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Council Sends Clear Message To Staff: Be Transparent

Uploaded: Feb 5, 2015


At their January 27th meeting, the Menlo Park City Council was clear with city staff: there needs to be greater public transparency in the hiring of new employees, consultants, contractors and even interns. Mayor Catherine Carlton was especially direct with City Manager Alex McIntyre: "Alex, what you are hearing is that we want you to report to us when you hire a consultant. I think that can be rolled into your job requirements, and if you don't do that, it can be brought up when we review your work for the city. ? I absolutely want to see more transparency."

That's pretty direct.

Council member Ray Mueller, citing the need for a greater level of transparency with the public, put the issue on the council's agenda. The move comes on the heels of the revelation that city staff had hired consultant Malcolm Smith back in March 2014 for $5,125 to "inform and educate" the community with regards to Measure M. The council?and the general public-- did not learn about Mr. Smith's hiring until late October. Setting aside that issue, Mr. Mueller argued that requiring staff to publicly disclose potential and new hiring of new employees and consultants is simply smart policy in its own right. "Regardless of what has happened in the past, this is a good idea. This is just good, sound public policy," Mueller stated.

It is also a move that will help build?and for some, restore ? public trust. Staff's contracting with Mr. Smith is not the first time the city council has found itself uninformed or under informed about consulting services until work was well underway. For example, in December of 2013, staff spent approximately $25,000 to develop five potential new city logos designs before getting city council's direction to proceed.

The public and their elected representatives cannot find out about projects once they are underway and resources are invested. The process has to change; the process has to begin with the goals of a given project or service being discussed, defined and approved or at least publically noticed up front before anyone is hired or money spent.

That is what the council took a step towards doing.

While there was discussion among the council members about the timing of the discussion and whether or not changes should be made to city code rather than amending purchasing policies, the council agreed that changes are needed. They voted unanimously to ask the city attorney to draft language related to the city's purchasing policy as it relates to notifying the council and the public about open and newly hired positions for consultants and contractors. Council asked that reporting include a summary of what services are to be provided, and the drafted language will come back before council for public comment and a vote.

While regular reporting of hires and openings will likely mean more work for staff, City Manager Alex McIntyre welcomes the move. "I believe that the action the council took fits with our ongoing effort to improve transparency. As a result, we will work on how to best make information about city contracts available to the public." He points to other improvements to create greater transparency, including last year's launch of a new city website which makes it much easier to find information and provides granular tools for analyzing city financial information. Mr. McIntyre also adds that the city has "improved our budget process to ensure that the budget document clearly shows how funds are being spent. We have revised our weekly digest to provide more information to the public in a timely manner. I think that the council recognizes that transparency is a journey of improvement and not a destination. It is a journey that I told them I was interested in helping to lead the city through when I took the job and I remain committed to the effort."

Clearly, council is looking for a clear, unobstructed view into what staff is working on. Recognizing that there is "a balance between letting us know everything going on and a 50 page report", Mayor Carlton urged staff to over communicate rather than under and suggested "the nuance: if you think it is going to be controversial, bring it to our attention."

"I believe everyone's heart is in the right place," Carlton added. "We want to build the trust with the people of Menlo Park. This is the right first step to do that."
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Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by respectful, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Thank goodness our current council is able to have respectful meeting. I don't know if anyone will ever bother to look an any of these extra documents that have been requested, but the voters will remember council members that understand how to follow the rules of order.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by transparent hiring, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 7:27 am

The Council should have the city attorney include language related to the city's purchasing policy to include disclosing to the public the list of consultants, temps and interns that have been hired in the year leading up to the new policy. How much money has been spent already? and how many new staff are about to be hired in a hurry before the new policy is enacted?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by resident and small business owner, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:54 am

It's long overdue that city staff be held to a higher level of accountability. I applaud the Council's position requiring more communication and visibility to both planned and unplanned spending. Good article.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bob, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 11:30 am

It is very unfortunate to hear the council is finally starting to actual manage the city staff, but better late than never & I commend the council for doing its job.
I doubt however that the bigger job of changing the culture of the city staff is complete. Being transparent is not the culture, thinking twice about how they spend taxpayers $$ is not the culture. They have been called out before on retreats & other no transparent spending, but haven't changed. I remain skeptical that bring direct & changing the rules to be transparent will he enough.
The rules need to spell out the consequences of failing to follow them & the council must show they are willing to act decisively & swiftly when the city staff do not comply.
It is encouraging that we have people like Erin watching & reporting.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by How 'bout those cameras then, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:32 pm

How about being transparent about why the traffic cameras? It's just the money, folks. Let's be transparent and admit that.

I know, I know. Well, if you don't break the law, then there's no issue, right? Think about how many times you go through those intersections. It is honestly a matter of time, if you go through them enough, till you get your $490 request to fund the city (even though the city only gets a portion, most goes elsewhere in the state).

The original idea was to stop "T-bone" tickets. But a lot of the $ comes from turns, not straight-ons as much. So much for that transparent safety angle. Web Link (you can check me on that)

The reality is that older, slower, more cautious drivers get more of the tickets. If the light is changing, just floor it. You won't get caught. Yep, that's transparently safe now isn't it?

So you want to keep going rather than risk the rear-ender? You have a split second to decide. Do you want to pay $490 now? Or live with the neck and back ache, and arthritis, for the rest of your days?

You think you can use logic to get off? No chance. The city has covered every angle. (Even though many, many other CA cities have seen the logical flaws and decided to get rid of the cameras.) The judges just go with the flow and get their share of the money (the courts are broke).

And finally, do realize that our city made it's decision to get the cameras in part based on the sales job of how great they were in Chicago. Have you read the Chicago Tribune lately? Check out this transparent story of the scandal: Web Link

Redflex does NOT sound like a company that I'd like to brag that my city was in business with!

(Sorry, slightly related to this council story but it's just a thorn that I can't get out of my side. Or pocketbook!)


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Wake Up Call, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:47 pm

When we have a city manager, a business development director and now an assistant to this fellow selling the city to developers, the people who live in Menlo Park better wake up to what's happening under their noses. If you moved here for the quiet neighborhoods, the tree-lined streets, the parks, the children's center, the safe bicycle routes, the downtown shops and restaurants, get involved and keep an eye on our council and city staff. In 5 years, Menlo Park will be very different.

There is no master plan to handle the increased traffic that will come from the hundreds of thousands of square feet of office development the council has approved. Will fire truck or ambulances get through the grid lock to reach you home if there's an emergency? It's all connected. Frustrated drivers will find your neighborhood and they will speed down your street from 4 pm to 6 pm every day, looking for a way to get to the Dumbarton Bridge or why 280.

Transparency? I don't think the council is even aware of what the city administration's true goals are. Serving on the council should be a paid job with a job description and there should be 2 more seats on our council. It's time to get serious or we will lose what our city has stood for. Pay attention. And ask why your Mayor needs to be in India when her responsibilities are right here at home.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by general law, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm

@WakeUpCall, the city manager and business development director should be promoting the city. In five years, we hope the downtown shops and restaurants will not be struggling as they are now. Our neighborhoods will continue to be quiet, trees will continue to line the streets. The parks, children's center and safe bicycle routes aren't going away.There is a master plan (the Downtown Specific Plan) to handle the increased traffic, and the development proposed by Stanford fits within the approved traffic plan. The city's goals are formulated at a public "goal setting" meeting.

We are a general law city, so we're stuck with five council members (Web Link). If Save Menlo can't get even one of their candidates elected, adding two more seats won't help.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Wake Up Call, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Feb 8, 2015 at 11:39 am

To General Law, I am so relieved to hear that the "master plan" includes protecting neighborhoods from increased traffic that will come from the 2 million square feet of office development that the council has approved in the last 5 years but most of which has not been built. I certainly hope one of the solutions is not adding lanes to el camino real as that will create a Sunnyvale tone to the heart of our town and it doesn't touch the real traffic which is east/west as commuters seek ways to reach 101 and 280.

Are you sure about the limit of five council members under the General Law government we have?

Anyway, I will accept you assurances that I have nothing to worry about and that our city's specific plan will keep the best parts of Menlo Park just the way we as new property owners valued when we purchased our home. The cut through traffic in my neighborhood has shown me that commuters are tired of sitting on Willow Road and they are looking for alternatives. I wonder what council member Keith meant when she promised big solutions to the traffic on Willow. Perhaps you might talk to her.

Thank you for your positive outlook. Have you thought of running for council? It sounds like you are very knowledgable.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Feb 8, 2015 at 5:09 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

I would like to see the section of the Downtown Specific Plan where the plans to handle increased traffic are discussed. Good luck finding anything other than a few tiny mitigations.

Wake Up Call is correct.There's a lot of arm-waving vis a vis traffic. The general sentiment is that there are a lot of smart people around here, so that when traffic becomes unbearable, they will figure out solutions. Um, yeah, right, that is exactly how city planning is supposed to work!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by master plan isn't working, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Feb 10, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Both the huge Stanford project and Greenheart project are undergoing their own environmental studies because the impacts from what they propose to build were NOT considered during the master plan process.
The "plan" had a great vision, and the staff and consultants stuffed in details that allow far more and far different development than any of us were led to believe. The Plan isn't working. Unfortunately, the same Council is in place -- almost none of them participated in the planning process, so they are applying their own personal values to what is happening rather than conform with the community's vision. Now they demand more transparency from staff but aren't holding anyone accountable for the egregious conduct over the past several years (the plan's details, and misuse of funds to fight M)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:26 pm

Both Stanford and Greenheart are both paying for comprehensive project-level environmental impact reports - that will be publicly scrutinized - because the Specific Plan requires them to do so NOT because of any type of failure. It's a common and sensible requirement cities use to evaluate and govern individual development projects. So what's the problem?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by master plan isn't working, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Feb 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm

The problem is that both projects were proposed within the first two years of a 30 year plan. The potential impacts of each should easily have been anticipated, given the detailed rules. This is either incompetence or deliberate misleading.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by master plan isn't working, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Feb 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm

The problem is that both projects were proposed within the first two years of a 30 year plan. The potential impacts of each should easily have been anticipated, given the detailed rules. This is either incompetence or deliberate misleading.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 13, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

master:

so what? Would you build a house one room/one year at a time just fit some arbitrary timeline? Sorry, that is a tired old argument that doesn't fly. It doesn't matter whether it goes in in the first two years or the last. It's allowed by the plan. Both projects are getting EIR's and will be heavily scrutinized in a public process. Again.


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