Apr 7 2019

Charter Revisions Make City Administrator Selection Vital to Piedmont. 

Will there be an opportunity for public input on the qualifications sought in a new City Administrator?

The Piedmont City Council is moving ahead to find a replacement for City Administrator Paul Benoit, who is retiring in June 2019.

Minutes from February 25, 2019 Special Council action meeting can be read by clicking > 2019-02-25_special

Public input methods and characteristics sought in a new City Administrator by the City Council have not been publicized.  In the past, the community has been given opportunities to provide comments and ideas on desired characteristics of top Piedmont officials.

The recently voter approved Charter revisions place the decision of retention of key employees with the City Administrator rather than with the City Council.

In November 2018, the City Council and City Administrator Paul Benoit proposed and Piedmont voters approved City Charter changes transferring long-held Council responsibilities to the Piedmont City Administrator.  If the City Council and City Administrator disagree on the retention of key-officers – Police Chief, Fire Chief, Planning Director, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc., only  the City Administrator has the right and authority to determine these key employees continued employment with the City.

The next City Administrator may require a different set of skills than previous candidates.

The Council selects the key-officers of the City, but the Council cannot terminate or retain their choices if the City Administrator does not agree.  Given a disagreement between the City Administrator and the City Council, the Council by law can terminate the City Administrator and then select another person to fill the City Administrator position who will then make decisions.  The City Administrator, by law, is singularly entitled to make firing and retention decisions regarding top officers and will bear the sole responsibility for those decisions.

This major change in Piedmont governance makes selection of an appropriate City Administrator all the more important to Piedmonters.

Some comments made in the community have suggested the following characteristics be sought in a new City Administrator:

  • Understanding of California law and application to Piedmont
  • Belief in open and transparent government
  • Familiar with Piedmont City Charter
  • Proven ability to propose and work within budgetary constraints 
  • Ability to encourage varying points of view
  • Speaking and writing skills commensurate with responsibilities
  • Foster community participation in Piedmont decisions
  • Support broadcasts of Piedmont public meetings
  • Experience with personnel decisions including terminations
  • A previous track record of administering a comparable public entity in California
  • Plans for service in Piedmont extending beyond 5 years
  • Understand the difference between Council and Administrative decisions
  • Willingness to work with the Piedmont School District
  • Ability to develop and encourage appropriate employee activities
Nov 21 2018

Thank you for being a PCA reader. Your input is invaluable.

Since the revitalization in 2011 of the 1986 Piedmont Civic Association and the transformation of the paper newsletter to a website, Piedmont civic news has been read by thousands of Piedmonters.  Yet even now, not all Piedmonters are aware of PCA News, so let your friends and neighbors know how they can easily, at no cost, keep up with Piedmont civic matters on www.piedmontcivic.org 

Opinions and articles offer Piedmonters an additional source of Piedmont civic news. 

Participation is encouraged through “OPINIONS, COMMENTS, ARTICLES, ANNOUNCEMENTS, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, FORUMS FOR DISCUSSIONS, EXCHANGE OF IDEAS, and NEWS.”

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The Piedmont Civic Association is not supported by advertisers and does not charge for subscription updates.  Subscriber information is considered completely private and never released.  

Happy Thanksgiving! 

PCA Editors

Aug 21 2018

The Editorial Board wants our many readers to know the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) does not endorse, support, or oppose candidates for public office or ballot measures. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

PCA’s goal is to inform and encourage participation in Piedmont civic matters.

Candidate and ballot measure information is welcomed free on this site.

Information, photos, endorsements, and opinions can be submitted.

PCA Editorial Guidelines do not allow attacks on persons.

Aug 12 2018

Will any group or resident submit an opposing argument in the Piedmont Voter Information Pamphlet for all Piedmonters to read regarding the November 6, 2018 Election to change Piedmont’s City Charter

A controversial Charter change example would be requiring the Council to hire key employees, but prohibit the Council from firing  these same key employees. 

The City Council set a deadline of Friday, August 17, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. for the submission of direct arguments for and against the measures to be submitted to the City Clerk’s Office. Direct arguments are limited to 300 words and are confidential until the deadline.

The Council also set a deadline of Friday, August 24, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. for the submission of rebuttal arguments to the City Clerk’s Office. Rebuttal arguments are limited to 250 words and are confidential until the deadline.

Residents or groups interested in submitting arguments are encouraged to contact the City Clerk’s Office at (510) 420-3040 for more information.

“The City Council authorized Mayor McBain and Councilmember Rood to prepare and sign a direct argument in favor (and, if necessary, a rebuttal argument) of the proposed charter amendment measures on the November 6, 2018 General Municipal Election ballot.”

There is no charge to place a pro or con argument in the Voter Information Pamphlet. 

Deadline to file Arguments with the City Clerk In Favor/Against Measures on the November 6, 2018 General Election is:

Friday, August 17, 2018  by 4:00 p.m. with the City Clerk of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue. 

CONTACT CITY CLERK JOHN TULLOCH AT  

420-3040

The City Council has proposed numerous changes to Piedmont’s City Charter to be voted upon at the November 6, 2018 Election.  The City Charter is the primary legal document for Piedmont governance. 

Controversy has surrounded the Council’s City Charter revisions approach, by making themselves the exclusive body to consider the changes. Groups and individual residents asked the Council to broaden the input and to thoroughly consider the language and proposed revisions. This did not happen.  None of Piedmont’s commissions or committees were asked to provide their input.  Some individuals spoke to the Council regarding proposals at their meetings while leaving subjects unresolved and questions unanswered.

One example of controversy has been the Charter revision to require the Council to hire key employees, such as the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, but the Council would be henceforth forbidden from firing these same employees who they have hired.  Only the City Administrator would be able to fire those same employees.  This revision represents a definite change in how for decades Piedmont has been governed.  The change is presented as a “clarification.”

Ballot language approved by Council states:

CHARTER AMENDMENT MEASURE ___ “Shall the measure amending the Charter of the City of Piedmont to clarify the duties and reporting structure for officers and employees of the City be adopted?

If approved by Piedmont voters on November 6, 2018, the proposed changes become law.

Second proposed Charter Amendment states:

CHARTER AMENDMENT MEASURE ___ “Shall the measure amending the Charter of the City of Piedmont to modify procedures for filling of vacancies in elected offices for City Council and Board of Education for the Piedmont Unified School District, modify term limits for the City Council, and making other clarifying amendments regarding City record keeping, format of City ordinances, public posting, City contract approval, operation of City Council meetings, and other minor technical amendments, be adopted?”

If an argument Against one or both of the two City Charter Ballot measures is filed, there will be an opportunity for rebuttals by opponents and supporters in the Voter Information Pamphlet.

Deadline to file Rebuttal Arguments In Favor/Against a Measure on the November 6, 2018 General Election August 24, 2018.

Filing information based on City Council action:

“SECTION 4. The last day for filing direct arguments for or against the measure shall be August 17, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. and all such arguments shall be filed with the Piedmont City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, California and shall not exceed 300 words in length. The City Clerk, upon receipt of arguments and after the filing deadline, shall immediately transmit copies to any known opposing parties who may then submit rebuttals within the time period described in Section 5 below. Arguments received prior to the deadline shall be confidential until the deadline.

SECTION 5. The last day for filing rebuttal arguments for or against the measure shall be August 24, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. and all such arguments shall be filed with the Piedmont City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, California and shall not exceed 250 words in length. Arguments received prior to the deadline are confidential until the deadline.

SECTION 6. Pursuant to Elections Code Section 9295, the ten (10) day public review period for direct arguments submitted shall open at 4:00 p.m. on August 17, 2018 and shall close at 4:00 p.m. on August 27, 2018. If a rebuttal argument is submitted, the ten (10) day public review period shall open at 4:00 p.m. on August 24, 2018 and shall close at 4:00 p.m. on September 3, 2018. 

Read the staff reports on Charter changes HERE.

For additional information on the schedule and requirements for arguments, contact:

John Tulloch, City Clerk at 420-3040

Jul 14 2018

Council would hire, but could not fire.

Facing a strong Administrative staff proposal to diminish the Piedmont City Council’s authority and control, the Council appeared confused, lacking clarity or direction.  Council members questioned issues as basic as whether the Council or the City Administrator should hire and fire the City’s top managers – Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, etc.

The City Council had paid little attention to the City Charter until there was a desire to accumulate ever greater amounts of revenue in reserve, without clear and specific purposes.

Overriding the unlimited reserve issue became the Administrative staff desire to change how Piedmont is governed. 

The review and changes to the City Charter had been pushed by former and resigned mayor, Jeff Weiler, who wanted the City to not only have a permanent, potentially escalating parcel tax, but who wanted the City to garner and retain in the General Fund Reserves unlimited amounts of revenue.

The City Council asked the Administrative staff to look at the City Charter and propose changes.   The Council was eager to allow the staff to construct their proposals independent of Council originated ideas. Individual Council members were to privately, outside of Council meetings,  submit to the City Administrator Charter changes they wanted.

The Administrative staff came up with a monumental proposed change to Piedmont’s long-held system of governance. The Charter changes proposed will significantly reduce Piedmont’s City Council’s long-held authority and Council responsibility for City services.

City Administrator, Paul Benoit, proposed that the City Council should no longer appoint top Department Heads, Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc., he, the City Administrator, should have complete hiring and firing authority.

The Council did not totally accept Benoit’s proposal and chose to continue their long-held practice of hiring key positions.  The Council however, relented on Benoit’s proposal to allow him, the City Administrator, to be the sole individuaauthorized to fire key staff members hired by the Council.

The Council, in deference to Benoit, who is well liked by the Council, was also willing to forfeit their right as a Council to direct the Police Chief, Fire Chief, etc.  The Charter revisions as proposed will require all Council direction to go through the City Administrator, even if the Administrator position is vacated or terminated.  If there is a conflict with the City Administrator and a Council hire, the only choice the Council will have is to fire the City Administrator.

Mayor Bob McBain wanted to totally relinquish to the City Administrator the Council’s hiring and firing authority, but this was not supported by other Council members.

The City Administrator proposed governance is a form of governance traditionally found in cities with directly elected mayors who have more executive authority than Piedmont’s largely ceremonial Council-selected mayor, rotating among  their members with limited powers as set out in the City Charter. 

Council questions regarding Charter language stating the Council has authority “to direct” their appointees led to further Council confusion.  Despite specific existing language in the City Charter stating Council members as individuals are not allowed to direct staff members, Benoit argued he did not want the Council as a whole to be able to direct staff members even during Council meetings or emergency situations.

Individual Council members have been known to direct staff without the knowledge of the Council as a whole perhaps encouraged by a City Administrator.  It can be easier and faster for an administrator to gain direction from one person, a Council member, the mayor, than from a majority of the Council as required by the City Charter. 

The City Council and the City Administration, including the City Attorney, in recent years have not been attentive to the intent or language in the City Charter.  Since Piedmont’s long-term attorney retired, a great amount of knowledge on the City Charter has apparently been lost or ignored.

In considering proposals for changing Piedmont’s City Charter, the City Council has held a number of poorly attended, fragmented public meetings.  No independent committee, as in previous years, was formed to carefully consider the complex and important City Charter despite a number of citizen requests. Because of various voids in the questionable proposals, it is obvious  the entire Charter was not carefully considered nor discussed leaving many questioning the process and the proposals.

Significant current issues were never considered during the Council Charter review process. 

Some examples are:

  • requirement for voters to make zoning changes
  • borrowing money for more than one year
  • Council officer vacancies
  • bid advertisements and notifications

The Council agenda for Monday night appears to acknowledge that the Council, City Administrator, and City Attorney have not upheld Piedmont’s City Charter. 

The Council agenda items for the Monday, July 16, 2018 meeting rebuffs the City Charter when it states “Conform to Modern Practice.”  No one would want the City Charter to perpetuate unlawful practices; however, “Modern Practices” infers and confirms non-compliance with Piedmont’s long successful and practical City Charter.  Prime examples of ignoring the Charter are the usurpation of Council authority, borrowing money, and negation of voter approval for zoning changes.

The Council decided to separate the governance issue from the remainder of the Charter revision proposals after sensing the potential opposition to turning over long-held Council authority to the City Administrator.  Piedmont voters will find little transparency in the attempt to change Piedmont governance as noted in the staff report below:

Amendments to the City Charter to Clarify the Reporting Structure for Officers of the City, Clarify the Departments Responsible for Maintenance of Park Lands and Recreational Facilities, and Make Other Amendments to Conform the Charter to Modern Practice 

 Council dropped notion of unlimited General Fund Reserves.

When Kathleen Quenneville, a local authority on civic governance, told the Council that the Charter proposal to eliminate the cap on General Fund Reserves would not be supported by voters, the Council promptly removed the proposal, as it is their desire to not initiate opposition to Council proposals since a prospective voter approved future facilities bond measure is being considered.  Concern was expressed by Council members wanting to keep voters positive about Council actions and proposals, leading to the unlimited General Fund Reserves being dropped, and the separation of City Administration governance from other proposals.

This article does not describe the many other proposals suggested by the Council, however urgency does not appear to be present.  Items continuing to be of concern are:

  • Inconsistencies between the School Board and Council elections – School Board members could seek re-election after sitting out for 4 years, whereas City Council members must sit out for 8 years, unknown in other communities
  • Extension of time to fill Council vacancies from 30 days to 60 days

The Charter change matter will be considered by the Council at 7:30 p.m., Monday, July 16, 2018 in City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  The meeting will be broadcast live on Cable Channel 27 and from the City website under videos.

Comments can be made to the City Council as below:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18

Below are the staff reports: 

07/16/18 – Consideration of the Following Actions Related to the Possible Amendment of the City Charter

a. Approval of a Resolution and Measure Proposing Amendments to the City Charter to Modify Term Limits for the City Council, Modify the Procedures for Filling of Vacancies in Elected Offices, and Make Other Amendments to Conform the Charter to Modern Practice

b. Approval of a Resolution and Measure Proposing Amendments to the City Charter to Clarify the Reporting Structure for Officers of the City, Clarify the Departments Responsible for Maintenance of Park Lands and Recreational Facilities, and Make Other Amendments to Conform the Charter to Modern Practice 

07/16/18 – Consideration of Options Regarding a Direct Argument and a Rebuttal Argument Regarding the Charter Amendment Measure on the November 6, 2018 Ballot

Jun 21 2018

PIEDMONT CITY COUNCIL TO HOST TOWN HALL MEETING ON POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER

Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers

Comments in this article are in response to the City’s public notice and were written by the Piedmont Civic Association aggregating some of the comments by Piedmonters knowledgeable and concerned about the proposed Piedmont City Charter changes. 

The City’s meeting notice was provided by Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit and  John Tulloch City Clerk /Assistant City Administrator, a recently created position,   

Town Hall Meeting – Monday, June 25

“The Piedmont City Council will hold a town hall meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers to receive public input on possible amendments to the City Charter, which may be placed before the voters at the City’s General Municipal Election in November 2018.”

“The discussion of possible Charter amendments began in June 2017 and Council has subsequently discussed the issue at meetings on February 5, 2018, March 5, 2018, April 30, 2018, and June 4, 2018.”

BIG CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER

The proposed City Charter changes were devised by the City Administrative staff and the Piedmont City Council to potentially be voted upon by the Piedmont electorate at the General Election in November 2018. For the proposed changes to take effect, Piedmont voters must approve the changes.   All portions of the Charter were not considered in the Charter review.  For instance, Piedmont’s method of borrowing money was not taken up, nor was a clarification on the controversial zoning language in the Charter.  Also, when a mayor recently resigned, the Council  arbitrarily created a new position outside of the Charter called an “Acting Mayor.”   These items and others were not addressed in the proposed changes.

A number or Piedmonters and the Piedmont League of Women Voters had asked the Council to involve the community in the City Charter changes, however all considerations were made at the Council level garnering little public participation and no input from City commissions, committees, or a special committee charged with assessing potential City Charter changes.

ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES

Administrative changes, although de-emphasized in the City’s  presentations on proposed Charter changes, represent the greatest alterations to Piedmont’s form of City Administrator government.  Piedmont has had the City Administrator form of government for generations, and most would agree Piedmont has done well during those many years under the City Administrator form of government. As will be read below, authority historically held by the City Council is being transferred to the City Administrator.

The proposals to change the City Charter would take authority from the City Council and transfer it to the City Administrator.

The Council would retain authority to hire Department Heads, such as the Police Chief, City Clerk, Fire Chief, Finance Director, but the Council could not fire their appointees.  The Department Head termination authority would be granted solely to the City Administrator, presenting a new and different complexity to Piedmont  governance.

The City Administrator in Piedmont, by the current Charter language, has the responsibility for the administration of the City – the day to day operations and administration of the City. The City Administrator reports to the Council on employee performance.  The current Charter language states the Council can direct top managers, however the Charter also makes it clear the Council members are not administrators and  as individuals cannot act to “direct” the managers or the City Administrator.

Taking the authority to direct Department Heads from the Council, as a whole, and bestowings the authority solely upon the City Administrator, is governance commonly considered a City Manager form of government with a directly elected mayor, which Piedmont does not have,.   In Piedmont, the Council appoints from their members an individual to be Piedmont’s Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor has essentially the same authority as the other four Council members other than what is allowed by the Charter or granted by the Council.  In recent years, Council observers have noted more authority has been given by the City Administrator to mayors than the Charter allows without consideration by the  Council as a whole.

 UNLIMITED RESERVES 

The original idea for reviewing the City Charter arose at a Council meeting when it became apparent Piedmont revenues greatly exceeded the Annual Budget 25% limit in the General Fund Reserve. One or more Council members wanted to accumulate larger amounts of money in the General Fund Reserve.  The Charter limit on reserves was intended to stop Councils from excessively taxing Piedmont property owners.

Much of the increase in Piedmont revenues stems from the sale of property resulting in transfer taxes and a higher basis on Piedmont property taxes.  To retain the excess revenues  when the 25% General Fund Reserve limit had been met, the Council has directed the excess  revenue into various newly established reserve funds,  At the same time, the City Council has continued to levy the full voter approved property tax, plus an annual percentage increase regardless of the windfall tax revenues.  The practice of placing excess revenues into special reserve funds has been put into practice without changing the City Charter.

The following language in quotes is from the City notice followed by PCA comments:

“At its June 4th meeting, the City Council directed staff to schedule a town hall meeting in order to allow residents an additional opportunity to review the changes that have been discussed at previous Council meetings. This is an opportunity for residents to ask questions and express their opinions on the proposed Charter amendments prior to the Council placing a measure on the November ballot.”

Unlike past reviews of the City Charter, there has been no comprehensive look at the entire Charter nor an independent committee focused on the pros and cons of the proposed Charter changes.

Presumably, the Council does not want to put something on the ballot that is likely to be rejected by Piedmont voters.  Yet, the Town Hall Meeting comes after Council decisions have essentially been made regarding proposed changes to the City Charter. The Council must now decide if their proposals will be accepted by Piedmont voters and if it is timely to place the proposals before the voters.  Each time the Charter is placed on a ballot, it incurs cost for the City.

“Because the Charter is effectively the City of Piedmont’s constitution, the City Council wants to receive as much resident input as possible on the proposed amendments.”

The Town Hall meeting will not include a comprehensive discussion and exchange of ideas on the Charter changes – the pros and cons – for each public speaker is typically given only 3 minutes to address even this voluminous subject. Decisions were made by the City Council and staff on the proposals to be considered at the meeting.

Depending on citizen input on the proposals, the Council may or may not decide to place the changes on the November ballot.  The Council could defer action pending further consideration of unintended consequences and/or benefits to Piedmont. 

Some of the proposed amendments to the Charter are as follows: [The order of the City changes has been changed here to prioritize important issues first. The most significant proposed changes were previously placed by the City staff toward the end of their announcement, which might lead readers to assume the administrative changes are minor.] 

  • ” In Article 3 – Administration, several changes are proposed to clarify reporting structure for the Officers of the City (Department Heads). At the April 30th meeting, Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they are directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

This is one of the most important, if not the most important change being proposed to the City Charter. The above statement by the City hints at the split authority of the Council.  For example, the Council would appoint Department Heads, but the Council could not dismiss problem Department Heads, creating confusion and potential problems for the City Administrator, who would be the sole authority in dismissal, “serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

Department Heads in Piedmont have always served at the pleasure of the City Council and could be directed by the Council as a whole, but not by individual Council members.  For example, the Council might direct the Police Chief to step up night patrols: the Council might direct the Finance Director to find ways to save the City money; the Council might direct the Recreation Director to develop more programs for senior citizens. The Department Heads were held accountable to the City Council with advice from the City Administrator.

In meeting identified needs of citizens, the change proposed totally eliminates the Council’s authority to direct Department Heads.  The Council authority would  be transferred to the City Administrator.

Piedmont, as a small city, has thrived under the City Administrator form of government; the City Manager form of government found in other, many larger, cities, with a directly elected mayor, has the potential for creating new problems regarding Council authority and responsiveness to citizens.

  • ” 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.”

The General Fund Reserve limit of 25% originated from concern to not levy more taxes than was necessary to operate the City while providing an emergency reserve during an economic slump or great emergency.  The City Council and City staff in recent years have  diverted excess revenues from the significant property and transfer tax windfall into various fund reserves.  There is no language proposed to limit the Council’s ability to tax property owners.

  • ” 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.”

Bidding requirements are one way to publicly open up the procurement of public services, consultants, contractors, and other City needs rather than continuing with current contractors on a long term basis without going through an open bidding process.  Most  cities and the state encourage open bidding to benefit taxpayers and the community at large.

  • “The Council also directed staff to prepare amendments to several other sections of the Charter to remove outdated provisions and modernize language.”

This part of the City Charter proposals presents many questions for it is largely unidentified.  What  provisions and what antiquated language?  Why not list the outdated provisions? New Department Head positions have been added with no general public notice.  Is Piedmont’s bureaucracy inadequate to serve our small community? Once new positions are added to the Charter, employment cost can be greater and more permanent.

  • ” A modification of City Council term limits to lengthen the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office again from four to eight years after leaving office. (Section 2.03)”

The change listed above is of little impact for the City Council has only had two Council contenders seeking re-election after a 4 years hiatus. One contender was elected, the other was not.  Changing this in the Charter is of debatable value.

  •  “An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council to allow the Council sixty days to fill a vacancy. If the Council doesn’t act within those sixty days, a special election would be called to fill the vacancy. Under current provision, the Council has thirty days to make an appointment and if it doesn’t act, the Mayor can make an appointment. (Section 2.05(c))”

A thirty day period in which to fill a vacant Council seat is common for elective bodies.  Waiting 60 days to fill a vacant seat potentially leaves the Council vulnerable to inaction on important civic issues when there are only four members of the Council and a split vote occurs.  There has never been a time when the Council could not fill a vacant seat during the mandated thirty day period.

  • ” 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. (Section 2.07 (a))\”

Councils throughout the area hold two or more regular Council meetings per month. Language could be proposed to accommodate changes in schedules. 

  • ” The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)”

Prohibition against employment discrimination is the law and does not require a Charter change.  Including the proposed language in the Charter will make no change to how Piedmont handles employment discrimination because Piedmont honorably and consistently follows state and federal laws barring discrimination.

  • ” 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.”

The Board of Education must take a position on the City Charter changes by resolution. The details of the proposed changes are not noted here.

  • “A marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed amendments is available on the City’s web site at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.   Pursuant to section 9.07 of the Charter, any proposed amendments must be presented to the qualified voters of the City for approval.”

The marked up version has been difficult to follow, making the sweeping changes difficult for the public to understand.

  • “Public comment is invited and encouraged 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.”

The full staff report for the meeting can be accessed > HERE.

COMMENTS MAY BE SENT TO THE COUNCIL MEMBERS AS BELOW:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18
Jun 2 2018

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.

READ the full STAFF REPORT > HERE.

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.

Mar 14 2018

March 11-17, 2018

Throughout the United States,  it is > Sunshine Week  – a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. 

 > Sunshine Week –  It’s Your Right to Know. March 11-17, 2018. Join ASNE and the Reporters Committee in the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community.

“The American Society of News Editors launched Sunshine Week in 2005 as a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The week-long celebration is held every March to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution.  …”

> Sunshine Week – ASNE

As part of continuing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms and an extension of Sunshine Week 2017, The Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors have produced a package of stories focused on government attempts to promote secrecy or hinder access to information. …

> Sunshine Week – Society of Professional Journalists

The Piedmont Civic Association website provides free information online to those interested in Piedmont civic matters. There are no advertisements or subscription charges for updates. The PCA website is produced by Piedmont volunteers.

Join hundreds of Piedmonters and receive emailed updates from PCA by clicking > HERE.  

EMAIL ADDRESSES  AND NAMES ARE CONSIDERED CONFIDENTIAL AND NEVER RELEASED.

Dec 9 2017

“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”  Mark Twain

On Monday, December 11 at 6ish p.m. in City Hall and broadcast live, the Piedmont Planning Commission will consider an application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for The Piedmont Post to relocate their offices to the City owned property at  801 Magnolia Avenue.

According to the application, the hours of operation of the office in the residential neighborhood will extend to midnight on several nights weekly and the workday will last as long as 12 hours, adding a considerable amount of activity on already busy Magnolia Avenue considering the coming and going of Middle School, high schools, Piedmont Adult School, the Recreation Center, the Aquatic Center as well as the many special events.

An independent free press should not be a creature of the government it is meant to cover, that would make it a government public relations entity.  If subsidized office space is offered to one commercial news business, it should be available to all news organizations as is the dedicated White House shared press workspace.

If the Post wanted to rent office space on Grand Avenue in Piedmont or in the Wells Fargo Building, there would be no conflict of interest and no citizen objections. The Post has never operated in commercial space in Piedmont, although its business address is a home in Piedmont on Oakland Avenue.

The City provides the building at 801 Magnolia Avenue on a subsidized basis at $1/year lease for the public benefit as an Arts Center.

The Council has the ultimate responsibility to determine what is appropriate for the use of public, taxpayer-supported property.  The Piedmont Center for the Arts was approved by the Council and pays $1 per year for their space at 801 Magnolia Avenue across from Piedmont High School.

According to information pertaining to the development of a space for The Piedmont Post, it appears there was no public advertisement of the space availability in the Piedmont Center and no other media entity was offered the subsidized office space.

The Piedmont Post started in the building at 801 Magnolia Avenue approximately 20 years ago when the building was owned and operated as the First Church of Christ Scientist.  A newspaper business in the church was not legally allowed by the City and the Post was forced to move out of the building.

Subsequently, the Church dissolved and the City of Piedmont purchased the 801 Magnolia property for just under $700,000.  The building was seldom used for years except for city storage.  A plan for an aquatics facility at the site delayed changes to the building.

Founders of the Art Center, Gray Cathrall (Editor, Publisher, and Owner of The Piedmont Post), Nancy Lehrkind (Current Vice President for the Piedmont Center for the Arts), and others saw potential in using the property as the location of cultural activities and the arts.  Beginning in 2011 the City of Piedmont granted a lease of part of the building, now the Piedmont Center for the Arts, for $1 per year for 10 years on the basis it would be exclusively used for non-profit purposes and the building would be improved – painting, heating, roofing, etc.  The City, however, has maintained the grounds and landscaping.

In the six plus years of the 10 year lease, the Arts Center has become a shining star of culture, music, drama, and graphic arts.  Interest and participation in the Arts Center has spread far beyond Piedmont borders.

In the summer of 2016, the Arts Center applied for and was granted by the City Council a change in the terms of their lease allowing the Center to engage in uses allowed in it’s zone, the Public Zone.  This lease change was evidently unnoticed by most Piedmonters.

Then in 2016, the Council approved significant changes to the zoning laws of Piedmont including allowing for-profit businesses on City property under a conditional use permit process.  The change of use without voter approval as prescribed in the City Charter, again drew little public notice and the Council changed the zoning without voter approval.

The justification for the zoning change from nonprofit to for-profit uses in the public zone was focused on allowing the Aquatic Facility to sell goggles, food, or beverages.   However, that would not have violated the zoning as it stood as long as the sales were by the Facility for the financial benefit of the Facility.  Now, the actual result allows a commercial business to profit financially with the taxpayer subsidy.

The Conditional Use Permit is on the Monday, December 11 Planning Commission agenda.  The Commission will make a recommendation  to the City Council.

It was long rumored that the goal of the Post was to move back into the 801 Magnolia building. Although the Post owner, Cathrall has been announced as termed out from the Arts Center Board, his newspaper, The Post, continues to foster and advertise the activities at the Center. Nancy Lehrkind, also a founder and Vice President of the Center Board, continues on the Board and has signed the CUP application documents.

Conflicts of interest are inherent in the leasing of public space to a single, local media outlet.

Having an office in the center of Piedmont in a public building leased for $1 a year would be beneficial to all media outlets.

There are a number of news media outlets covering Piedmont: The Piedmonter, The Piedmont Post, The Piedmont Civic Association, Piedmont Patch, East Bay News, Piedmont Portal, and others.

Piedmont residents, as with any group of people, have differing points of view on numerous subjects.  Coverage by the various media outlets often reveals these differences.

The Piedmont Post has long been viewed as the Piedmont City Administration news outlet. 

If the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for The Piedmont Post to relocate their offices in the City owned property at  801 Magnolia Avenue (Piedmont Center for the Arts) is approved, the relationship between City Hall and The Post will become even closer and raise new questions.  The Post and the City will have a financial relationship based on a lease and a Conditional Use Permit to use City property for a newspaper business.

Residents have raised issues in the past regarding City buildings not being appropriate for political activities nor for allowing businesses with potential conflicts of interests.

The Piedmont Post is an independently owned private newspaper supported by donors, advertisers, official City notices, and subscribers.  The for-profit business entity is currently located in Oakland on Boulevard Way. The Post, contrary to City laws, uses a Piedmont residential address on Oakland Avenue as the business address.

There is no information available as to a business license in Oakland, Piedmont, or a Piedmont Home Occupation Permit as a business location on Oakland Avenue.  There are no published documents available indicating the financial status of the newspaper. The application states a gross income of $380,000 per year.

The application indicates a need for more Art Center income to support the activities of the Center, however no documentation or audit has been publicly released to show the financial status of the Art Center.

The Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 11 starting at 5 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers. The Planning Commission’s Conditional Use Permit consideration will follow a number of other applications on the agenda and will likely be considered after the Commission breaks for a half hour dinner around 6:30 p.m.

Those interested can attempt to attend or observe the meeting on Monday, December 11, at 5:oo p.m.  The meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 27 and from the City website under videos.

Comments may be made to the Planning Commission:

Staff Liaison: Planning Director Kevin Jackson – kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us – (W) 420-3050
Council Liaison: Jennifer Cavenaugh – (510) 428-1442
Commissioner Eric Behrens  
Commissioner Aradhana Jajodia  
Commissioner Jonathan Levine  
Commissioner Susan Ode  
Commissioner Tom Ramsey  
Commissioner Clark Thiel (Alternate)

Commenters should send their correspondence to the Commission and Council via   kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us

Oct 25 2017

Piedmonters Unhappy about San Francisco Civic Center Station 

Piedmonters and other Bay Area taxpayers have generously agreed to tax themselves to improve earthquake preparation of the BART  track system, however during this fall cultural season they are voicing distress at the conditions they encounter at the Civic Center Station in San Francisco.  Most BART stations are serviceable and reasonably clean.  Sadly, at the symbolic core of San Francisco, Civic Center Station’s cleanliness and safety is inadequate, presenting a harsh welcome to tourists and Bay Area residents.  The track area, station, and access points appear not to have been cleaned or sanitized in years.  Security is usually nowhere to be found.  With safety concerns and maintenance problems growing, riders deserve more.

Piedmonters frequently attend opera, concerts, ballet, theater, restaurants and the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center.  While providing much needed off-peak BART customers, riding BART from the East Bay can avoid bridge traffic and a difficult search for parking in San Francisco.  But Piedmonters are put off by the conditions in the BART/Muni Civic Center Station —and they aren’t alone in such complaints.

“I’ve been working at a job site this week not far from this station. I arrive at this station around 5:30am. Twice this week I’ve witnessed people shooting up heroin right near the bottom of the stairs that lead to Market St. and 8th.”
Sergio C, 10/4/2017 
~~~~~~~~~
“Compared to other BART stations, Civic Center station seems dirtier and it’s got more bums and panhandlers. There have been some incidents in the past seven months. In August 2016, a man was found stabbed inside the station (sfgate.com/crime/article…). Last month (January 2017), at least one person was stabbed near the station (kron4.com/2017/01/06/2-r…).”
Daniel B, 2/25/2017 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
“One thing I don’t like about BART stations in San Francisco is that they always stink. Always”
Sheila C, 2/15/2017 
 In 2014 the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the distressing state of the Civic Center Station.  Sadly, the conditions remain today:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/A-commuter-s-bane-filthy-smelly-BART-station-5701663.php

Los Angeles offers a surprising contrast to BART.

Busy light rail/bus/Amtrak multi-mode station

Recently, a Piedmont family spent five days on LA Metro visiting a dozen museums and historic sites.  The light rail, subways and stations were clean, with cleaning crews visibly at work and elevators and escalators were all in working order, in contrast to BART, which frequently has nearly a dozen elevators and escalators out of service.  Many Los Angeles stations are bare bones, “found” or “repurposed” such as the elegant old Union Station that is now multi-modal, serving the elevated Gold Line, buses and intercity Amtrak trains.  (see photos)

Not a single coffee cup or napkin on the station floor

 

Despite offering a better experience, LA Metro public transit is less expensive than BART.  While BART has found it unworkable to offer off-peak fares to solve their problem of chronic low ridership off-peak, LA Metro buses and tracked system machines accurately deduct peak and off-peak fares from rider fare cards.

The BART Board

BART Board members (listed below) need to take responsibility for the discouraging conditions riders encounter.

 Money needs to be budgeted for:

  • Security presence and enforcement
  • Camera surveillance
  • Steam cleaning of all surfaces including the track areas
  • Working escalators and elevators
  • Clean, safe steps and access points
  • Clean trains inside and out

Piedmont is currently working on its Climate Action Plan.  Having safe, clean and appropriate modes of public transportation is elementary to reducing Piedmont’s carbon footprint.

Piedmont’s elected BART representative is > Rebecca Saltzman.

Contact numbers and links for BART Board Members are included in their summaries below.  The General Manager is also listed below.

BART Board Members and District Information

Debora Allen
District #1

(Map)

Debora Allen, Director

Stations Included: 

Concord, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre, Walnut Creek

Counties Included: 

Contra Costa
Joel Keller
District #2

(Map)

Joel Keller, Director

Stations Included: 

North Concord/Martinez, Pittsburg/Bay Point

Counties Included: 

Contra Costa
Rebecca Saltzman
District #3

(Map)

Rebecca Saltzman, President, Piedmont’s Representative on the BART Board

Stations Included: 

Bay Fair, Downtown Berkeley, El Cerrito del Norte (partial), El Cerrito Plaza (partial), North Berkeley, Orinda, Rockridge, San Leandro

Counties Included: 

Alameda/Contra Costa
Robert Raburn
District #4

(Map)

Robert Raburn, Vice President

Stations Included: 

Coliseum/Oakland Airport, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, 12th Street/Oakland City Center, 19th Street/Oakland, MacArthur (partial)

Counties Included: 

Alameda
John McPartland
District #5

(Map)

John McPartland, Director

Stations Included: 

Castro Valley, Dublin/Pleasanton, Hayward, West Dublin/Pleasanton

Counties Included: 

Alameda
Thomas Blalock
District #6

(Map)

Thomas Blalock, Director

Stations Included: 

Fremont, South Hayward, Union City

Counties Included: 

Alameda
Lateefah Simon
District #7

(Map)

Lateefah Simon, Director

Stations Included: 

Ashby, El Cerrito del Norte (partial), El Cerrito Plaza (partial), MacArthur (partial), Montgomery (partial), Richmond, West Oakland, Embarcadero (partial)

Counties Included: 

Alameda/Contra Costa/San Francisco
Nick Josefowitz
District #8

(Map)

Nick Josefowitz, Director

Stations Included: 

Balboa Park (partial), Embarcadero (partial), Montgomery (partial),

Counties Included: 

San Francisco
Bevan Dufty
District #9

(Map)

Bevan Dufty, Director

Stations Included: 

16th Street Mission, 24th Street Mission, Glen Park, Civic Center, Powell Street, Balboa Park (partial)

Counties Included: 

San Francisco

~~~~~~~~~~

GENERAL MANAGER GRACE CRUNICAN https://www.bart.gov/about/gm

~~~~~~~~~~~

Members of Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan Task Force are:

Tracey Woodruff, Chair

Brett Hondorp

Margaret Ovenden

Steven Schiller

Bruce Wolfe