Details then emerged about another retreat that was recently held, and this time, even the City Manager, Alex McIntyre, didn't know about it. On November 1st, thirteen members of the Community Services Leadership Team, under the direction of Cherise Brandell, had a driver take them to the Yountville Community Center for a one-day offsite. The use of the Community Center was at a discount, but the outing also included a trip to a local winery for, according to the agenda, a private tour, team building and to celebrate department successes. The total cost of this retreat was $2175, with $1500 of that expense coming from the use of the driver and van. It should be noted that while the City Manager (Mr. McIntyre) did not know about the retreat, his Assistant City Manager, Starla Jerome-Robinson, did.
Should the City Manager have known about this offsite, particularly because it included $1500 worth of travel expenses and a winery tour outside our city? In my opinion, absolutely. Should the City Council have known? I would say so, and judging from the outcry when the information finally did surface, I am not alone in that opinion. Clearly, the public's response to the revelation about the first retreat indicates the public has concerns about where tax dollars are spent and how. Members of the City Council, who receive calls from concerned citizens, shouldn't be blindsided.
Recently, the City took a great step towards better transparency by publishing the City Council Weekly Digest as part of its public email log. However, to be a reliable source of information, that digest needs to be consistent and thorough. In the November 4, 2013 digest, the City provided information about a team and skill building workshop being held for city employees. The workshop was held in Menlo Park at Burgess. Why did the City choose to be open and transparent about that event but not mention the other two? All three gatherings have similar objectives; to team and skill build. Open and honest disclosure garners the public trust but selective disclosure erodes it. It looks as though you are hiding something or picking and choosing to release only the information that makes you look good. People don't like that.
There is no policy that requires City management to disclose an off site or to keep tax dollars in the local economy if possible. To be clearCity leadership has broken no policies or regulations. When you don't have a hard and fast rule to follow, you need to use your best judgment according to an underlying value system. We expect city leadership to demonstrate a value system that:
• Is loyal to local commerce
• Embraces consistent and transparent communication
• Spends our tax dollars wisely
Council Member Ray Mueller summed it up this way: "When you spend public tax dollars, it is incumbent to be respectful of the compactthe covenant you havewith the public taxpayer, who trusts you to spend the money economically to serve a public purpose. I always try to imagine my late, 90 year old Sicilian grandmother, handing me a check, and telling me to go forth and do good. How would she look upon the way the City spent what she entrusted to it? I am troubled by the lack of judgment displayed in this instance, and have voiced my displeasure to the City Manager."
Postscript: Yesterday, November 21, 2013, the City Council issued its public weekly digest and included a notice about the Yountville retreat. This does come after the filing and answering of my public records requests, but is welcome news. This is precisely the kind of transparency and disclosure the public was asking forand deserves.
Second Postscript: Because I recently assessed the transparency and good governance of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) as compared to BART, I went back and took a look at how the MPFPD handles retreats. Prior to their most recent retreat, they publicly announced (per an October 15th board packet posted online) that they would be holding that event. Following the retreat (a 1/2 day event held to do strategic planning), they also posted a detailed account of what was accomplished there. Finally, I have now confirmed where the retreat was held: in Menlo Park at Sunset Magazine offices.