Staff hires mediators for city council meetings: Is it time for a divorce?

February 26, 2017

Stew Jenkins

OPINION by STEW JENKINS

A special San Luis Obispo City Council meeting on Feb. 16 revealed such a serious rift between the city’s voters and its administration that professional mediators were hired to preside.

The city originally had a commission system of government: electing heads of city departments who then formed the city council. If the police department wasn’t operating up to snuff, the voters could and would elect a new police commissioner.

In the 1950s the city charter was repealed and replaced with the “mayor-council-city manager” form of government that had been developed by “progressive republicans” throughout California. The theory was that unelected professional managers would be hired by a city council and run the day to day operations of the city.

More importantly, the manager would sift information to provide the elected mayor and council with only “accurate” information on which to make their decisions. The manager and staff, instead of the elected council members, proposed and drafted the policies and ordinances to be voted on.

Whatever reforms this may have effected, the danger of disconnecting the people from their city government is inherent in the mayor-council-city manager structure. Of representative government, only the shadow of it remains.

The Feb. 16 special meeting of the San Luis City Council at the Vet’s Hall was initially one of the best attended in years. Billed as a workshop about the “Rental Inspection Ordinance,” it was presided over by a professional facilitator and a prominent mediator.

Within 30 minutes some of the 300 people in attendance were leaving in disgust after the facilitator had run folk through exercises asking those who were parents or grandparents to stand.  Part of this drill included asking folks who’d lived in SLO successively for over 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years to stand.

After pointing out how much everyone had in common, the facilitator asked folks to write down three things that could keep us from (meaningless talking point alert) arriving at solutions through collaboration.

Everyone had been assigned a different colored name tag and instructed to sit in circles under a balloon matching the name tag’s color. Professional mediators had been seeded in each of the circles. The city council sat off in one corner of the room, and in the other corner sat the city attorney, development director and a group of city staff. Citizens near where I was standing were loudly grumbling to each other about being treated like kindergarteners.

By the time the facilitator called on the second colored circle to find out what could keep us from arriving at “collaborative solutions,” the representative of that group stood up and asked when we were going to do something useful.

I confess that the spirit moved me to ask from the back of the room if those who wanted the rental inspection ordinance repealed would stand. The response was immediate. The whole room stood and erupted demanding repeal.

The facilitator and mediators went back to work trying to rebuild the relationship between the people and their city government. By the second hour fully half of those who had come to ask the council to repeal the invasive inspection ordinance had left.

Earlier in the day, 7,111 signatures had been turned in on an initiative petition seeking repeal and replacement of the ordinance with a non-discrimination in housing law.

I’m not sure that the professional staff got the message. The professional mediators had not repaired the broken relationship between the city staff and the residents angry about the yearlong “experiment” invading home and charging landlords (and through them tenants) for the cost of those invasions.

It is inescapable. When a city spends tax payer money bring mediators to try to repair relations between the city and its residents, it is already too late.

San Luis Obispo voters are ready to divorce the system that saddles them with unelected managers, city attorneys and department heads. It is time to consider amending the San Luis city charter to make the manager, the city attorney, and key department heads independently elected and accountable to the people they serve. If the council doesn’t recognize this, the voters have the power to propose it by popular initiative petition.

Stew Jenkins is a liberal San Luis Obispo County Democrat who supports the rights of working people to organize unions, the prudence of the cities and county growing the local economy through project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal dignity. He is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978. Jenkins’ handles tax payer suits, municipal law, estate planning and family law.


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San Louie

I think Katie Lichtig and Christine Dietrick are a big part of the problem.


First the SLO City Council didn’t live up to their responsibilities and hired Lichtig. A divisive individual with a checkered work history. In addition they gave her a ridiculous and gluttonous employment contact that makes it very expensive to fire her.


What was that city council thinking? It should still be ashamed of what it did. It seemed so enthralled with the idea of hiring a female city manager that it shifted its brain into neutral and forgot they were the taxpayer’s representative in the selection.


Then we continue to read about all the politics at SLO City Hall with Katie Lichtig and Christine Dietrick always in the center of it all. Nasty, nasty stuff reminiscent of the Dave Edge and Gail Wilcox sewage that blew all over the County Gov’t a few years back.


How much more money are you going to waste, Lichtig?


discloser

Millions, it would appear, in unpaid pension obligations, much of it HERS!


MBwaiter

It is simply amazing that the Morro Bay City Council fired their City Manager and City Attorney for no reason at all. At the hearing, hundreds of citizens showed up in support of the two and begged the City Council not to fire them. No reason was every given. No mistakes or ethical violations were ever brought up against these two. They were just fired because City Council didn’t like them.


However, after repeated mistakes and ethical violations by SLO City Manager and City Attorney that have cost the Citizens a ton money they continue to be employed by the City of SLO. What is wrong with you SLO.


rukidding

Corruption?


Pete

I was at that meeting and in fact was the person who asked the mediator ‘when are we going to actually do something?’. No credible reply, only more games to perpetuate the charade the council actually gives a damn what the public thinks.


If you want this council to stand up, email them (tell them to review this article and take heed).

Just chatting here does little to effect a change.


Pelican1

DYSFUNCTIONAL!


Pelican1

MORE WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE!


1965buick

I’m not taking sides in any way.


Just posing the question: Who, out of landlords or property owners would actually want a rental inspection, even if it were free? Even if it were not under this new ordinance, without extra bureaucracy?


L.A.RamsFan

I think the real question is “why would ethical property owners and or landlords need a rental inspection”? They wouldn’t, right? Problem is for every ethical property owner and or landlord I would wager there are two who aren’t.


I don’t know about another law, especially one that makes the person and or business responsible for the property to cover the cost of a required inspection.


Maybe a compromise? Maybe some sort of a property condition disclosure given with the rental application to the applicant. Combine that with a pre-rental inspection by any applicant that chooses to have one and I think you would protect both parties. Besides that? California has some pretty friendly renter laws and it would behoove any perspective tenant to know what they are and how to properly exercise them in advance of renting.


Pete

You are so right. I have been both. The state has very stringent laws protecting tenants, I guess our city attorney is unaware of them though they have been on the books a long time. A simple education program and light enforcement would have sufficed instead of this focused and draconian measure forced on us despite huge opposition during its formation.


This saga is yet another example of government forcing unnecessary regs on us by those ‘who know better’ than the informed public. I am all in favor of regs that we are too incompetent to avoid, this was not one of those.


Pete

I hope the CC and city attorney are monitoring this news. For them, and you, the enlightened public, I offer the following info.


Look up Cal civil code sections 1941 and 1942. Then tell me we needed a draconian inspection program.


What we needed was a caring council that can read and is advised by competent legal counsel, and a simple education program.


We got none of that two years ago, and I wonder if we will now.


L.A.RamsFan

Pete,


What do you mean by “light enforcement” and would you suggest that for let’s say burglary or car theft? Laws, civil or otherwise, should never be “lightly enforced” as this would only benefit the purported victim. No, what should be done is have those statutes evenly and fairly enforced as to show no favoritism or bias.


We don’t need this kind of crap further bulging our laws, what we need are property owners who decide to rent their properties to acknowledge that they also are bound by law to keep their rental(s) in an “inhabitable condition” and be able to affect and afford repairs when necessary under the applicable laws.


discloser

Ummm, RamsFan, I think you mean “habitable” not “inhabitable”.


L.A.RamsFan

Thanks!


Frederick1337
rukidding

I think you may have hit it half ways. Most councils hire only the city manager and city attorney. The city manager then hires everyone else with the city council sometimes approving the fire and police chiefs. Because of the Brown Act most city councils are only informed by the city manager to what they want them to know.

I think a better arrangement would be that the department heads are all approved by the council and are hired by the council and answer to the council. This would really open up true transparency not only to the council but to the public also.

It’s certainly is time to make changes.


Ricky2

Touche. This is the most disconnected city government I’ve ever seen. It’s a disgrace, and it got that way because a stupid, very stupid, stupid city council hired an inappropriate city manager who should be booted, but will not be, because she leads the council around by the nose while convincing them they’re actually in charge. The whole city bureaucracy has ballooned in size under Lichtig, while its functioning has fallen flat to the bottom of the deepest pit imaginable thanks to her hiring department heads dumber than she so they don’t make her feel as stupid as she is. Now we have a new city council made up of clueless people indoctrinated by the chamber of commerce and its affiliated groups, going off and insulting the residents week after week after week — and they’ve only been in office for two months! It’s Trumpism in slotown, with a fake “progressive” facade and a fake news green tint. Hot air and more repression is all they have to offer.


Let’s take back our government. Go Stew!