Feb 23 2018

OPINION: Charter Changes Need Committee Review

Proposed Changes to Piedmont Governance Are Missing  Community Input – 

The February 5, 2018 Staff Report has the proposed revised  City Charter. There are single lines added that are fundamental changes to the way Piedmont operates and has operated for many, many years. Example: p19 Sec. 3.01 “All other officers shall be appointed and directed by the City Administrator.” Only the City Administrator and Attorney would be appointed by the Council under the new charter.

Under the current City Charter the City Council is the final authority. Under the proposed new Charter the Chiefs of Police and Fire, City Clerk, Director of Finance, Director of Public Works, City Engineer, Planning Director, Director of Recreation and such other subordinate officers, assistants, deputies and employees would be appointed by the City Administrator. This is a fundamental change in Piedmont governance. Much more community input is required for this and other fundamental changes.

The essential character of government in Piedmont is civic involvement and public discourse. The City Charter is the central document and rushing this to a vote without more public input and a committee report seems unwise.

Recently the Planning Commission approved a recommendation that Staff have more input on window reveals. If the distance a window is set back from the horizontal exterior wall plane is worthy of committee review, surely changing the City Charter also deserves a thoughtful committee investigation and report.

As public discourse is at the heart of Piedmont governance, an Open Government Ordinance is needed and should be made part of any new charter. This would extend the Brown Act three day notice requirement to a longer period such as eleven days so that during holidays, summer vacations and other demanding family times there would be more notice and adequate time for residents to digest and involve themselves in important changes in town.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

2 Responses to “OPINION: Charter Changes Need Committee Review”

  1. I would agree that the proposed change in regards to who appoints department heads is a significant change. However, for background, many jurisdictions are changing to having the city administrator/manager make appointments, rather than the city council because of an identified problem with political interference by councilmembers. A department head is pretty helpless when directed to do something by an elected official. Oakland comes to mind as a jurisdiction with this problem. However, Piedmont, being so small and to my mind, not having a problem of councilmembers interfering with staff’s duties, should not really need this change. A slow and deliberate airing of the issue seems appropriate.

  2. I think Michael’s last two points are most relevant. Piedmont is unlike other cities where elected officials attempt to interfere with staff duties. To the contrary, without their own staff, council members have little free energy to evaluate staff recommendations. Perhaps giving Council the authority to hire department heads was the counterbalance to this relatively weak role our volunteer council has in city operation. From my experience, the downside of having the city administrator do the hiring is that it will bias theses considerations to internal hires. Administrators will gravitate to internal candidates for these positions. Having Council do the hiring gives a more objective assessment of candidates and authority to facilitate change in city operations.

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