Town halls are, generally speaking, one of the better styles of public meeting. They allow the public to ask direct questions in a format where the elected official is expected to actually respond, and thus force a certain level of accountability.
On 2/28/23, Sacramento City Councilmember Caity Maple (pictured left) held a “town hall” meeting to address the withering criticism she’s been receiving ever since her vote to approve Sac PD’s purchase of the Rook military vehicle. She had opposed police militarization during her campaign last year, so the public has demanded accountability for her broken campaign promise. Surely a town hall meeting would go a long way towards rebuilding trust, right?
The trouble is, Caity Maple didn’t hold a town hall meeting.
Yes, she held a public event; yes, the event was billed as a “town hall”; yes, the public showed up ready to enter into a dialogue to resolve the mounting tension between Maple and the people who got her elected. But the event itself was a farce, a disgustingly cynical attempt at PR spin which only served to further isolate the councilmember from her voter base.
Instead of the promised town hall meeting, Maple’s team apparently thought the best use of everyone's time would be to hold what was essentially a focus group. No one was told this in advance, we only found out once the meeting started, so anyone who came with a prepared question - y'know, like you would get to ask at an actual town hall - was sorely disappointed.
The structure was as follows: there 3 questions offered for the public to respond to, and participants could raise their hand to give an answer, with only 7 people allowed to answer each question (though to be fair, there was a form to submit written answers as well). At the end, Maple’s staff briefly synthesized the public responses, and promised to send out an email in a few days which would include a written summary of all comments, and would go over next steps.
At the time of this writing, they have sent out their summary of comments (report linked below) - which, to her staff’s credit, is actually pretty thorough and doesn’t pull any punches - but it's still crickets as far as next steps or any actual direct responses to the criticisms they received.
A couple of pro-Rook members of the public showed up, but the vast majority of the public present at the meeting were former Maple supporters who rightly oppose police militarization and were rightly outraged at her terrible vote. There was a strong feeling of betrayal in the room during the meeting - not just from supporters, but in fact from personal friends.
Zoe Kipping, who co-founded SacSOUP (an organization focused on advocacy for the unhoused) with Maple, spoke about her disappointment in not just the vote but in how Maple has apparently been shutting out her personal circle since the vote occurred, saying
If you were proud of this decision, Caity, then this [isn’t] how this would have gone down… The people who know you don’t recognize you
Caity Maple herself only spoke twice, and each time briefly. She spoke first at the top of the event, offering the Rook’s supposed usefulness in domestic violence incidents as a justification for her about-face, and seeming to primarily blame the current backlash on poor communication rather than anything substantive. During the various public comments, Maple sat stoically, her face not showing any emotion. Was she actually listening, or had she muted zoom and popped on Netflix? Only she can say for sure.
Finally, she closed the evening with a statement that seemed pre-written and was largely just a rehash of her previous op-ed and social media posts on the subject.
Maple did not actually respond to most of the concerns raised by the public during the meeting - in particular:
At no point did she acknowledge having broken a campaign promise, let alone apologize for breaking said promise. She seems content to continue gaslighting the public and pretending that she has remained largely consistent; fortunately, it doesn’t seem that folks are buying what she’s selling
She claimed to have “learned” since the vote about how it’s more complicated than she thought but didn’t actually say whether she stood by her vote or whether she would vote differently now/commit to voting differently in the future
Multiple attendees at different points during the night criticized the terrible format of the meeting; these criticisms went entirely ignored by Caity Maple and her team
The language Maple used (for the few moments she spoke) was primarily focused on moving forward, rather than on admitting and addressing wrongs. That is the opposite of accountability
No one but Caity Maple knows what is in her mind and in her heart, however, it’s impossible to see this “town hall” meeting as anything more than a desperate attempt to put some spin on a PR disaster that is already out of her control. If this meeting was any indication, it didn’t work. Maple is no Angelique Ashby; she is not a skilled enough politician to sell this sort of disingenuous nonsense.
And that’s a good thing! Being bad at dishonestly is a virtue, one that I hope Caity leans into going forward. She was not elected to be another Angelique Ashby, she was elected to represent the progressive community in Sacramento, and that community is willing and eager to welcome her back in… IF she can stop gaslighting us, hold herself accountable for this obvious mistake of a vote, and start aggressively fighting for us going forward.
I’m not holding my breath.