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An enabling Charter is a Bad idea for MP -- Adopt a Two-Article Charter

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2018 17:19:57 -0700

Dear Council,

I’m against an “enabling charter” that would further limit the public’s
ability to participate meaningfully in our local democracy. It gives too
sweeping powers to Council and staff. Should this measure be on the ballot
box, I would join with others and work to defeat it. The public would not
benefit from an “enabling charter.”

Staff Benefits – not the Public

However, staff would benefit because it would increase their power in Menlo
Park. Staff power starts with the reports they write. While some may be
objective, too many are slanted toward getting Council and the public to
agree with staff’s recommendations. A case in point is the report
pertaining to the “enabling charter” decision. The report includes loaded
language, sweeping generalities (without supporting facts) and it omits the
significant downsides to the public if an enabling charter were adopted.

Unfortunately, Council seems to over rely on staff reports and
recommendations. You have an impossible job with trying to keep up with the
pace of business along with your day jobs, families and personal interests.
You likely do not have time to research the topics on your own. You also do
not have enough information coming from unbiased, independent sources. The
rapid pace, and the lengthy staff reports -- that may contain a bias --
give you (and the public) inadequate time to read and think about important
matters before needing to make decisions. Serious reforms are needed in
Menlo Park. However, this is not the focus of my email.

Adopt a Two-Article Charter

Menlo Park needs safeguards that protect the public’s interest before we
abandon General Law. A number of California’s Charter Cities have such
safeguards in the form of Sunshine ordinances and Ethics Commissions. Their
advisory boards and commissions may also be designed as independent,
oversight bodies. In MP, the public already lacks a meaningful seat at the
decision-making table so let’s not further erode the public’s right to
participate in our local democracy.

Instead of going along with staff’s recommendations in their report, please
adopt a limited two-article charter. One charter would pertain to how we
elected Council members and the other would keep MP as a general law city.
Further changes could come later in a process that adequately involved the

Problems with Staff Reports – An Example

The report recommending the enabling charter is slanted towards getting you
and the public to agree. I would need hours and a long document to fully
detail how the document has been written and constructed so as to promote
agreement. The slant starts with sweeping statements such as “Local control
has long been a priority for Menlo Park,” without any details to back up
the assertions. How do we not have local control? Specifics are not
supplied. The vague “long” and “priority” make the enabling charter sound
like an urgent public need, without the facts to support the idea.

Imprecise or connotatively loaded words also work to promote agreement. For
example, the document explains that “the charter would put Menlo Park
in a *better
position* to *protect* local control.” Better is very broad. How would an
enabling charter be better? This is not explained. The word “protect”
implies a threat. Yet the threat is not explained. Exactly how does our
“local control” need protecting? These are just a few of the ways that the
document’s tone promotes agreement.

The report includes many vague statements. For example, the beginning
section states that that “Over the years, Menlo Park has wanted to
pursue *certain
initiatives.” *However, the report does not specifically state how many
years. We also do not know who in “Menlo Park” wants to pursue the “certain
initiatives,” which are also not specified. The sweeping term Menlo Park
makes it seem like everyone in town is behind the need. Instead, the report
should include specifics, so that Council and the public have objective and
thorough information.

The report also omits the opposing view. For example, the report does not
adequately detail how an enabling charter would limit the public’s role in
decisions. The down side is not included. Instead, a too rosy picture is
cast through the language, such as “Charter cities also have *greater
flexibility* in government operations,” which sounds as though there would
only be benefits. The “flexibility” also includes more staff/council
flexibility to make decisions independent of the public. The few
safeguards of charter cities also do not adequately protect the public’s

Problems with the Chart

The chart is also designed to promote agreement. The information in the
column, “How it Impacts Menlo Park” is inadequate. First, the details are
often too vague. For example, the frequent statements, “Historically, this
has not been a problem in Menlo Park” does not include where it *could* be
a problem in MP or if it has been a problem elsewhere. It glosses over
potential or actual problems. Selected details paint a positive picture
with negative aspects omitted. Curiously, opportunities where an enabling
charter could adopt measures to strengthen oversight and accountability are
not included.

One of the main benefits, that I’ve heard staff express in championing the
idea of an enabling charter, pertains to the idea of giving MP more
flexibility to award contracts. However, I’m not convinced that this power
is needed. That’s because General Law directs cities to award contracts to
the lowest *responsible *bidder. The term “responsible” is a key one. It
suggests the lowest *qualified* bidder with all else being equal! So MP
does not have to go with an unqualified “lowest bidder.” I’ve also heard a
staff member (not from the library) tell a commission (and not the library
commission) that this person’s department likes to go with “sole source”
for a certain type of supplies. That statement alone suggests that staff
can find a way to go with their preferred suppliers.

In closing, an enabling charter is a bad idea for Menlo Park. Instead,
let’s start small with a two-article charter and then evolve it as needed,
with adequate discussion and public involvement.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Tue Mar 27 2018 - 17:22:24 PDT

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