DID POLICE UNION TORPEDO STUDY OF DISPENSARIES?
By STEVEN TAVARES
The CitizenHAYWARD CITY HALLRewind back to Hayward's stunning door slam last week on medical marijuana. There may have been more politics going on then first meets the eye.
After the council gave its approval to the city staff to look into the feasibility of medical marijuana dispensaries in Hayward on three occasions, six members of the council, including Mayor Michael Sweeney, became mum on the subject. Only Councilman Bill Quirk spoke in favor of allowing staff to delve into its effects on the city.
So, what happened? Sources close to the situation say pressure came from top city leaders to snuff out any further discussion of dispensaries. Comment from the mayor's office was not returned as of Monday morning.
In his remarks, last Tuesday night, Quirk went as far to criticize the mayor for stifling progress on medical marijuana last year when the council debated making dispensaries a priority.
"When that policy came out, we again had a vote and we said let's go ahead with that," said Quirk. "The mayor, of course, was opposed and he said let's have a work session on this and we'll discuss it in more detail. That never happened. We asked staff to do it. It never happened. The city manager said, well, we'll just approve it as part of out priorities for next year. I said that would be fine and I expected that there wouldn't be the sort of venomous attack on this without ever doing the studies."
Afterwards, Quirk told The Citizen, he disapproved of the pattern of obfuscation exhibited by the city staff. "What happened tonight was extremely unusually," said Quirk. "We have never had to have a second vote on priorities. Staff kept on working on this until they got the answer they wanted. I don't think that was appropriate."
But, politics being a contact sport, Quirk took no offense from what he beleives are highly capable employees, only the strategy to end the debate on dispensaries for at least another year. "I disagree with the tactic, but we have a great city manager. I wouldn't want to trade this staff for any other staff. We have a great police chief, great police officers, but this is a time when I don't think they played fair."
Quirk said the presence of a litany of police officers protesting the dispensaries, along with the surprising appearance of Hayward Police Officers Assocation snuffed out medical marijuana's chanes. The inclusion of a city labor union taking a stand on a policy issue is rare and likely signaled medical marijuana's demise Tuesday night. "It's unusual," said Quirk. "I don't know who got them to come out and it is what killed it."
The President of the HPOA Mike Sorensen agreed having the union speak out against policy was not normally done, but he said officers wanted to give the council more information to make their decision. "It's more or less not about setting policy, but providing information," said Sorensen. "Since we're out there dealing with all the issues there's no better way."
Sorensen said nobody from the top urged the union to stand against the controversial dispensaries officers say caused an uptick in crime and diverted resources away from the entire city. "We get the agenda items and we saw what they were voting on," said Sorensen. "Those of us on the board talked about it and thought it was necessary to come down and that was it."
Every councilmember other than Quirk spoke against pegging the dispensaries issue as a priority for the year with a mixture of approval of its medicinal qualities with doubt about saddling the overworked city staff with more work. Councilman Francisco Zermeno said he did not want to live next to a dispensary, while Councilman Kevin Dowling, who is running for Alameda County supervisor, poked holes in supporters' arguments saying among other things, the success of marijuana in the Netherlands bears no relation to the culture in the United States where firearms are more readily available.
Only Sweeney did not speak on the subject, although he struggled throughout the night with a painfully raspy voice. He did, though, offer the podium to Police Chief Ron Ace only after the motion to proceed with dispensaries was overwhelmingly denied.
Ace struck an obedient pose, but disagreed with the need of dispensaries in Hayward and asked which more deserving priorities would be cut in favor of medical marijuana. "If you want me to do what you hired me to do and that is to provide a safe city for the citizens of Hayward," said Ace. "If you want me to look into medical marijuana dispensaries, you tell me what you want me not to do."
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