Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | September 4, 2007

Challenging the status quo

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’” ~ President Ronald Reagan

It was a mixed week for good ol’ status quo.

In Morgan Hill, the status quo remained unchanged with respect to consideration of contracting with other agencies for some or all of the city’s police services. After reviewing an incomplete report – it included only one city, and, as City Councilman Mark Grzan pointed out, omitted important cost savings – city council members voted 4-1 to kill the status quo-challenging idea.

Even the justification remained the same: “To continue the conversation is … a morale issue for the department,” City Councilman Larry Carr said, echoing Police Chief Bruce Cumming’s comments in July.

It reminds me of a favorite Bush Administration tactic in dealing with critics of the war in Iraq and the warrantless wiretapping program: Trying to force silence by telling critics that just talking about these ideas is harmful.

It’s an unfair and, frankly, un-American tactic whether it’s being used by a local city councilman or police chief, or the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. And it’s a last-resort defense of the status quo.

But, sadly, both in Morgan Hill and Washington, D.C., it works.

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.” ~ Author Laurence J. Peter

In one respect the status quo changed a bit in Morgan Hill. After the Morgan Hill Times published Grzan’s Aug. 28 letter to the editor that claimed that parks in the city’s landscape and lighting assessment district are private, Grzan changed his tune.

I was startled by Grzan’s letter because it contradicted what I was told by city staff in 2005, so I verified with Deputy Public Works Director Mori Struve that the city’s landscape assessment district parks are indeed public.

Grzan also discovered his error and – following the newspaper model I frequently advocate – corrected it at his first opportunity with another letter published on Aug. 31. Grzan also changed his position on park funding, writing, “As public parks are available to all residents, in my opinion they should likely be supported by the city as other parks are.”

Kudos to Grzan, and I wish more politicians had the guts and intellectual honesty to follow his example. (Grzan does needs to lose that wiggle room-endowing “likely,” however.)

“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” ~ Psychologist Warren G. Bennis

Gilroyans continue to prepare for their November opportunity to change the status quo by electing leaders instead of managers to city council.

This year, Gilroyans were stunned to learn that their police chief and assistant chief had secretly retired weeks earlier and were double-dipping as hourly employees because City Administrator Jay Baksa hid this from residents, police officers and council members. But this outrage didn’t cause council to make any substantive changes – the city charter remains unaltered and Baksa kept his job.

Gilroyans were also astounded by a Baksa-championed pay scheme for top-tier, nonunion city employees that has inherent conflicts of interest and requires that these employees be treated as above average without any consideration to individual job performance.

I hope that when November rolls around, Gilroyans choose leaders who will challenge the management-supported and bureaucracy-endorsed status quo to represent them on city council.

“The status quo sucks.” ~ Comedian George Carlin

Happily, the status quo changed, albeit for just a few hours, in Polk County, Iowa, in regard to same-sex marriage. Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson on Thursday declared that Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and ordered Polk County officials to honor same-sex couples’ requests for marriage licenses, then stayed his order on Friday pending appeals.

One same-sex Iowa couple managed to get a marriage license after Polk’s original ruling and wed before he issued the stay. They now are in a similar legal limbo as the thousands of same-sex couples who married in San Francisco in 2004.

I hope their legal-limbo status quo is resolved quickly in the only constitutional, and, frankly, American way that it can be: Honoring the Constitution’s equal protecton and separation of church and state clauses by legalizing same-sex marriage.

But, given the staying power of status quo, I fear it’s going to be a long, hard fight.

“The status quo is the only solution that cannot be vetoed.” ~ Economist Clark Kerr



  1. Thank you for sharing!

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