You Can’t Lead From Behind

This op ed was published on September 19, 2016 in the San Mateo Daily Journal. If, like me, you think the Council should endorse Prop 63 on behalf of San Carlos, please email or write the Council and let us know. You can find all our email addresses at

There’s an old joke that leaders are the people who, from behind the crowd, shout “Go! Go! Go!”. I was reminded of this at our most recent Council meeting.

Proposition 63, Safety for All, is on this November’s ballot. It imposes some additional regulations on gun ownership, which you can read about at the initiative’s website,

Personally, I think what’s proposed are reasonable additions to our existing laws and regulations. I know how hard all local public officials – law enforcement, city and school district staff — work to prevent mass shootings. And I know how committed my elected colleagues, on the Council and the School Board, are to ensuring staff has what they need to protect us.

But experience shows that’s not sufficient. Newtown and San Bernardino aren’t known as being easy on violent crime…and both were visited by unspeakable horror. I am overcome with grief and rage every time I think of what those innocent young children suffered. I know of no one who doesn’t feel the same way.

So it seemed perfectly reasonable to ask my colleagues to take up the issue of whether we should endorse Prop 63.

Sadly, three of my colleagues decided to keep us from even discussing whether or not to endorse the measure. We currently use a “rule of three” to put items on the agenda…which I think is silly, since three of us can decide for or against any matter within our jurisdiction. Shouldn’t our protocol recognize that discussion can change minds?

My colleagues’ main concerns? Discussion might be divisive, and make us unhappy with each other. It might also set a dangerous precedent to discuss anything other than purely local issues. You can watch the entire discussion online thru the City’s website, at

I am grateful my colleague Ron Collins joined me in making the request. I’ve come to see Ron as “Mister San Carlos”, because he was born and raised here, and because his heart beats in time with the pulse of the community. When he says something is important to San Carlos, I listen. I wish others on the dais had done so Monday night.

As to the objections raised by the opponents?

Divisiveness? We’re elected to serve the community, not to become fast friends. Anyone who has worked in an organization knows that, sometimes, heat gets generated on the path to the light, and makes allowances. If you can’t manage that, you have no business representing a community.

Precedent? Everything we do or don’t do sets a precedent. The question isn’t “are we setting a precedent?” but “what kind of precedent are we setting?” Interestingly, it turns out the Council has endorsed statewide initiatives in the past: our city manager reminded us the Council endorsed Proposition 1A, which limited the ability of the State to take tax monies away from cities.

So taking a position on how much money flows into our coffers is okay. But taking a position on an effort aimed at reducing the slaughter of innocents – and our children — is not? We need to remember why it’s sometimes known as filthy lucre, and focus on what really matters: the living, breathing human beings who make up San Carlos.

In closing, I want to recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion about how much regulation of firearms is enough, and how much is too much. I suspect our community isn’t 100% in favor of Prop 63.

But being a community leader is more than just handing out awards, or being recognized for doing what no one opposes. Sometimes you have to lead. You can’t generally do that from behind the crowd. Perhaps if enough community members speak up the Council will do an admittedly small bit of “leading” — from behind — and discuss whether or not an initiative aimed at reducing the risk of mass shootings is worth endorsing.

2 thoughts on “You Can’t Lead From Behind”

  1. Mark, I’m curious, what makes this issue different from any other ballot measure that’s come up since the last time a San Carlos City Council decided as a group to discuss and endorse? I’m guessing there have been many measures that ultimately have an impact on the citizens of San Carlos but the Councils of past and present seem to have made it unwritten policy to not wade in with opinions?

  2. As I mentioned in the op ed, Josh, the Council has endorsed statewide initiatives in the past (e.g., Prop 1A). So to the extent one wants to argue from precedent — which I am not keen on, personally, because if we live by precedent we’d all still be living in caves, or on the African savannah — the precedent’s already been set.

    I’ve tried to get the Council to fulfill its leadership function on other initiatives in the past, to no avail. But I feel particularly strongly about this one, given the horrors of what we, as a society, are facing. Not some abstract “national society”, either; mass shootings are a local issue, affecting every locality in California. Not being willing to discuss endorsing a proposition aimed at trying to combat that scourge is, quite simply, a dereliction of duty.

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