Jun 10 2018

OPINION: Piedmont Controversial Proposed City Charter Amendments Produced By a Flawed Process

Flawed process for changing the Piedmont City Charter has produced new issues and unknown rationale.  Concerns have focused on such proposals as: Unlimited reserve funds, changes to management of employees, elimination of Council bimonthly meetings, elimination of posted notices, and questionable designations of City officers. – 

The following letter was sent to the Piedmont City Council –

TO: City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov
RE: Comments Regarding Proposed Changes to City Charter June 3, 2018

Dear City Council:

I am writing to oppose the proposal to amend the City Charter, for two reasons: 1) process, and 2) substance.


I respectfully submit that the process is flawed and should be revisited. Here are some thoughts in that connection:

First, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Although the June 4, 2018 Staff Report states that the City Council has been discussing changes to the Charter since June 2017, it does not contain reasons for the proposed changes. Without a “statement of the problem,” how does the Council know what changes need to be made? And if we make changes to solve undefined problems, might the proposed changes create unintended consequences?

Second, what are the pros and cons of the proposed solutions to the problem? The Staff Report does not provide pros and cons, or alternative solutions to address perceived problems with the current Charter.

Third, shouldn’t workshops be held to determine the level of public support for the changes before they are submitted to Piedmont citizens for a vote? Deciding to put the Charter changes on the ballot without adequate public input is a backwards process.


In addition to having serious concerns with the process the Council is following in this regard, I also have some substantive issues and questions:

Section 2.03. Because the Staff Report does not indicate what problem this “out of office” change attempts to solve, it’s not clear that this change is needed. If there is indeed a problem to be solved, and there’s public support for such change, a corresponding change should be made in Section 7.02 concerning the School Board.

Section 2.07 would delete the current requirement that the Council meet at least twice a month, and instead would only require that the Council meet “regularly.” This is totally inadequate. While I can understand that a twice monthly meeting requirement might be out of step with what is currently considered good governance and might make it difficult for some otherwise qualified candidates to serve on the Council, this change goes too far and could allow meetings only every other month, or quarterly. At a minimum, this section should provide for regular monthly meetings.

Section 2.08 states how the Mayor is selected. Should we consider having the Mayor be elected by the voters, as in many other communities?

Section 2.12(D) would eliminate the requirement to post ordinances on bulletin boards, in favor of using the City website. To ensure that citizens know they should look on the website for ordinances, I suggest that the City also be required to post a notice describing the ordinance (if not including the entire ordinance) in one or more newspapers of general circulation.

Article III’s changes are problematic. First, I’m not sure it is a good idea to give the City Administrator so much power without Piedmont having a citizen-elected Mayor to partner with the City Administrator. If public input indicates support for giving the City Administrator the power to manage and dismiss all City officers, but having the Council keep the authority to eliminate or consolidate these officer positions, then this Article should be overhauled completely (for instance, deleting from the Charter the listing of City officers, since if the Charter states that the City “shall” have certain officers, it’s unclear that the Council could eliminate such positions without an amendment to the Charter).

Section 4.03 proposes to eliminate the 25% ceiling on the General Fund Reserve. This proposal is outrageous. Piedmont’s taxes are much higher than those in comparable cities. Many (those on fixed incomes, or young couples, for instance) struggle to afford the current rates. While keeping adequate reserves is important, there’s been no case made by Staff or the Council that the City needs more than 25% in reserves. The cap should stay.

Section 4.10 governs franchises. It’s unclear what this section is intended to cover. Is this a section that should be considered for updating or deletion?

Section 4.11 proposes to eliminate the requirement that all public projects be competitively bid. This is unacceptable. A requirement to competitively bid ensures that public funds are spent wisely. Competitive bidding should be the rule, and deleting this language opens the door to wasting public funds.

Article V. If the Charter is being examined fully, the Council might consider whether most of the provisions of Article V belong in the Charter, or could instead be moved to an ordinance. While the updating of Section 5.02 is admirable, the law keeps changing. To eliminate the need to constantly update the Charter, it might be easier to simply say that the City will not discriminate on any prohibited basis.

Kathleen Quenneville, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 

7 Responses to “OPINION: Piedmont Controversial Proposed City Charter Amendments Produced By a Flawed Process”

  1. Kathleen highlights many of the fundamental questions and problems with both the proposed Charter revisions and the questionable process. Even minor City Code sub sections are first put before the appropriate resident Commission for study and recommendation to Council, such as was recently done for Window reveals. In sharp contrast, the City Charter is the fundamental legal document for governance and City function in Piedmont. The Charter was last revised in 1980 after a three year special Committee process. Today, that thoughtful and necessary process has been entirely eliminated. Now, with all revisions essentially finalized, Council’s concern now is how to sell this to the public.

  2. Which City representative(s) can speak to these observations, suggestions and disagreements? Are they not logical, compelling and relevant? Thank you, KQ.

  3. wow! been waiting 37 years for this dialogue. we need 2 elect mayor & really study City management “rules/traditions”. Surprise! It’s 2018!

  4. WOW! Been waiting 37 years for this dialogue. Surprise, it’s 2018, not 1918!

  5. The issues being raised by Kathleen Quenneville and Rick Schiller are right on! Thank you very much for raising them. Not to be too cynical, but the lack of process and the changes being proposed sound Trumpian, as if the crafters of these modifications have only their own personal agendas in mind. If changes really need to be made, let’s start over and go through the appropriate processes.

  6. To paraphrase from “The Treasure of Sierra Madre:”

    Process? Process?? We don’t need no stinkin’ process!

  7. Each one of these proposed changes could be an opinion piece and likely will be as these changes head to the ballot. The elimination of the reserve cap is the most egregious. The only justification I have heard for this is that no other city in California has such a cap. So? I think the reason for this proposal is that city revenues are so flush that staff is having problems allocating it all. Equipment and Facilities Funds are over $3M each, a new Pension Fund of $2m was set up this past quarter, the General Fund surplus is at 20% ($4M) and projected to be for the next 5 years. There is a Pension Fund surplus of $12M and when bond payment obligations for the side fund are completed in 2 years the city will have another $1M to sock away. Removing the cap just makes the bookkeeping simpler.
    The irony of this is that some council members actually claim these proposals are for good governance.

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