limiting engagement.”
That opinion was not shared, at least in its entirety, by the rest of the audience. Meeting attendee Kyle Falbo argued on the subject of election finance reform, “A successful campaign can be run for a thousand dollars. Any campaign reaching into the tens of thousands reeks of special interests.”
Councilmember Una Glass disagreed with most of the reforms proposed by Carnacchi, but she did favor the small pay bump for the city council to $800 a month. “But this is a really bad time to talk about that,” she admitted. “We’re in a pandemic and an economic meltdown—I’m sure the public is going to be so excited to pay us more.”
But election reform is a bit of a pet issue for Carnacchi. He doesn’t hang up signs, or campaign, or really do much of anything to secure his seat, believing instead the job he did would speak for itself. That same philosophy shapes his views on election reform. Carnacchi doesn’t set the agenda on the council, he isn’t part of that committee, so it wasn’t his fault the discussion landed two weeks before the election.
However, it certainly was his fault when he lost his temper with fellow Councilmember Sarah Gurney over a perceived comment about his motives.
“For Councilmember Gurney to say I’m unethical is a bit of an overreach. What have we got? Twenty-five participants? What do I have to gain?” Carnacchi asked. “Councilmember Gurney, you are to Sebastopol what Mitch McConnell is to Kentucky. (…) You need to go. You need to get off the council.”
The comments earned an awkward pause. Eventually the microphone switched to Gurney.
“In my time on the council I have never been spoken to with such demeaning language as has happened tonight. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this isn’t how you conduct government,” Gurney said. “We sign a code of conduct each year and we need to follow it.”
The discussion soon petered out and the council agreed to revisit the issue at a later date.