At last night’s Manitowoc Common Council meeting, I’m sure that you joined me in a collective sigh of relief knowing that Ald. Rhienna Gabriel’s latest bizarre behavior—this time involving a cryptic letter that was addressed to, or referenced, four different Council colleagues—was discussed by the full Council, and at long last that dastardly Ald. Gabriel was compelled to personally answer for her actions! Justice has been served!
If you would like some background on this case, I would respectfully call your attention to the two Periscope articles that have been written on this matter here and here. I would also strongly recommend that you listen to the discussion from last night’s actual meeting that is posted on the City’s Facebook page. This issue is discussed starting around the 46-minute mark. The remainder of this article will provide commentary on the proceedings, and as such will operate under the assumption that the reader has already watched the video.
From the beginning, a lot of the discussion around this matter revolved around whether the letter was a Council document—Meaning, did the Council need to discuss or take action on it? It was sent to an alderman’s home address, not City Hall. In the discussion, it was made clear by Ald. Sitkiewitz and the Mayor that this was an actionable Council document, because it was addressed to “Chairman Sitkiewitz”. Well, I can tell you that when I was on Council I regularly received mail at home that was addressed to me as “Alderman” or “Chairperson” and not once did I consider it to be official City business that needed to be discussed by the full Council. This claim is absurd on its face.
In defending his action to bring the letter before the full Council. Ald. Sitkiewitz also mentions emails that Ald. Gabriel has sent to department heads, texts that Ald. Gabriel has sent, and “unwelcome” phone calls that Ald. Gabriel has placed to Ald. Sitkiewitz. Fair enough, but those are all separate issues having nothing to do with the letter in question. Remember, the agenda item was to discuss the letter that Ald. Gabriel sent out, not a pattern of behavior.
Ald. Gabriel did speak on her behalf. As has been her pattern, she didn’t exactly defend or explain her behavior, but she did make what I felt to be some good points. Specifically, she noted that it was up to her voters to determine whether her behavior was appropriate, not her colleagues on the Council. She also wondered aloud how the newspaper found out about the letter in the first place. Good question!
To try to tie this matter up, for now at least, I would like to add a few thoughts that summarize my feelings about this whole matter, going way back to the beer drop last spring:
- A lot of the public discussion has revolved around Alderman Gabriel’s behavior. I can understand the appeal of doing so. I have shied away from doing so because I wanted to focus on what I saw to be a much more serious matter—That being the behavior of the Council with respect to Ald. Gabriel. Because we live in a black and white world, some have interpreted my focus on the Council’s actions as defending Ald. Gabriel’s behavior. Nowhere have I done that—In fact, I have gone out of my way not to say anything about the behavior beyond what was needed for context.
- That said, Ald. Gabriel probably could have helped herself by doing some damage control last spring. It was certainly her choice not to, just as it was her choice to not answer any of the accusations directly to the other Council members who were questioning her. This clearly maddened several of her colleagues, and the result makes for some rather amusing political theater.
- Both of these issues (the beer drop in spring and the recent letter) were blown WAY out of proportion. Consider: The Police were immediately brought in to the beer drop caper. The POLICE! Seriously? And—The newspaper published a breathless article about the letter. Again, why? In both cases, it is interesting to speculate as to how these parties got involved, and to what end? Who contacted the Police? Who contacted the newspaper?
- As I’ve stated many times, the real reason that any of this is occurring is because there is a critical mass of public officials who simply want Ald. Gabriel weakened or eliminated because she doesn’t march to their drummer. Ald. Gabriel dares to inquire whether there just might be a better way of doing things. This is a threat to elected officials who have spent years building up and defending the status quo. Do you think that City government is operating at its highest degree of efficiency? If not, perhaps it’s not horrible that some aldermen are asking questions. Additionally—and I believe that this is a bigger factor than it may appear—Ald. Gabriel is “on” to this cabal of aldermen who are uncomfortably cozy with the Mayor. She calls them out on it. That also cannot be tolerated.
- Even if, as an elected official, you want Ald. Gabriel off the Council, why not just wait until after the April 2 election, where Ald. Gabriel is up for reelection? (Consider this a teaser of the Scope’s pre-election article where we interview all of the candidates!) If Ald. Gabriel is defeated, then the wishes of the aldermen who want her off the Council will have been fulfilled. If she would win, the Council would still have plenty of time to act on the matter. Dragging this before the Council in the last meeting before the election felt much more like a personal attack and an opportunity to do some damage than any kind of serious self-policing exercise or attempt to maintain decorum.
- Finally, I’m going to say what I’ve been saying for a year. The Council is vastly overstepping its bounds by taking these actions. You can see the groupthink that so often leads groups to stop thinking (it should be called groupNONthink) occurring here, along with a sickening amount of haughty self-importance. A few elected officials with agendas and a disdain for Ald. Gabriel—along with very serious tones and facial expressions—were able to convince the rest of the Council that this issue is very serious indeed, and it is the Council’s job to take action! After all, the Council is an austere body, beyond reproach, that cannot be sullied by the bizarre rants of a wayward daughter. This argument has a certain superficial appeal, and sure enough, most aldermen went along with it. If you take a step back and get outside of City Hall, this is a very damaging strategy indeed. Aldermen who were voted in by voters in districts outside of District 10 are taking power away from an alderman who was duly elected by the voters of District 10, and they are convinced that it was justified. If you live in District 10, your voice has been taken away by aldermen that you can’t vote for. That should scare all of us.