It is an honor to have a new book featured in any publication. When it’s the journal for the Los Angeles area legal community, it’s a double honor! Here’s what the Southern California Record wrote about CITY COUNCIL 101 – Insider’s Guide for New Councilmembers, released January 8th, 2023.
Thursday, January 26, 2023
When Debbie Peterson was elected mayor of Grover Beach, there was a lot she didn’t know about how open government really works.
She’s written a book called City Council 101: Insider’s Guide for New Councilmembers to help prepare other newly elected politicians and people who have political aspirations.
“It took me years to learn because you just have to learn it by osmosis,” she said. “Nobody explains it.”
Peterson | Provided photo
As mayor of Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County for two years, Peterson earned $300 a month, which didn’t even pay for car expenses to attend monthly meetings. But she still found it to be a heady experience.
“As soon as you get in office, you’re privy to all kinds of new information that you just don’t have access to otherwise because you are in the middle of where it’s all going on,” Peterson told the Southern California Record. “Because you almost immediately know more than everybody else, it’s really easy to think of yourself as being better than everyone else.”
Staying grounded requires remembering ‘We the people,’ according to Peterson.
“It’s really easy for folks, once they get elected at the local level, to think of themselves as city hall employees because they really don’t know what they’re doing and they’re dependent on city staff to teach them their jobs,” she said.
Prior to being elected mayor, Peterson sat on the Grover Beach City Council, and before that, she was on the planning commission for four years. After her term ended as mayor, she went back to the city council for three years.
“When people from the public start to ask questions, it’s annoying, and that’s not a criticism of democracy,” she said. “If you don’t understand that you are working for the people who are asking you questions, and it is their job to ask those questions of you, then it’s really easy to become arrogant.”
In her first book, The Happiest Corruption: Sleaze, Lies, & Suicide in a California Beach Town, Peterson writes about sitting on 16 committees, including four she considered poorly managed.
“Some people, when they get on on any kind of a board, don’t stop ever to read the bylaws, the charter, the rules, and regulations or the Constitution, and so they tend to make it up as they go along,” Peterson said. “It’s incredible to me how often that happens.”
She advises not to depend on the city attorney, who is beholden to the city council through which they were appointed.
“Even though the city attorney is there to make sure the laws we have in place and the laws we make are correctly carried out to protect the citizens to whom the institution belongs, if you don’t kowtow to the majority on the city council, then you may not continue in your employment,” Peterson added. “It’s difficult for them to operate independently. There’s a conflict of interest.”
Peterson recommends politicians obtain public speaking training at groups like Toastmasters to increase stage presence at meetings.
“If you are speaking at meetings, then you’re serving your public,” she said. “You shouldn’t grandstand, but absolutely take every opportunity to speak. Your constituents need to hear from you, and the more you speak, the better you get.”