Jun 2 2018

Piedmont’s City Administrator Form of Government Is Proposed to Be Changed: Consideration June 4

Piedmont City Council to Consider Proposed Charter Changes June 4, 2018, 7:30 p.m. City Hall:

If the City Administrator’s requests to change the City Charter are approved, the City Council could take a back seat in Piedmont’s governance.

Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit proposed eliminating the long-time appointment power of the City Council in the City Charter. 

The City Council has always appointed and hired key administrative positions – Police Chief, Fire Chief, City Clerk, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc. However, the Council told Benoit on April 30, 2018 they wanted to retain the Council’s hiring authority per the City Charter.  Yet Benoit apparently convinced the Council that he, the City Administrator, should be the sole individual authorized to fire or terminate key managers, taking authority away from the Council in an unusual change to Council authority.

Readers will find the administrative changes repeatedly diminish the authority of the Council forfeiting their authority to the City Administrator.

The form of government proposed by Benoit is usually termed a City Manager form of government joined by a strong mayor, which Piedmont does not elect.  Oakland has a City Manager form of government as does Alameda and Astoria, Oregon, where Benoit was employed for many years prior to coming to Piedmont. Each of these cities have a separately elected Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor is elected from within the Council  by the five Council members. 

Many are familiar with Oakland struggles, but perhaps less familiar with Alameda’s recent troubles when the Council terminated their City Manager over a hiring situation. Piedmont has not had such disruption and the City Council has worked collaboratively when selecting officers such as the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and others.  It has been stated that it is better to have 5 members of the Council selecting  the City officers rather than one unelected person – the City Administrator – making the selections and terminations.

Despite pleas for an independent committee to study and evaluate proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter, none was formed by the City Council.  The Administration driven proposals have moved forward following a Council Study Session.  

This PCA article points out some of the critical issues, but as with any City Charter the devil is in the details, of which there are many.  The Council, apparently, will be presenting forums after they decide what should be placed on a Piedmont  November 2018 election ballot to seek required ratification


Below are various changes noted by City staff as substantive.  Readers will note in the full draft linked below there are many other important issues.

   The pros and cons of the changes have not been presented by staff.

Important administrative changes of the Charter were listed last in the staff report linked below. The order has been changed here. 

  • ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROVERSY: Council would hire top managers, but could not fire them. In Article 3 – Administration – Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they will be directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.
  • The Council acted against the recommendation of the City Administrator and decided to retain their long held ability to select and appoint (hire) Department Heads per the current Charter requirement appointments for Department Heads, while letting the City Administrator be the only individual who fire the Department heads.
  •   ISSUE: The Council relinquishment of their ability to also terminate (fire) Department Heads –  the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, City Clerk, etc. presents potential new problems for the City Council authority.
  • New positions have been added to the list of permanent City of Piedmont positions.  The number of  Department Head employeeswill be permanently placed in the City Charter potentially making it more difficult to consolidate or eliminate positions. 
  •  ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL;  NO LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF RESERVE FUNDS. In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.
  • Elimination of the amount of money the City can place in reserve, while continuing to tax property owners has been one of  the more noticed proposed changes to the City Charter.  The original goal of limiting reserves was to control taxation without a purpose. In recent years, the Council and Administration has circumvented the limitation by building up reserves in numerous specials funds presenting a bountiful amount of money stored by the millions for special purposes.   The change appears arbitrary. 
  • ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL: BIDDING and PURCHASING:  In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.
  • Many City service providers are currently not obtained through a formal bidding process. Regardless of cost to the City, old friends, contractors,  and work companions often continue for years without ever going through a formal procurement process.  Some suggest Piedmont has not always performed due diligence with the millions of dollars spent for outside services and have suggested stronger language rather than more relaxed requirements. Piedmont adopted a stronger procurement, liability and project policy led by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont.  There has been no comment on the impact of the proposed Charter change to the policy. 
  •  The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)  This makes Piedmont Charter language compliant with U.S. and state law without impacting Piedmont’s current compliant practices.
  • The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments. There is no validation provide for the Board of Education position on the Charter change. 

POLITICAL: LIMITING SERVICE BY FORMER COUNCIL MEMBERS.  The proposal would increase the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office from 4 to 8 years after leaving office.

 Only two Council members have in the past 3 decades attempted to be re-elected following 4 years of ineligibility.  One former Councilmember was not re-elected, another was elected, but recently resigned over a scandal.  A local newspaper’s publicity for those two candidates influenced the election more than the candidates’ efforts.

POLITICAL: HOW LONG SHOULD THE COUNCIL HAVE TO FILL A COUNCIL VACANCY.   An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council would be extended to allow the Council 60 days rather than just 30 days to fill a vacancy.

 Recent history has proven the Council has been able to readily fill numerous Council vacancies within the allotted 30 day time period. The intention of the Charter was to expeditiously fill a vacancy for a full Council composition of 5 members rather than unnecessarily remain at 4 or fewer members. 

  • CONTROVERSIAL: WHEN TO HOLD COUNCIL MEETINGS A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis.

    Change could be arbitrary. 

    Residents often plan their public participation schedules around knowing when the Council will meet  – the first and third Mondays of each month. With recent changes to the Zoning Code, not knowing when the Council will next meet to consider a matter opens up conflicting issues. From high school students to public participants, having regularly scheduled meetings, a standard for most cities,  is beneficial.  If three (the required amount) Council members cannot attend a regularly scheduled  meeting, then the meeting would fall to the next day or week. Going on the City Council is known to require certain meetings per month thus allowing the Council and public set dates for planning purposes. Scheduling of matters can be crucial to the consideration of many issues and the orderly functioning of government.  Reducing the frequency of Council meetings puts them at a disadvantage in providing the leadership the citizenry expects of their elected officials.

Amendments are also proposed to a number of other sections of the Charter to remove stated outdated provisions and modernize language. Click to read a marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed Charter amendments.


Citizens are invited and encouraged to comment at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA  94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.

The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.

For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.

4 Responses to “Piedmont’s City Administrator Form of Government Is Proposed to Be Changed: Consideration June 4”

  1. The staff report lacks fundamental information and rationale for these proposed changes. It’s simply a timeline of the process and leaves Piedmonter’s asking why. It seems as if staff and Council want to get these changes on the ballot and then explain why to the community.

    term limits: the rationale offered by the mayor was the large number of applicants to apply to fill Wieler’s spot on council. He was surprised to learn that so many “new” people wanted to serve on council and to facilitate that, requiring termed-out council members to wait 8 years would make it easier for first-time candidates to run – lessen the luster of incumbency. That’s a noble idea but really has little impact since so few termed-out candidates have ever run again in Piedmont – only one ever has. Limiting council members to a single 5-year term would vastly increase turn-over and achieve the mayor’s stated goal. Many of the applicants had no volunteer experience in Piedmont – is that good for Piedmont? A record of volunteerism helps screen out opportunists for city office. The staff report also neglected to note that staff found only one city in California that has adopted this “8 on/8 off” term limit rule.

    General Fund 25% cap: the report gives no rationale for why the cap should be eliminated from a financial or functional standpoint. It could be that in 2 years when the annual side-fund bond payments ($1M+) are finished this windfall can be seamlessly taken into the General Fund. Removing the cap now avoids having to discuss how to allocate these funds.

    appointments: the biggest influence Council can have on city operations is the selection of the administrator and department heads. Undergrounding and crime reduction are two recent examples of how council’s role in selecting staff sets new performance standards. What is the rationale for this fundamental change to how a charter city is supposed to operate?

    Bidding requirements: I believe the threshold was raised to $50,000 with the appointment of the new city administrator. How is the city going o get competitive bidding without this requirement? Will the proposed ordinance require Council to set a level for each project? This seems more cumbersome. Again, the staff report gives no explanation for eliminating this fundamental approach to controlling public spending. And daylighting it.

  2. Converting the City Administrator to a City Manager places far too much unilateral authority in the hands of what is essentially the CEO of Piedmont. Keeping the City Administrator and Department Heads directly answerable to City Council is fundamental to governance in Piedmont, and has been since our City’s inception. Placing too much authority in the hands of the head of staff opens the possibility of abuses currently being attempted by Donald Trump and his cronies.

  3. Some notes from the meeting last night:

    The Council is planning another public meeting at the end of June, probably in the Council Chambers so that people can participate remotely. It would be helpful to have someone in the room monitoring both the meeting and electronic comments.

    The staff will work to describe the motivation for the changes. Most of the changes were described as “housekeeping”, but I agree that switching from Administrator to Manager is significant.

    There will be limited time after the June meeting for changes to the charter before it is finalized for the ballot.

    The Council cannot use their offices to promote passage of the proposition after it goes on the ballot for legal reasons.

    However, they can issue a proclamation in its favor, can support it as private citizens, and can participate in private groups who support its passage.

    The Council (McBain?) suggested the League of Women’s Voters of Piedmont could provide time for discussion on the (now final) proposition closer to the election in a Candidate Forum or other meeting.

    There was extensive discussion of the Charter changes at the Apr 30th meeting (available online), but no one in the audience. (I think I was the only non-city person in the audience for last night’s Charter discussion. I know I was the only non-city person there at the end.)

    Agenda, minutes, video, MP3 Audio, and MP4 Audio of the June 30th meeting is available at:

    http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/video/ (search for “April 30, 2018”).

    If anyone watched the meeting, could you correct any mistakes I may have made?

  4. Approving what will be put before voters and then having resident forums is not a bilateral proposition and not inviting community input as the changes proposed will have already been approved. This will be a sales campaign to gain voter support rather than having a robust committee process with community involvement. I urge The City to slow this process down.

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