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Need for objective, clear and unbiased staff reports & related suggestions

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2018 09:10:53 -0700

June 5, 2018

Dear Council,

I need to miss Tuesday’s Council meeting because I will be facilitating the
library’s monthly Film Discussion group that meets to discuss the film
currently playing at the Guild. Thank you for your efforts to keep the
showing of independent and foreign films part of the “new” Guild plan.

Switching topics, I’m writing regarding staff report 18-120-CC. I will also
attach a PDF of my email.

Council and the general public rely on staff reports in their
decision-making process. The reports need to be complete, clear and
understandable by the general public and Council. I found this report
confusing and incomplete in its presentation of relevant information. It
also included bias. The three major ideas in this report, charter measure,
term limits and charter committee formation all warranted a separate report
or a clearer way of presenting the individual topics and how they tie

The Policy Issues section also was not specifically relevant to the issue
of elections and term limits. Instead, it repeated the same broad
assertions (without any evidence) that appeared in the May 2, 2018 report
18-098-CC. I wrote objecting to the bias in the May 2, 2018 report, but
see the language again. Later in this email, I will identify some bias in
the report.

*Temporary Residents Advisory/Working Committee -- for Municipal Best

Over the past year, Residents have expressed concerns on topics that
include bias in Staff Reports, the insufficient or missing public
engagement process, and the need for increased transparency in the
decision-making process. They’ve also expressed a desire for higher ethical
standards in MP.

I’ve started comparing MP’s governance with that of the City of Palo Alto
and I think that we can learn from their approach and from other
progressive cities. So, to help work on some of the public’s concerns,
without burdening the staff, would Council consider the following idea?

Specifically, would Council consider forming a Temporary Residents
Advisory/working Committee to provide objective and judicious advice, from
a residents’ perspective, to the City Manager? The Committee would be
structured in a way for individual residents to share opinions and
perspectives, study issues, and develop recommendations in a focused, small
group structure. Focusing the group on municipal best practices would
provide a broad, yet narrow focus. The group would retain City council
authority over the decision-making in the recommendations.

*Avoiding Bias in Staff Reports *

Once I started reading Staff Reports more closely, I started noticing that
some contained significant bias. At last week’s Council meeting, members of
the public asserted that there was blatant misrepresentation of the facts
in a staff report related to the Main Library project, and in summaries of
community meetings related to same. In response to these and other
concerns, some Council members expressed a desire to have more objective
information. They also stated that for fair decision-making, they need to
be able to trust the information in staff reports.

Bias, whether inadvertent or intentional, should be scrupulously avoided in
staff reports. Staff reports with bias prevent unprejudiced consideration
of a topic. Biased staff reports erode the public’s trust in our local
government. A biased and incomplete staff report, written in a way to sway
Council’s decision-making towards what staff prefers, also inappropriately
extends staff’s role into the policy-making arena. An incomplete or biased
report could also leave Menlo Park open to a potential law suit should
members of the public later question Council decisions based on the report.

To illustrate, below are some examples of bias in Staff Report 18-120-CC.

*Types of bias *

*Some Examples in 18-120-CC Staff Report *

Word choice – instead of precise and neutral words, using words with strong
positive or negative connotations. Or using ambiguous or too general words

“Based on the research conducted by staff, there are *only* three San Mateo
cities that currently have term limits: Millbrae, Pacifica and San Mateo. “
The word “only” makes it seem as though term limits are not the norm.

Broad terms that aren’t defined.

“Becoming a charter city would permit Menlo Park to exert *control* over
municipal affairs in the interests of the *community*.” Define “control”
and “community.” Exactly what is meant?

Mistaken or false premises

My research shows that *five *San Mateo cities have term limits. In
addition, the Town of Woodside has recently discussed the idea of term
limits with no decision yet made. In addition to the three towns listed in
the staff report, the below cities also have term limits:

· Foster City – cannot hold office for more than 2 terms in
succession. (FC Muni Code 2.08.380 Term Limits)

· Redwood City – cannot hold office for more than 5 terms in
succession (Ordinance 2433 SECTION 4)

Generalities with missing or problematic evidence

“Given the State’s *increased incursion* into areas of municipal affairs in
recent years, transition to a charter city would put Menlo Park in a*
better position* to *protect *local control.” The public has yet to see any
evidence to support the assertion regarding the “state’s increased
incursion.” The use of “better “is also a broad term that also lacks

Omission bias – leaving out exceptions or important related facts

The staff report does not include Santa Clara County. According to my
research, Santa Clara County’s 15 overall cities include 12 with term
limits. In other words, 80% of cities in Santa Clara County have term
limits. Cities with term limits: San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los
Altos, Los Altos Hills, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Campbell,
Milpitas, Monte Sereno, and Saratoga.

According to the Woodside Staff Report (Feb 27, 2018), term limits can also
be placed on the ballot by voter initiative.

The report could have included general arguments in favor of City Council
Term Limits and Arguments Against City Council Term Limits.

State of California Term Limits could also have been part of the staff
report. Our state imposes term limits on the Governor, State Senators and
State Assembly members. Some California counties also limit terms of the
Board of Supervisors.

 *Increase Community Involvement and Participation in the City Planning

Unless time does not permit this, I would have at least one commission
review all staff reports on significant topics -- before they go to
Council. Having more people reviewing these reports, along with the public
able to give input, would only improve the final document.

Council could also assign the task of writing advisory reports, on specific
projects or issues, to one or more of the MP Advisory
Committees/Commissions. That would be another way of increasing resident
involvement in the decision-making process.

Add a Community Outreach process to reports on any significant topic. The
staff report 18-120-CC does not include any formal efforts to obtain
community input on the topic of term limits. In contrast, the Town of
Woodside’s Feb 27, 2018 Staff report on same subject includes their
community survey process. As the Woodside report notes, “Every postal
customer in Woodside received a postcard inviting them to take the survey,
and two invitations were sent out on Nextdoor Woodside.” The Woodside
report describes in detail this process.

Hold an open meeting designed to discuss ways to increase the public’s
participation in the decisions and policies of MP’s government. Get the
public’s ideas, prioritize them and start implementing them.

Thank you for reading to the end of this document and for your
consideration of my input.

Lynne Bramlett

Received on Tue Jun 05 2018 - 09:15:43 PDT

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