Dec 5 2014

STUDENT REPORT: Toys for Tots, Tips for Digging and Conflicts of Interest

The following is a Piedmont Unified School District student report on the City Council Meeting of November 17, 2014, written by Julia Ormond.

On Monday the 17th of November, the five city council members took their seats at exactly 7:30 pm and began their meeting with a discussion of the previous meeting’s minutes. As this conversation swiftly carried out, the minutes were approved and a couple more Piedmont citizens filed in to find their seats.

Once everyone was seated, Mayor Fujioka opened the floor for citizens to speak out on issues they felt needed to be heard. The first who stepped up to the podium was a man who introduced himself as Mr. Maggonas. Throughout his couple of minutes on the stand, Mr. Maggonas urged for a better relationship between Piedmont and Oakland, describing how we as a small town depend on Oakland, and thus need stronger ties with the large city. Mayor Fujioka thanked Mr. Maggonas for his contribution while other city council members nodded their heads in agreement.

Next to speak to the room was Claire Wong, a senior at Piedmont High School like myself. She explained a scenario that repeatedly occurrs on her walk home from school involving an unsafe crosswalk, and asked for the city council to consider a stop light on the street. The mayor scribbled some notes onto her paper and thanked Claire for bringing the problem to the council’s attention.

Next was my turn to speak out, and I explained a similar problem to Claire’s. I described the speeding on my street and asked for a stop sign somewhere along the long hill. The city council members encouraged me with smiles, once again taking notes on my ideas and thanking me for sharing when I was finished. The interaction between average citizen and city council member was not an intimidating one; the light atmosphere in the room allowed for an easy communication between the government and its citizens, which I appreciated.

When no other Piedmonters preferred to speak, the city council members moved on to their next topic of conversation, which was the Toys For Tots campaign. The Chief of the Fire Department, gentleman dressed in an official uniform, explained the importance of giving back to those less fortunate than those living in Piedmont. When he finished, a large bin was passed around and each city council member happily placed a fun toy or two into the bin to kick off the drive. A photographer took a couple photos, the city council members joyfully acknowledged the cute toys they each brought in, and the Chief thanked them all for participating.

Next to be invited to talk was a man named Tom Guarino, a PG&E representative traveling to cities of the Bay Area to talk about “Digging Month”. When I spoke to this man before the meeting started, he explained how he loved the job he did. With a smile on his face, Mr. Guarino described how interesting it was to travel to the different cities surrounding the Bay. Even though he was only there to speak to the city council, it was an enjoyable trip for him because he helped the people of each city become more conscientious.

Mr. Guarino’s job was to talk to the government of every city and explain the importance of calling PG&E before digging anywhere on one’s property. He stressed how digging without the knowledge of what’s underneath the surface can affect people throughout a district. A water pipe could be hit, and it could take days to fix the issue. Luckily, he said, Piedmont had not caused any digging problems in the past couple years, an accomplishment not many other towns could claim.

After his presentation to the city council members, Mayor Fujioka signed a document recognizing the requests of PG&E and officially named the month of November “Digging Month”. When I asked Mr. Guarino what he would be doing next, he said he would continue his travels until the end of the month, then return to his regular job of fixing downed power lines and broken water heaters throughout the Bay Area. As he left, he thanked Piedmont as a whole for its eager support.

Continuing the meeting, the city council members discussed an issue about a “conflict interest code” that concerned adding government workers and helpers onto a list that required these men and women to officially file the jobs they do for the city of Piedmont. While discussing the details of this code, Councilmember Rood chimed in with an idea to add the city engineer to that list. Although he did not officially work for the government, the engineer has advised the city of Piedmont consistently on multiple occasions. Luckily, the engineer already volunteers to file these papers when he does work for the government; in Rood’s mind it was a simple next step in the connection between the Piedmont government and the engineer himself.

Councilmember Wieler completely disagreed, arguing that putting the advising engineer, somebody who is part of a private business, on this list would be an invasion of privacy. Rood and Wieler continued to state their opinions, but in the end Rood convinced me when he said that there is nothing to hide between the engineer and the government; since he already files his government actions, why not make it official? I think that even just advising the government is important; it is not unnecessary to ask someone officially file the interactions. When put to vote, all agreed with Rood’s point of view, even Wieler, albeit reluctantly.

Once this discussion came to an end, the council members relaxed more and began discussing interesting things they had done in the past two weeks. Councilmember Rood told how he was interviewed by a few Boy Scouts on their way to gaining more badges. Mayor Fujioka explained her latest neighborhood safety meeting, stressing the importance of fostering a tight-knit and smart group of neighbors. Lastly, Councilmember Wieler advocated for an interesting art exhibition he saw in Oakland. As the lightweight conversation came to an end, the mayor once again thanked everyone who voiced their opinions during the meeting and officially ended the city council meeting with a strike of her gavel.

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

One Response to “STUDENT REPORT: Toys for Tots, Tips for Digging and Conflicts of Interest”

  1. Nicely done Julia. One editorial comment. I think you meant “light-hearted” rather than “lightweight” in your characterization of council’s closing conversation.

    And one clarification. Under the conflict of interest policy, workers do not “officially file the jobs they do for the city” but rather file forms (Form 700) that state what their economic interests outside of their position are – property ownership, stock holdings, other partnerships etc. In the case of the City Engineer, he is under contract to the city rather than being a city employee so he has other clients that may have business with the city of Piedmont. That can create a conflict of interest so it’s necessary for Coastland to disclose this information. One has never occurred to my knowledge.

    Keep these report coming PHS Civics class. They are very interesting and take less time than watching KCOM!

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