What’s in a proclamation? It’s the sentiment that counts

Allred-Shannon

Peggy Shannon and Gloria Allred pose with Shannon’s proclamation. Credit: Gloria Allred

by Emily Burns | inewsource

Peggy Shannon had seen others receive proclamations, but never dreamed she would get one herself. When the chance to receive a day in her honor presented itself, Shannon was reluctant to accept it – she didn’t want to pat herself on the back.

“It made me very proud that the City Council felt that I deserved a ‘Peggy Shannon Day,’” Shannon said. “I was very humbled and just very pleased that I got something like that.”

The proclamation of “Peggy Shannon Day” last week came with an official apology from the City of San Diego, resolving a sexual harassment complaint against former Mayor Bob Filner.

Shannon, 67, alleged last August that Filner kissed her and made sexually explicit comments to her.

Proclamations are an age-old tradition among local governments, including San Diego city and county. And it turns out, they are fairly easy to come by.

inewsource tallied all the proclamations passed in 2013 using City Council meeting minutes and records provided by the offices of Interim Mayor Todd Gloria’s and Supervisor Greg Cox.

Last year alone, there were more than 700 proclamations conferred in the city and county on people, causes and organizations. They had days, months, weeks, and in one case, a year declared for them.

2013 was declared “The Year of OceanSTEM” by Cox. The proclamation describes OceanSTEM as a year-long initiative focused on events in the the county that celebrate the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math in the maritime community.

We created a calendar of proclamations passed in 2013, and coded each one for presenter. (story continues below calendar)

“People feel honored”

Proclamations can’t be bought. In most cases, you just have to ask for one. Proclamations are largely symbolic, but to Shannon, and many others, they are an important recognition.

Gloria granted close to 90 proclamations as interim mayor and nearly 20 as council president in 2013. He also presented many more in conjunction with other council members.

“I think, as someone who’s had the opportunity to give out many of them in the community, it may seem a little hokey, I think on the face of it,” Gloria said.

“But when you present them, the enthusiasm with which they’re received, I mean, people really feel honored, they appreciate the recognition,” he said.

Shannon certainly did.

“It’s not just a proclamation because I’m 67 years old and I moved to San Diego. It’s because I did something that I felt the people of San Diego deserved to hear,” Shannon said.

Proclamations are given to a variety of recipients – individuals, an annual event, or a cause are some of the most common. Proclamations can also be requested by a constituent, or city staff can recommend a recipient.

Gloria said he can’t recall a time he’s denied a constituent’s request for a proclamation or refused to sign one introduced by another council member.

“I think there are some that perhaps I’ve said that I wouldn’t author, but usually that’s because it’s more appropriate for perhaps another council member, someone who’s led on a particular issue, that’s more closely associated with it. For example, the culture of the council, if it’s in their district, if it’s not in my district, you defer,” Gloria said.

The process of granting proclamations recently became less formal in the city. In past years, council offices would request proclamations, which would then get passed on to the City Attorney’s office. The City Attorney’s office would send a formal resolution to the council.

In 2010, when San Diego made the “strong mayor” form of government permanent, the city charter was changed so that non-substantive items, such as proclamations, no longer require a resolution. They are now considered “ceremonial items” and usually approved by unanimous consent at council meetings.

Peggy Shannon Day

The official city of San Diego proclamation proclaiming “Peggy Shannon Day”

It’s not unusual to see multiple proclamations declared on the same day, or for the Board of Supervisors and the City Council to both recognize a person or organization. For example, there were six different recipients who were given November 2 as their day, and November is the designated month for seven different causes, including lung cancer awareness and Sikh awareness.

There is little oversight over the proclamations and who receives them. Gloria said the lack of review isn’t a problem.

“It is a non-issue, because it’s symbolic, because it doesn’t have the way of law. And I don’t see the need to make adjustments because I think council members handle it appropriately. You don’t see a lot of weird ones, you don’t see any that are outrageous, or controversial even,” Gloria said.

“I think people use it as the tool that it is, which is, again, to sort-of confer some appreciation to someone that’s deserving of it,” he said.

Recognizing worthy work

Roger Bailey was about to leave his job as director of the city’s public utilities department when he received his proclamation. He said he likes to think he received the honor for his work in San Diego.

“I spent quite a bit of time in the city of San Diego trying to make sure that the service that we provide to the residents of San Diego was the best water, wastewater service, period,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he was honored to receive his proclamation, and while paychecks are nice, sometimes receiving recognition for your work is just as important.

Though uncommon now, there has been controversy over proclamations in the past, Gloria said, pointing to the late George Stevens – a Baptist pastor who served as District 4 councilman before giving up his seat in 2002 because of term limits.

“Many years ago, former councilman George Stevens would refuse to sign proclamations, usually with ones that he felt conflicted with his religious beliefs,” Gloria said.

The Board of Supervisors has a process similar to the city’s for granting proclamations. Supervisors can create their own proclamations, or members of the public can request them.

Last year, the board gave out more than 400 proclamations.

Each supervisor has a different process for reviewing and writing proclamations. Supervisor Greg Cox was chairman of the board last year, and his assistant would get the requests and sometimes write them. Other times, Cox’s communication officer would write them. Cox said he rarely gets involved in the decision making, unless the proclamation is one he is granting at an event.

“They’re a way to recognize individuals and organizations that are doing good things,” Cox said.

Shannon’s proclamation might have been more than just recognizing her for doing good things. Her attorney, famed women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, said San Diego may be the first city that has publicly commended someone for speaking up against sexual harassment.

The City Council presented Shannon’s proclamation in a frame, a rare occurrence.

Gloria joked that he is sometimes embarrassed about presenting proclamations without frames, but it keeps the process from costing too much money, he explained.

For Shannon, the frame seems to be worth the investment.

“I know that everybody on that council signed that proclamation,” she said, “and it just means so much to me. I’ve got it hanging on my wall right now.”

Emily Burns is an investigative researcher for inewsource.

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