Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - December 16, 2011

Guest Opinion: Fazzino calls for electing mayor to two-year terms

Former mayor also urges council to give Sid Espinosa another term to lead the city

by Gary Fazzino

It is hard to believe Sid Espinosa's term as mayor is almost over. And what a great year of accomplishment it has been...approving the Stanford hospital project...establishing a long-term infrastructure plan...approving a fiscally sound budget without a significant negative impact on city services. And perhaps most important, exhibiting a style of leadership that focuses on transparency, inclusiveness and decision-making.

One good year deserves another!

But unfortunately, due to Palo Alto's current mayoral selection system which is a 25-year tradition and not part of the municipal code, Sid is limited to only one year as mayor. He could accomplish so much more as mayor for two years.

This is not intended to raise any concerns about Sid's presumed successor, Yiaway Yeh, who also is a bright young visionary leader and would be a great mayor as well. In fact, Yiaway also deserves two years as mayor.

One year is simply not enough time for a mayor to accomplish all that is needed to be done. It is not enough time for a mayor to establish and follow through on major priorities, grow into a strong leader presiding over meetings and working collaboratively with the city manager, or providing critically important leadership on regional or state issues impacting Palo Alto such as high-speed rail.

Throughout most of Palo Alto's history and until the 1980's, mayors regularly served for two or more years. Some served for four, five and one even served for eight years. These mayors were chosen for their leadership abilities, representation of the public's priorities, ability to get things done, and to represent the city on challenging local and regional issues. And several of those multi-term mayors such as Hutchinson, Porter, Arnold, Comstock and Henderson are recognized as some of our greatest mayors.

But once the great pro- and slow-growth battles were over in the early 1980s, it was decided to pass the mayorship around among different council members. Imagine how much more Larry Klein could have accomplished on regional transportation and land use issues in the late 1980s as a multi-year mayor or if we had had one mayor for several years whether it was Jean McCown, Liz Kniss or me addressing East Palo Alto issues impacting our community and theirs in the early 1990s?

I would also change the way mayors are selected.

Under the council election of mayor system, either everyone gets the chance to be mayor which typically occurs in a five-member council or in the case of Sunnyvale, Mountain View or Palo Alto with seven or nine members, one half to three quarters of the members become mayor. There is little public transparency associated with the process of becoming mayor in such a system, and often times particularly in a pure rotational system, where the expectation is that everyone will become mayor sometimes we trade a great presiding officer and leader for others who do not have similar skills.

But unless there is a pure rotational system, which is the case in Palo Alto, there are unintentional violations of the Brown Act in the mayoral selection system. I am surprised this issue was not raised during the recent campaign to enact a directly elected mayor system in Sunnyvale. At annual city council reorganization meetings, council members are not sitting in papal conclave waiting for the Holy Spirit, or spirits of mayors past, to inspire them at that particular moment in time to vote for a particular candidate. Conversations have been going on among members for weeks as to who has an interest in becoming mayor, and commitments are made to vote for specific individuals.

Although this is human nature, and a natural result of the system in place, it also is a technical violation of the Brown Act. Kelly Fergusson in Menlo Park got in trouble last year with the San Mateo County DA's office for speaking with other council members about the upcoming mayor selection vote, and yet, countless council members in other local cities including Palo Alto have been engaged in the same activity for many years. There is little transparency associated with the current mayoral selection system because de facto decisions regarding the mayorship are made prior to the council vote and as a result of serial conversations.

I have long supported a directly-elected mayor system for Palo Alto but with a couple of twists. I would not significantly change the current powers of the mayor in a city government whose success is heavily dependent on an appointed city manager. The mayor's primary responsibilities are to run meetings, appoint committee and task force members, represent the city on regional committees and use the power of the bully pulpit to effect necessary change.

I propose having an election for a two-year mayorship alongside the city council elections every two years. Anyone currently on the council or running for election could become a candidate. It assures transparency, avoids Brown Act violations, and gives the public an opportunity to decide who is the most qualified to be leader of the community and presiding officer at council meetings. And I would make it a two-year term because the reality is that one can get very little done in just one year's time. It also provides important continuity of leadership on regional bodies. But the proposal does not increase mayoral powers significantly and maintains the proper balance of power between mayor and manager. Limit terms to two two-year terms to avoid too much concentration of power. If the successful mayoral candidate does not win a council seat, the second place finisher becomes mayor. I doubt that would happen often, but the system has to plan for it.

Mayors selected by the voters, public transparency, avoidance of Brown Act problems and two-year terms represent definite improvements over the current system.

Gary Fazzino served on the city council from 1977 to '81 and from 1989 to '02, and as mayor in 1992 and 1999. He is vice president of government affairs at Applied Materials.

Comments

Posted by Dave, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

Gary has a good point. Continuity or consistency in a public office can be a good thing. Just has the mayor sets his/her stride, their term comes to an end. Unless someone else that has previous experience as mayor is elected by the council, it becomes a learning curve all over again for a new candidate.


Posted by Andrew L. Freedman, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Hi Gary and all,

I have another idea. It was floated some 20 years ago. It could easily be done and it would most certainly change the way we do business here in Palo Alto. (In fact, if it's characterize as a test or trial period, it may be exempt from having to change the city charter)

It's called "strong mayor." Simply put, a strong mayor has more power than a council-elected major. He or she not only sets the agenda, but that person is characterized by their vision, their ability to collaborate and overall, to get things done, and to get things done correctly. Maybe not quite a "King," but close to it.

While I do agree with Gary Fazzino on a 2-year Mayoral run, especially with Sid Espinosa (in fact, Mayor Espinosa reminds me a lot of Gary Fazzino when he served on City council and eventually Mayor), the strong mayor position would be better for the same reasons and much more as Gary brings up to support his 2-year mayor term idea.

But I would like to suggest Strong Mayor in the context of Gary Fazzino.

I wish that I could bring up all the good reasons why I think he'd be the best candidate for Strong Mayor. It's just a feeling, maybe ESP or maybe like what I read in the book, "The Brethren," a behind the scenes look at U.S. Supreme Court, written some 25 years ago. It was towards the end of the session and things were a little less formal. In fact, they had "Movie Day," where they reviewed porn movie"evidence" in order to make determinations on whether its contents are "obscene."

It was Justice Stewart who said, in paraphrase, "I can't really define it, but I can recognize it when I see it."

Same thing on this, I just know that Gary Fazzino should be Palo Alto's first Strong Mayor.

Andy Freedman


Posted by No-Elected-Mayors, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm

This idea about electing is a terrible idea. Unfortunately for Palo Alto, which has been exposed to twenty-four years of "Gary Fazzino's bad ideas! Fazzino has never shown any real understanding of local government, other than how to pander to special interests that resulted in his being elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. But what did he do when he was on the Council?

Let's see:

1) Helped to increase the size of Staff perhaps 50% from the beginning of the period he was elected to the Council until he finally gave up his seat.

2) Watched as the cost of government expanded by perhaps three times, without his ever showing any concern, or suggesting the City was living outside its means.

3) Never once seemed to be concerned about the various crimes that were committed by various Staff, such as a murder/suicide in the Corporation Yard, or the illegal detainment and sexual harassment of at least seven women, and perhaps more.

4) Did Nothing to create Reserve Funds For Future San Francisquito Creek refurbishment.

5) Did nothing to recognize that long-term infrastructure costs were going to come due one day, and voted for "more services", which squander untold millions on the various special interest groups that were able to gain his attention.

It would not be hard to develop a real case as to how Gary Fazzino was not a particularly good City Council Member.
As to Sid Espinosa, what has he actually done this year that justifies his actually being on the Council, much less Mayor for another one, or more, years?

Well, Sid did get his picture taken a lot. He seemed to be where there were possible political "points" for being "on board" some one's, or groups', quest for City funds. For instance, stating he was "excited" to be a part of the establishment of electric "fueling points" in the Bryant Street Garage, which is more empty than not.
Did Espinosa actually write any "white papers" on his own, that outlined problems with City Government? No. Did Espinosa actually read the budget, and have any thoughts about future costs, areas for cost controls, or better documentation for the City's finances? No. Did Espinosa show any understanding of the future pension and post-retirement health care that is saddling Palo Alto, as well as every City Government in the Nation? No. And we could go on, and on, about the things the Espinosa did not do, as an individual, or as the non-elected Mayor, that gives us any reason to want to vote for him again, much less his being "the voice/face of Palo Alto".

Fazzino brings up a couple projects that did get Council approval this year. The Stanford Hospital was going to be approved, or there would be "Hell To Pay". While the previous Council, did manage to make a bit of a mess out of getting the approvals through "the process", what did Espinosa do to facilitate the process that Fazzino seems so enthusiastic about? And if Fazzino knows what he did, why don't all of us know?

The City has had a Strong-City-Manager/Weak-City-Council since the mid-1950s. At that time, the City Manager, a fellow by the name of Jerry Keithley, proceeded to "earn his money" by negotiating a 50-year contract for cheap electric power, and was responsible for getting a new City Hall constructed on Newell Avenue. He was probably responsible for getting the City's approval for the large Bank America building on Dana. At the time, the Carey Brothers (hot-shot real estate agents/developers) wanted to construct four of these buildings—which they called "Super Block". They had visions for Palo Alto that didn't stop with one, sort-of-skyscraper. Keithley eventually lost his head about this time, and was replaced. The "residentialists" were begging to form, and eventually took control of the Council around 1971, putting to end the pave-it-over mindset in Palo Alto that was running rampant in the Silicon Valley at the time.
Those were dramatic times—and the people who were "the leaders" provided far more in terms of substance than we have seen out of any of the recent Councils (like being "for the HSR before they were against the HSR"). There is nothing, above board anyway, that can be traced to Sid Espinosa to show any leadership like we saw in the 1950s and 1960s in this town. Espinosa is a figure head—and Fazzino knows it.

What is needed is a long look at regionalization. This is not going to sit well with a lot of people, who some have been living "big" on the every-increasing cost of real estate, and the homeowners/"residentialists" who fear that sooner or later Fazzino, or Espinosa, or whoever is Mayor, is going to cut a deal to have large areas rezoned to multi-unit housing, destroying what is left of this once bucolic little town. There are some who are so bold as to suggest that the "developers" would actually work to see much of Palo Alto turned into a parking lot for one of their multi-billion dollar housing/commercial projects.

No .. Fazzino is not "one of us". He is a part of the so-called 1%, that has its place in our country, and our town—but not to the extent of "ruling/ruining our lives", which Fazzino has shown myself, and his friends, to be more than willing to do.

We do need change, but we don't need more power ensconced in the hands of Palo Alto's "Inner Circle". Electing our Mayor is not a good idea, as it will end up being a role that only a very few will be qualified for; and, more likely than not, Palo Alto will end up with one person who is in the tool of the "Developers" riding roughshod over the rest of us. As imperfect as the current system is, it provides at least a modicum of "checks and balances", which Gary Fazzino seems to want to wash away with an "elected mayor".


Posted by Keep our 1 yr Mayor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Gary Fazzino wrote this guest opinion because he wants to be the 2 year Mayor and be paid a handsome six figure salary for each of the two years he serves. Then, by popular demand, he would run for a second two year term again earning his annual six figure salary. His guest opinion was a piece of self promotion!!!

If the City is about to reorganize the City Council and promote the idea of a two year term Mayor, I'm in favor of reducing the City Council from 9 to 7 members which would streamline the decision making process. And, while we're about it, why don't we vote to elect Council persons by District.

In past years the City Council has had some pretty weak Mayors. Do we really want a loser for Mayor for two years?

All this will require changing the City Charter.


Posted by Andrew L. Freedman, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

Good morning No-Elected-Mayors,

Oh my (my exclamations in my advance age of 57 get mellower and mellower)!

Dang, after reading what you wrote about someone considered an excellent councilmember and mayor, I'm glad I didn't get elected to council in '97.

I'm going to go a little off topic: Arastradero Road - I've written a post about it but did not post because it's one of the most brutal, things I wrote and if I have the facts correct, it'd probably start a firestorm.

I'm just going to say to the folks who don't want that done to California Avenue, I'd suggest a very simple campaign that would cost very little, no attorney's, etc. Just this, an open letter to city council: either restore Arastradero Road and lay off of California Avenue, or you will not be re-elected to council.

I'm not a one-issue voter and while I do not know the current council members, I do like them and am grateful that they are serving. But the truth is that there are so many areas of both projects which an overwhelming majority of the effected folks involved do not want and it's those very people who are NOT being represented by our city council on this. There are some very disturbing facts about both these projects.

Andy Freedman


Posted by Tony Glaves, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:08 am

Mr Fazzino's recommendation to change the way the City of Palo Alto selects its Mayor, the arguments he uses to support his recommendation, and the timing of his recommendation, seems to be odd and perhaps even disingenuous in many ways.

Mr Fazzino uses the word "transparency" in part to describe Mr Espinosa's sytle of leadership. Fair enough, as far as that goes. However, Mr Fazzino would have been much more transparent and perhaps might have held a more persuasive argument had he disclosed that he and Mr Espinosa have a long personal history, going back to their days at HP. In a public forum and on a subject of public governance, is it too much to expect our former elected officials to be completey candid?

And what of all these "accomplishments" Mr Fazzino ascribes to Mr Espinosa? In Palo Alto, where we have a City Manager form of government and a city council of nine members, Mr Fazzino seems to place far too much credit where it is not due and all that credit that seems to have accrued in only a year. Really? Is Mr Espinosa really this Uber Mayor? Case in point: "approving a fiscally sound budget" with which Mr Fazzino credits Mr Espinosa. How exactly is Mr Espinosa expected to take credit for this accomplishment when he was, in fact, on the very wrong side of the fence on the most important vote regarding the city's fiscal future, Measure D? (Disclosure: I served on the organizing committee for Yes on Measure D-Restore Fiscal Responsibility). Measure D was passed with an overwhelming 68% of the vote.

Finally, what is one to think of the timing of Mr Fazzino's recommendation? If the modification of the term and selection process of our mayor is a long time quest of Mr Fazzino's, there is no record of it, at least as far as I can find. Why now, then? Might it have, something to do, perhaps, with the fact that both Mr Espinosa and our Vice Mayor, Yiaway Yeh, were opponents of Measure D and supported the unions despite the ill effects binding arbitration and the threat of binding arbitration has had on Palo Alto's finances? Is there some political mischief afoot? What would Mr Fazzino, working in the corners with Mr Espinosa and Mr Yiaway, seek to accomplish?

No, this all smells a bit too much of the chicanery with which we have all become too familar in our national and state capitols. There is little room for it in Palo Alto.

Rather than use this time to seriously contemplate changing our Mayoral selection process, a process that is neither broken nor breaking, perhaps we should use it to give credit to the city council members who had the political sand to do the right thing and aggressively support Measure D, and in so doing hold themselves transparently accountable to the best interests of the city despite the very strong political pressure to not do so from the union interests. Moreover, it's an excellent time to remind ourselves of those 4 council members who failed a very critical test, Mr Espinosa and Mr Yeh among them, and then remind them of that failure in future elections.


Posted by And more, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I also remember Fazzino's pitch some years ago for the job of Mayor. Tony's message is worth a careful read.
Mayor Espinosa has a nice style, but as he announced last Monday, he and the City Manager have been meeting with major corporation heads in order to... what?
Last May Espinosa and the City Manager shared a platform with Stanford's head developer McCown, at a meeting sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The city was in the middle of negotiating over Stanford's redevelopment. Does not pass the smell test for either of these two. The newspapers hardly noticed.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm

When Gary Fazzino worked at Hewlett Packard, he hired Sid Espinosa.

If they were both still working at HP, I guess I would call Fazzino's suggestion the Mayor from HP.

However, both Fazzino and Espinosa are now working for other companies, after the decline at HP that started with Carly Fiorina.

When Firoina was a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate last year, her advertising consultants invented the term FCINO in their Demon Sheep ad attacking opponet Tom Campbell.

I went back to the San Francisco Chronicle to find out how to pronounce FCINO. Here is what I found:

After some feared they would have to wash their mouths out if they tried to pronounce "FCINO," Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund offered a pronunciation guide: "FAH-SEE-NO."

Web Link


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields