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Comments on Agenda Item J-1: 2019 City Council policy priorities and work plan

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2019 16:18:30 -0800

Hello Council,

I'm writing with some observations pertaining to Staff Report 19-018-CC.
The item is in tonight's agenda packet and prepared to help you prepare for
the Feb 2 meeting.

Attachment A -- projects almost complete. Staff seeks your confirmation
that any uncompleted project continues to be your priority. I have no
comments at this time.

Attachment B -- Work plan projects continuing into 2019 and perhaps first
half of 2020. Staff wants your confirmation that these projects should
continue on your 2019 Work Plan. I have not studied the individual
projects, so won't comment on them. However, I'm very concerned that the
project pages omit the financial details. Without the financial details,
how can Council make an effective decision or the public weigh in? The
public needs to understand what these projects cost and if they are funded
or not. Further, some projects are studies that are likely to lead to
high-ticket CIPs later such as the Transportation Master Plan, IT
Technology Master Plan, etc. The downstream big-ticket CIP projects that
could come as a result of the study also needs illumination. We need more
financial transparency via complete information that's presented in an
easily understandable manner.

Attachment C -- 5-year Capital Improvement Projects, apparently approved by
the prior council. If I read the report correctly, staff doesn't want your
input tonight -- but later at the Feb 2 meeting. The wording in this
section was a little unclear to me in terms of when and how the staff will
get Council's input. Ditto above comments regarding the need for financial
transparency.

I'm also concerned about the justification narrative on the Library Systems
Improvement page. This particular project page makes me wonder about the
accuracy of the justification narratives on the other pages. The Library
Department's Jan 15, 2019 Staff Report 19-001-CC omits details pertaining
to the public's serious concerns with the Main Library Building project.
These concerns were apparent in the result of the 2017 City Satisfaction
Survey from Godbe Research. Despite what multiple residents described as a
"push-pull" survey with leading questions designed to get agreement, the
survey results showed inadequate public support for a bond measure to pay
for a new Main Library. The public's resistance was also apparent in
various *Almanac *articles and in posts on the Town Square. The staff
report also cites the 2015 Operational and Administrative Review of the
Library Department as a study that justified a new library building.
However, this report states that "The Main Library facility is aging and a
comprehensive facility assessment needs to be completed to determine future
direction." In other words, the report did not directly advocate for a new
building. The Library followed the 2015 Report's recommendation and
contracted with Noll and Tam, an architect firm, for a building study. The
study results were presented to some via at least one invitation-only
meeting that I attended. However, the general public still didn't know
about these plans.

Resistance to replacing the Main Library with a new building started to
appear shortly after the general public learned about this project.
Resistance to the idea continues today and was in direct evidence at the
January 28, 2019 Library Commission meeting.

*Suggestions *
It would be helpful if MP established written expectations for its Staff
Reports. They need to be clearly written. They need to be free from bias
and to present differing views fairly. Staff reports also need to include
all relevant facts, even if someone doesn't like the facts. Unfortunately,
I've seen multiple staff reports with a pronounced bias or slant towards
getting Council to agree to staff's recommendation. The bias was created
via loaded language, selective details, omitting differing views, etc. I've
spoken publicly about this topic and also supplied examples of bias in a
particular instance. (I don't have the time to analyze all the reports, but
I've seen the bias often enough to find it troubling.) While I don't object
to seeing staff give a recommendation, the rest of the report should
represent a good faith effort towards being fair and objective on a given
topic. I've also seen content in the analysis section that was not analysis
in terms of breaking something into parts and closely examining each part.

Unfortunately, while I've done research on the general topic of staff
reports, I have yet to find a "best practice "handout that I could
recommend. However, I've learned that the quality of staff reports has
been a concern to some cities, but that there is no quick fix.

Unfortunately, bias may not be noticed by Council or the public. It may
then get replicated into other documents such as the Library Systems
Improvement page. Getting the historical record changed later is difficult.
I was out of town for Council's January 15, 2019 meeting and I didn't have
time to read the library's report prior. However members of the public
should not have to operate as watchdogs to ensure staff report accuracy.

Can you set a new expectation that all major Staff reports first be
reviewed by at least one committee/commission? Atherton has a simple
check-off box in the Public Comment Section to indicate review of the staff
report (or not) by one or more of its commissions/Committees.The review
would help to embed authentic public engagement in MP. It would also help
give our advisory committees/commissions a more meaningful and informed
role. Residents serving on Commissions/Committees follow particular issues
more closely. So their input, and the input of the public attending these
meetings, is important and likely insightful and helpful. Review of Staff
Reports by Commissions/Committees is not currently a common practice in
MP.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Tue Jan 29 2019 - 16:15:34 PST

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