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Councilmember Mueller Asks for More Sunshine

Uploaded: Apr 11, 2017
The fresh alpine air must be clearing his head while skiing.

Ray Mueller just sent a request to the city manager and mayor asking to place on an upcoming agenda for Council consideration a Sunshine Calendar Policy. In a nutshell, he’s asking for Council Members, Planning Commissioners and City Manager’s office to disclose:

“Calendar memos shall include all City-related appointments and City related phone calls, including but not limited to all regular and special City Council, committee, and task force meetings; public events; speaking engagements; and meetings with constituents, developers and/or their representatives, non-residential property owners and/or their representatives, business owners and/or their representatives, multi-family residential property owners and/or their representatives, consultants, union representatives, non-profit organization representatives, non-governmental organization representatives, and lobbyists;”

Bravo, Ray.

Why is this important? I see two reasons, and there are probably more. First, the preparations of environmental impact reports (EIR’s) and traffic studies includes projects underway, or have a filed an applications. The problem is arbitrage of unknown ‘non-public’ information. There may very well be other projects under consideration that the city knows about, and there may have been meetings and other contacts, but no format application has been filed. These are not included in studies. I know about them as some project developers contact me to probe my reactions in advance.

The second reason goes towards cost recovery of staff time.

What about ‘employee' access badges?

If city employees, or others representing other related businesses are issued badges for access to major employer campuses, (they may be frequent visitors), these close relationships should be disclosed.

What about term limits?

Sometimes I see resumes that disclose 10 years of experience, but upon further study it’s actually the first year of experience 10 times over. While Ray is at it, it’s also an opportunity to discuss term limits for council members. Two consecutive terms is more than enough; third terms seem to be too painful for those trying to complete it.

Postscript to my prior discussion City Financial posts

A commenter under the nom-de-plume Newsflash lauds a city credit rating that emerged on March 16 by the Fitch bond ratings service. This is good news.

However, there may be some caveats such to ratings. There are three bond ratings agencies: Fitch, Moody’s and S&P. Various bond underwriters and market-makers may have preferences for which agency, at a minimum, to use. They are not the same – but close.

Remember taking some easy courses in college to get your GPA up?
One can use an agency that tends to be more favorable under a set of circumstances. This was more of an issue in the old days when we had the Redevelopment Agency issue a series of bonds.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Vlad, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Apr 11, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Ray left off of the list the biggest lobbyist of all. Who lobbies city council members more than anyone else? The city manager and his staff. Why isn't the city staff on this list?

Posted by Public Law Attorney, a resident of another community,
on Apr 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm

@Vlad, under California law City Councilmembers are not allowed to supervise the work of City Staff. Full supervising authority of City Staff is held by the City Manager.

Posted by Just Sayin', a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Apr 12, 2017 at 9:16 am

Council members may not give staff orders. That's really the restriction.

There's nothing that prevents Mueller from asking Council members to also report their own meetings with staff, or to have Council, as a body instruct the City Manager to instruct staff, particularly planning staff, to log meetings and phone calls with developers and other applicants. This was done in the past. The log is public record. That way council and the public can know whats in the system and whats coming into the system.

Another way is the Palo Alto method of "disclosure" whereby Council, Planning Commission, ARB, etc are required to report their contacts from applicant and public lobbyists, and briefly disclose those contacts and their content during a specific period of the meeting for the approval.

The point that the City manager is a spoke in the wheel is quite astute actually. In "Staff driven" councils, the City Manager is often in a unique position to effectively circumvent Brown Act limitations simply because the City Mgr can have serial contact with a majority (or all) council members on an issue and the City Mgr controls the Staff Reports. The City Mgr may not tell Council member B what council member A said, but he/she can easily take temperatures of all council members. If the City Manager is driving the agenda then he/she is in a unique position to gain information about how council feels on "his" agenda and can manipulate Staff Reports accordingly.

In "Council driven" staffs. This is less of an issue because Council is actively driving agenda contents and actively monitoring Staff Reports presumably through a "stong mayor."

Posted by two months, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:47 am

It's been over two months and Mueller has not said anything about this sunshine policy at a public meeting. Apparently, it's a lot easier to kick this idea around behind the scenes.

On term limits, it's odd for Stew to write, "two consecutive terms is more than enough," when he recently endorsed Cline for a 3rd term. There was a time in Menlo Park when it was considered difficult for incumbents to get re-elected. Back in those dark days, it was not uncommon for incumbent commissioners to fail reappointment (Web Link Stew's "term limits" proposal is a reflection on how gracious and collaborative this council is perceived. This council has never ejected an incumbent commissioner seeking reappointment.

Posted by Ray Mueller, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights,
on Jun 18, 2017 at 8:16 pm

I requested to discuss the sunshine proposal on a set City Council agenda rather than randomly bring it up at a City Council meeting, so the public would have notice prior to the meeting the issue would be discussed. I was informed recently the Mayor has now officially declined to put the issue on the agenda. I still hold out hope the Mayor will change her mind and put the matter on an official City Council agenda so the public can have notice prior to the meeting the issue is going to be discussed.

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