With so much important business to be done at City Hall these days, one would think petty arguments over wishing someone “Happy Holidays” were a thing of the past. And one would be so very, very wrong in making that assumption.
An article posted Friday afternoon on the Mercury News’ website blows the lid off a holiday controversy, which reporter John Woolfolk dubbed “Greeting-gate”—because any controversy worth its salt should have a “gate” on the end. No exceptions.
Apparently, the brouhaha started when Councilmember Xavier Campos had the temerity to ask City Manager Debra Figone “to send holiday greetings on his behalf to city workers.” Here is how Woolfolk summarized Campos’ bold attempt to strike while the holiday season iron was hot:
“City workers have suffered a beating lately, taking 10 percent pay and benefit cuts as hard times have widened budget shortfalls and forced layoffs. So Campos asked if Figone could email his well wishes to the city’s entire workforce of 5,400. He and his staff posed in front of a Christmas tree in the City Hall lobby for a note that said: ‘Happy Holidays from Council Member Xavier Campos and the District 5 Staff. Seasons greetings and may your holidays be filled with happiness.’”
Not wanting Campos to be the lone councilmember extending his greetings—or worse, show a tree in his card and hint at the C-bomb (a.k.a. Christmas) at the expense of other holidays—Figone cited Charter Section 411 in an email to the mayor and councilmembers. She wrote that it’s not “good practice” for the mayor or councilmembers to have individual correspondence with the workforce.
Here is what Charter Section 411 has to say:
SECTION 411. The Council; Interference With Administrative Matters.
Neither the Council nor any of its members nor the Mayor shall interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties, nor in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any City officers or employees whom the City Manager is empowered to appoint except as expressly provided in Section 411.1. However, the Council may express its views and fully and freely discuss with the City Manager anything pertaining to the appointment and removal of such officers and employees.
Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations under Section 416, the Council, its members and the Mayor shall deal with City officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the City Manager, City Attorney, City Auditor, Independent Police Auditor or City Clerk, solely through the City Manager, City Attorney, City Auditor, Independent Police Auditor or City Clerk, respectively, and neither the Council nor its members nor the Mayor shall give orders to any subordinate officer or employee, either publicly or privately.
Methinks the city manager might have been showing who’s the boss by not allowing Campos to “go rogue” and send his own holiday greetings, but there is a valid point to be made. Giving one councilmember the right to send out holiday wishes could lead to an envious chain of emails from other councilmembers, some of whom would rather cancel Christmas than be outdone in voicing their appreciation of the city’s workforce.
The compromise was each councilmember and the mayor crafting their own personal well-wishes in a group greeting card. The difference in each each person’s approach is instructive.
Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen’s message begins, “As the holidays approach,” which was a strategic and inclusive move, as Christmas is Sunday, Dec. 25, and Chanukah begins Tuesday, Dec. 20. Meanwhile, Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. (If we’re leaving out a holiday, it’s because of space. See a full list of holidays for all of December at Holiday Insights. For example, did you know that Dec. 19, Monday, is Oatmeal Muffin Day? Of course you did. But not everyone knows about Humbug Day, which occurs every year on Dec. 21. On the other hand, city employees might feel like everyday is Humbug Day after the way they’ve been scrooged this year. Zing!)
Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio played it safe by not even mentioning the holidays when he wrote, “Wishing you and your family the best of health in 2012.” Meanwhile, Councilmember Pete Constant stuck to his conservative Christian roots in his message. “As my family and I celebrate Christmas, we revel in fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home and family,” he wrote. “We hope your holiday season is merry and wish you a Happy New Year.”
Constant was the lone person to include his staff—minus one secretary—in the greetings.
At the end of his article, Woolfolk notes that Campos thought the issue was “blown out of proportion” and he “simply wanted to make a nice gesture.” We disagree.
Now it has been properly blown out of proportion.