Leon Worden

A tale of two city councilmen

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, April 3, 2002

endorsed Frank Ferry over Cameron Smyth for City Council four years ago because I thought Frank was more mature. No, I'm serious. Both were young, both were untested, both seemed hungry for higher political office, and on balance Frank seemed more sincere about wanting to stop and help out in Santa Clarita before vaulting for Sacramento or Washington.
    It didn't take me very long to apologize to Cameron for my mistake.
    Cameron bounced back and won his own council seat two years later— and after last Tuesday night, I couldn't be more pleased.
    Pride is a new emotion for me when it comes to local office holders. I've felt glee, I suppose, when a controversial vote went my way, and relief, when politicians have done the right thing. Even honor, to know people like Jo Anne Darcy, whose commitment to this community is unwavering. Certainly I've felt remorse and even outrage enough times.
    But for the past week I've been beaming with pride for the young man I snubbed four years ago. It's the pride of a father, which is weird, because Cameron isn't that much younger than me. (And no, Cam, I still don't remember how I used to pick on you when we were kids.)
    My own son, Jake, just turned 2. I hope he grows up to be the man Cameron Smyth has become over the past— I don't know, but I turned around and Cameron had come of age.
    Here he was, Tuesday night, staring down the wolves and calling all their bluffs. And winning.
    But it wasn't about winning, and it certainly wasn't about trash, although trash was the vehicle. It was about integrity.
    It was Cameron's defining moment, and it came at the end of his 13-minute, 33-second soliloquy that came at the end of a long night of debate over the city's $135 million trash contracts.
    Cameron was explaining why he was about to vote to put the lucrative contracts out to a competitive bid. I suppose I should back up and say that it can't have been an easy decision. It would effectively mean he'd be changing his mind, something few in the public arena can muster the gumption to do. He had sided with a council majority a year earlier to award new contracts to the city's existing haulers, despite a potentially better offer from a competitor and warnings that something was amiss with recycling. At the time, he gave the benefit of the doubt to the companies the city had been dealing with for 10 years because of their record of community service.
    Much changed in the last 12 months, and in the end there was overwhelming evidence that the only way for the City Council to carry out its fiduciary responsibility to the public was to put the contracts to bid.
    Cameron, before a standing-room-only crowd of people who weren't necessarily on his side, compared the council's predicament to the way a business, or even a homeowner or car buyer, seeks the best deal.
    “If you would do that with your own money, or with your business' money, shouldn't you expect your council to do the same with your money? That's truly what we are dealing with,” he said. “You do this with your house, with your car, you do look for a combination of quality and service and price. That's what I see going to bid doing, is making absolutely sure that what we're getting for you is the absolute best possible service at the lowest price.”
    That's common sense, but here's the capper. Here's the important part.
    “I truly believe that if we give this contract to Waste Management without going to bid, I truly believe that the legacy of this City Council will be one of not acting in the best interest of all 151,000 people that we're elected to represent— the people who didn't vote for us, the people that aren't here tonight, the people that never vote, that don't care, that don't care enough to come like you do, but we're elected to represent them— and I truly believe that if we don't make the bid competitive, and we don't go out to bid, then we are not doing right by them.”
    That's right. The people who don't vote and don't care. Not the people who showed up to strong-arm Cameron— but the people who will never vote for him, and whom he nonetheless must represent.
    Cameron... gets it. He... actually... gets it.
    I'd elect him governor, given half a chance.
    Frank. Well. I couldn't quite follow what he was saying.
    “How did this happen?” Frank asked. “How did we get here tonight? There was this article.” And then, “All of a sudden because of this video, we're gonna go and make sure our trash audit is OK.”
    It continued. “Somewhere along the way something happened and this ugliness happened over a year and I still don't know the catalyst for it.”
    Frank doesn't get it. And that's sad.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.

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