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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• Malibu City Council Coup and Public Image •

BY ANNE SOBLE

All of the official protestations to the contrary, I haven’t spoken with anyone yet who doesn’t view what transpired at Monday night’s Malibu City Council meeting as anything other than blatant power politics and part of the game plan for the 2014 municipal election.
Aspects of Monday’s proceedings that should have had nothing to do with local political differences raise interesting questions. Shouldn’t a city council member’s oath to uphold the law include such legal staples as presumption of innocence, evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and separation of the legislative and judicial functions? As for concern about the city’s public image, is there an official image? If so, who determines it?
But what is most puzzling about Monday’s council coup is more intangible. Why did politicians who are part of a well-oiled campaign organization that has had until now no problem marginalizing those who refuse to fall into lockstep think they had to do something to neutralize the top vote-getter in the last council race?
Realistically, there’s no way one member could alter the current city council’s direction on commercial development, or any other municipal policies. Certainly, the double-or-triple age difference and culture gap should be embraced, because this is Malibu’s future leadership pool. As for deleterious private legal issues, if they ever materialize, they can be addressed at that time.
Could it be that a young and mediagenic political newcomer was perceived as such a threat that there was a decision to perpetuate a stigmatization of personal behavioral or mental health issues as a defect that should be viewed as a source of public shame and the basis for discrimination in opportunities for public service?
Many Malibuites have been in the forefront of challenging ethnic, gender and sexuality prejudice, and they think it is time for one more closet door to open. Might an honest and forthright public acknowledgment of bipolarity and other medically treatable, but still stigmatized, mental health conditions be as major a step forward in establishing Malibu’s seriousness in the public policy arena as the focus on wastewater disposal?
For those interested in humanizing and universalizing Malibu’s public image, might championing this cause strike a responsive chord with the families that live with behavioral health issues? If the data that as many as one in four adults experiences some form of mental health problem is even close, there is an enormous potential for Malibu to make a major policy contribution.
The Malibu City Council could have taken a leadership role in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness that results in denial, avoidance of treatment, and perpetuation of a vicious cycle that robs society of some of its brightest and most creative members.
Five weeks ago, a psychologist wrote a letter to the editor that challenged “members of the community of Malibu to educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of mental illness; to defuse negative and insensitive discussion of those with behavioral health issues; and engage in productive discussion of the issue.”
Some city council members didn’t get the message.

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