Brian Davis Calls In: When Do I Get to Speak?
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:53 am, June 19, 2008
Ellicott District Councilmember Brian Davis wasn’t too pleased with this post, about Stillwater’s efforts to get a permit for a giant new patio behind the restaurant. Many neighbors are opposed, because the patio will face residential property and Stillwater’s primary business is its bar. Neighbors expect the proposed 4,000-square-foot patio to be loud. The Preservation Board, the Planning Board, and the Allentown Association all have recommended against granting a permit. Over Allentown weekend, Stillwater employees passed out what looked like a Stillwater business card with Davis’s name and contact information to passersby, asking for their support and suggesting Davis was on their side.
Neighbors seem to believe Davis is taking the part of the restaurant too, but Davis disputes that. He called AV just an hour or so after I’d posted a scan of that faux business card on Monday. He said he’s merely trying to build consensus between the neighbors and Stillwater’s management.
“I’m only encouraging [the neighbors] to come back with something smaller, come back with something prettier, so I can condition the hell out of them and you can get what you want, by minimizing the noise, and everything else,” Davis said. “This isn’t Brian Davis trying to push a patio or anything else. I’m trying to build a consensus as I’ve always done.”
Currently the site of the proposed patio is a parking lot, and Stillwater allows its patrons to step outside into the lot to smoke. In fact, Stillwater sometimes has chairs and tables out there, and even has booked entertainment in the parking lot. In other words, the restaurant uses it like a patio now, though they have no permit. Still, Davis seems to think the neighborhood is missing an opportunity to put restrictions on Stillwater’s use of its proposed patio—even though the restaurant is currently ignoring the laws that prevent its current uses.
Davis says he’s not pushing a patio, but he’s suggesting that neighbors—who oppose a patio and have won the support of a community organization and two city boards—come to the table with a plan for a patio. One that’s smaller, greener, and more quiet, but a patio nonetheless.
He says he building consensus, but at Tuesday’s committee hearing on the issue of Stillwater’s patio, he said he didn’t want to meet with the neighbors or with Stillwater’s management. He told them to meet with one another if they wanted and to submit information to him; he said he wanted as much information on the subject as he could get, but he didn’t want to meet with either party.
In his phone call to AV on Monday, Davis characterized the opposition to the patio as “a personality conflict,” and an “underground campaign” orchestrated by a few because “…well, I don’t like this guy because I represent his former employer or all this other nonsense…”
He didn’t elaborate on that. He did, however, take me to task for not calling him and asking him about that faux business card before posting it. He started the phone call by asking, “Is there anything you wanted to ask me?” and ended it by saying, “This is the third article that’s kind of kicked my ass about something without me even getting a chance to talk about it.”
Well now, that’s a separate issue, and here’s my response: Elected officials like Brian Davis have microphones in front of them all the time. They serve our interests (or are supposed to), but they occupy positions of privilege and power. They never lack for a platform if they want to speak. They submit letters into the public record. They speak to the media. They speak to CitiStat’s cameras. Some of them even meet with community groups and concerned citizens and talk to them. Elected officials get to speak all the time.
I’ve been going to Common Council hearings every other week since I moved back to town in 2006, whenever I can. I miss some, but I’m pretty regular. Many people I know, especially those who work in city government, wonder why I bother. That stuff is all scripted, they tell me. And so mindnumbingly dull. That’s true. Still, I figure it’s government’s chance to talk to the public. I read the documents submitted to the Council, and report on what they say. I report what councilmembers say during their meetings. When they’re done speaking, I look around for someone else who hasn’t had a say yet.
So I base my understanding of Brian Davis’s positions—and the positions of all elected officials—on public statements and on public records. Davis doesn’t need the luxury of 15 more minutes of private discussion with me on the phone, when so many others don’t have the platforms he’s afforded to make their opinions heard.