SLPD: Tell us about your experiences.

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San Leandro City Council to Stop Publishing Full Minutes of Meetings

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San Leandro gears up for Constitutional fight.

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Cassidy asks San Leandrans input on new City Manager – sort of…

New San Leandro City ManagerSan Leandro is about to appoint a new City Manager to lead the city, hopefully effectively and for many years to come.  An ad hoc committee composed by Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Council members Reed and Souza narrowed the field of applicants from 30 to five.  The Council won’t disclose their identities – ostensibly to protect the applicants’ current  jobs – though hopefully demographic information on them will be forthcoming.  Cassidy has not heeded my suggestion that he appoint a citizens ad hoc committee to give input on who among these candidates would work best for the city, but he is soliciting the community’s opinion albeit in a very limited manner.

For one, he set up an online questionnaire asking very general questions as to what San Leandrans want in a city manager. Cassidy has not explained how the information from these questionnaires will be put to use, however.

Cassidy will also be holding a Town Hall meeting (Sat., April 30, 9-11 a.m. Lecture Hall at Main Library) for citizen’s to provide their input on this issue.  For that input to be useful, however, it is essential that the citizens attending be asked real questions concerning the particular characteristics of the five final candidates.  For example, it would be of little use of citizens to tell the Mayor that they want a Latino or Asian city manager, if none of the five final candidates are of such ethnic origin.  Similarly, if none of the candidates live or are willing to live in San Leandro, it won’t help the Mayor at this point to hear how important this issue is to the community.   It is thus essential that Cassidy and his fellow Council members take a careful look at the characteristics of these five candidates and then ask the community specific questions about what qualities about them they would find more compelling.  Would we rather have someone with more experience or with a commitment to stay in San Leandro for longer?  Do we want someone who has worked in City government all his life, or would we prefer her to have business or non-profit experience?  Do we want someone who is known for their financial skills – given our dismal budget situation – or someone with superior management skills?  Only people with access to the candidates will know what the right questions to ask are.

The five candidates won’t be interviewed by the City Council until after the Town Hall meeting, so this is also a good opportunity for Cassidy to solicit community input about what sort of questions we want Cassidy to put to the candidates – and what types of answers would make us happiest.  I will personally not be able to be at this Town Hall – it conflicts with the California Democrats Convention – but I hope that many people will attend, that the discussion will be relevant and useful and that the City Council will take the input it generates seriously.

City Gossip: Mayor is moving

Mayor Cassidy has put his Estudillo Estates home for sale, a mere 3 months after taking office.  The 2,000+ sq. ft. house has 3 bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms and features a cute detached office in the backyard.  It’s on the market for $615,000.  You can look at the listing here, or, if you’re really curious as to how our current Mayor lives, go the open house this Sunday, April 17th.

Cassidy has given different people different reasons for the move, but it seems he’s looking to buy a house in Bay-O-Vista.  Perhaps he’s trying to get closer to Councilman Michael Gregory 🙂

City of San Leandro to destroy all e-mails, flaunt CPRA, get sued.

Another day, another opportunity for the San Leandro City Council to show its contempt for good governance, the voters and, well, the law.  This time it comes courtesy of City staff and the City Council’s Rules & Communications Committee, presided by no other than Mayor Stephen Cassidy.  The Rules committee has readied  an amendment to the city’s Administrative Code to provide for the automatic deletion of all e-mails from the Inbox/sent folder and trash folder of all city employees & officials after a mere 120 days (4 months).

Of course, the City knows quite well that, under the law what they are planning to do is illegal.  The California Public Records Act provides for the retention of government records for a minimum of 2 years.   It defines records as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. ”  And this definition is quite broad, as both the attorney general and the California Court of Appeals have found: “This definition is intended to cover every conceivable kind of record that is involved in the governmental process and will pertain to any new form of record-keeping instrument as it is developed. Only purely personal information unrelated to “the conduct of the public’s business” could be considered exempt from this definition, i.e., the shopping list phoned from home, the letter to a public officer from a friend which is totally void of reference to governmental activities.”

The City, of course, is not prepared to argue that e-mails are not public records, because it would be a battle they would lose.  Instead, what they are doing is saying that as a matter of policy they will consider “every e-mail a preliminary draft and not retained in the ordinary course of business,” and make it incumbent upon each individual employee and council member to determine whether a particular e-mail is a public record per the CPRA, and if so, save it in a different folder.  The city is using the “draft” language because the CPRA makes an exception for “preliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained by the public agency in the ordinary course of business, provided that the public interest in withholding those records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”  Of course, an e-mail message in no way meets the definition of “draft,” much less as outlined by California Supreme Court precedent on the matter.  Moreover, the city’s definition of what constitutes a public record is much narrower than that of the CPRA itself (see the City Council’s Draft Guidelines Regarding the Use of City Electronic Communications), which makes it likely that city staff and council will not save many e-mails that are public records under the CPRA.

San Leandro is by no means the first California city to have adopted a policy like this.  The city of Coronado adopted a similar policy in 2000 and landed a nice lawsuit that led it to change its procedure.  Monterey gave it a go in 2005, resulting in yet another lawsuit and a $110,000 attorney fees award for the lawyer who challenged the policy.  Still, this issue has not yet risen to the Appellate level and San Leandro may be willing to take the gamble that it won’t. It would not be the first time that the city took a risky legal position for no good reason.

It’s impossible to know how much making this amendment will cost the city, though I will note that the CPRA requires a court to award attorneys fees to a prevailing plaintiff – thus the $110K attorney fees judgment in the Monterey case.   This also means that a plaintiff is more likely to be able to find a pro-bono lawyer, knowing that they will eventually get paid.

From a practical point of view, this new policy is also likely to backfire.  Knowing that the City will automatically destroy all e-mail evidence  after 120 days, anyone interested in keeping an eye on what’s going on in the city could just do a CPRA request for all e-mails stored in all city computers every couple of months.  They could then just dump the data into a public website and people could search through it at their pleasure.  This, of course, would mean that rather than responding to occasional CPRA requests and gathering a limited amount of records, city staff would be burdened with regular CPRA requests that require gathering lots of records.  This doesn’t seem like good use for city staff time.

We can speculate as to what is prompting City staff to push for this policy change at this time.  It’s difficult to not believe that fear of having controversial information disclosed is not at the heart of it.  If so, it’s quite lamentable.

A full time Mayor?

Ever since Stephen Cassidy took office as Mayor of San Leandro I’ve been hearing grumblings about how he is just not around City Hall very much, he doesn’t go to ribbon cuttings and other community events and is just not available.  His lack of availability is, of course, easy to understand. Unlike his predecessors on the job, Cassidy holds a full-time job and, as the father of two young girls, has predictable family obligations.  Santos, the previous mayor, was retired and Sheila Young owns some kind of consulting business, I think, and did not have children at home.

Currently, the Mayor of San Leandro is paid about $30K a year for his services.  This is quite a lot of money for a second, part-time job (the president of the School Board, by comparison, makes less than $3K a year), but it’s not enough as a primary income to support a family.  It is possible for a Mayor to augment that salary by joining regional commissions that pay stipends, Sheila Young is said to have brought her income up to $80K by joining every paying commission she could, but I’m not sure if that’s wise from a policy point of view.  There seems to be some good in involving the whole Council on intra-city affairs (something which both Santos and Cassidy have done).

But as long as we pay our Mayor only $30K a year, we are going to be limited to mayors who do the job part time, while holding another job, or who do not need the salary (e.g. people who are retired or who are not the primary wage earners in their families).  The latter may not be the best choices for mayor of San Leandro (as we saw by voters choosing Cassidy to Santos & Starosciak), ad the former will just not be able to do the job full-time.\

So I think we should start entertaining the idea of having a full time mayor and paying him a full time salary. The salary does not need to be extravagant, I’m thinking something in the order of $100-130K a year (+ benefits), about half of what a City Manager makes, but sufficient to attract educated, intelligent members of our community to the job.  Yes, such a salary is probably way below what Cassidy makes right now as a partner in a major law firm, but public service does require some personal sacrifice.

If we are going to pay for a full-time mayor, of course, we want him to do things other than go to grad openings and meet with the city manager. We’ll want him to do, I would imagine, some of the policy work that the City Manager does.  That would of course mean changing our City Charter to give him more responsibilities.  Which ones exactly would have to be worked out by people who know what the City Manager’s job actually entails.

With a Mayor doing part of the City Manager’s job, we would not need to have a City Manager, a deputy City Manager and a Assistant City Manager.  As the mayor would make less than each of those three, this would be a overall savings for the city. Fiscally, it makes sense to do.

But does it make sense from a policy point of view? I think yes.  As things are, this is a City Manager ran city, where the Mayor has little power.  The City Manager runs things, and one of the first things that Hollister did when he was appointed City Manager was move out of town – so that he would not have to live with the consequences of his actions or feel the ire of his own neighbors when he screwed up.  Living out of town, the City Manager has no real incentives to do a good job for the community or day to day accountability for his actions.  Plus he has no opportunity to hear the community, to experience what works and what doesn’t, to understand the city a way a resident does.   We cannot require a City Manager to live in town the way we can require a mayor.  If a Mayor angers the community, we can either recall him or not re-elect him. To do that to a City Manager, we would have to first get four members of the City Council in our side and then have to pay his contract off.

Now, it is true that a City Manager hopefully has technical knowledge that a Mayor does not have – but I don’t think we need to get rid of the city manager altogether, just limit his role to those areas that require specific technical knowledge, while leaving those that require more policy thinking to the mayor. For example, the Mayor could be responsible for hiring the Chief of Police (with the approval of the Council).

I’m interested in hearing what others think about this idea.