Actions of elected officials affect us all
by Ron Swift | Patterson Irrigator
May 01, 2014 | 971 views | 0 0 comments | 99 99 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Advance warning:

This Fast Talk may bore you to death. You may care less about the subject. But some things need saying.

The subject is City Hall, and not a favorite for many. In fact, some Pattersonites truly don’t give a hoot. But others are waking up and watching closely… very closely.

That said, the actions of our elected officials – five in the case of the City Council – as well as top city administrators, does affect us all. So I’ll continue.

Back some 40 years ago, Patterson changed to the city manager form of government. That provides for a top administrator to be hired, paid well, and expected to run the show.

Prior to 1973, our city government was directly run on a day-to-day basis by the five elected councilmembers. They were called commissioners and each was assigned an area to administer –

police department, fire department, sewer and garbage, parks and recreation, finance and personnel. Some had more than one area. Some had no expertise in the areas over which they ruled.

In those days, councilmembers weren’t paid – not a penny. They were expected to run the day-to-day operations of their respective departments. Some were commissioners of more than one.

Major decisions such as the annual budget were made by the full council. But each commissioner had plenty of leeway in running his (no women in those days) assigned department, whether he knew anything about it or even devoted the necessary time to get the job done correctly.

As the city back then grew, the administrative needs at City Hall grew as well. It was no longer reasonable to expect councilmembers to run the daily show. It was time for a change.

That’s when an ordinance was passed creating the position of city manager – a trained administrator whose responsibility it is to run the day-by-day operation of the city. He can hire and fire and direct his department heads as he sees fit.

CM RUNS THE SHOW

The council’s input is through the city manager. The elected officials set the policy. If they don’t care for the CM’s job performance, which is reviewed periodically, he’s usually out looking for employment elsewhere. That has happened in Patterson.

It’s also his prerogative to protect his staff when he feels criticism is unjust. That City Manager Rod Butler did a couple of weeks ago when Councilmember Sheree Lustgarten threw a public brick at Planning Director Joel Andrews, essentially accusing him of not telling the truth.

Butler calmly retorted, as quoted in this newspaper, “You need to be careful about going online and getting information and then accusing staff of not being honest.” Lustgarten was then on the short end of a 4-1 vote.

Councilmembers are expected to disagree from time to time – even heatedly. And city staff isn’t above being criticized by our elected officials, but this shouldn’t occur in public. A councilmember should take his or her beefs to the city manager and let him resolve them. If he doesn’t, he has a problem. That’s what the ordinance passed over 40 years ago dictates.

In other words, stay away from micro-managing. It’s both non-productive and hurts staff morale. Let the CM do his job. Councilmembers simply don’t have the expertise to run local government themselves. That was proven 40 years ago.

Now on the other hand, the public has a choice with its criticism – three choices to be exact: going to the city manager with a complaint, attending a council meeting and stating one’s opinion, or “going public” which could include a critical but non-libelous letter to this newspaper. You’ve undoubtedly read a few of the latter.

PROBLEMS NOTICeABLE

As previously noted in this column, the present council has some problems. Members don’t much respect each other as elected officials, much less personally like each other. Most like to talk more than listen. On a given subject, even a minor one, most like to expound their individual points of view, even when they all agree.

At meetings the dais resembles a political forum. And thus the meetings run long … very long.

Most recently, the council has scheduled three meetings a month – or one extra. The agendas are long, and so is the discussion. This is a governmental meeting, folks, not a debating society. State your point of view clearly and precisely, listen to other councilmembers state theirs, and then vote your conscience. Long meetings become counter-productive, promote short tempers, and thus become battlegrounds. (Goodness knows we’ve heard plenty of the latter in the past 50 years.)

Don’t make a debate of it, people. To do so only makes matters worse. The five of you are split in allegiances. We already recognize that, so you don’t have to continually prove it. Hopefully you put the city’s best interests first and not your own egos. But you’re going to have to prove your sincerity to a growing number of Pattersonites.

Besides, it’s both unbecoming and exasperating to those of us who want our city government to function at its highest possible level. Simply put, the public deserves better.

WHAT AN OFFER!

When you travel a bit, as HM (Housemate) and I have in recent years, you get on lists for special vacation offers.

One such offer came just the other day. It was for a night’s stay at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The presidential suite, no less.

You have to be 55 or older to qualify. Thus we are eligible for the WA’s $5,000-a-night reduction in rate. The regular rate wasn’t given. However, we are committed elsewhere for their choice of dates.

But we can transfer the offer if any seniors are eligible. Just call me.

WHAT ABOUT SPOKIE?

I’ve been asked why my buddy Bob “The Spoke” Kimball’s name hasn’t appeared in this column recently.

Well, he’s too busy out there carefully riding his two-wheeler so as not to get into trouble and make the news. In other words, he hasn’t fallen off recently or come face-to-face with a seagull.

And then there’s Laurence Kolding, at 95 a budding poet. As I remember, he used to compose songs when riding his tractor out in the field, but now its poetry. And I have his autographed book to prove it.

I can only assume Laurence came up with his rhymes during his many years of pushing the lawnmower at the Federated Church. Now the church people are considering a lawn service, elevating their longtime Yard Custodian to being a supervisor.

FOR THE SPORTS FAN

It’s been a hard rough-and-tumble season for the Golden State Warrior players.

Even more so for their fans.

(Advice for the owner of the Clippers: don’t make your young girlfriend angry when you are still married.)

AND FINALLY …

Here are a couple of items e-mailed by seniors:

— I totally take back those times I didn’t want to take a nap when I was young.

— My wild oats have turned to prunes and All-Bran.

Amen!

Ron Swift is the publisher/editor emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at ronkay@gvni.com.

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