Palo Alto Weekly
News - August 2, 2013
WORKPLACE ETHICS ... The ethical climate at Palo Alto City Hall is generally sunny, though many city workers feel the city can do better when it comes to rewarding strong performance and encouraging employees to speak up about ethical violations. Those are results of a survey of more than 300 employees that was recently conducted by the Office of the City Auditor. The survey asked both management and non-management workers to consider a variety of statements and give each a score between 1 and 10 (Examples: "In my local government, I am expected to tell the complete truth in my work for the agency" and "The executives in my local government treat the public with civility and respect."). The city then received a score between 1 and 100 from the management group and, separately, the broader employee group, with 75 to 100 connoting a "strong ethical environment" and 0 to 49 indicating that the agency's "culture needs significant change." Palo Alto's scores were good but far from spectacular. The employees' anonymous answers added up to a score of 75.1, placing the city in the lowest tier of "good," The managers were more critical, collectively giving the city a score of 70, which signifies room for improvement. Many employees said they are not being encouraged to speak up about "ethically questionable practices." Only about 30 percent put "always" as their answer to this question, with another 30 percent saying "rarely" (the rest were either "almost always" or "sometimes"). When asked if they're surrounded by coworkers "who know the difference between ethical and unethical behaviors, and seem to care about the difference," only about 30 percent responded "always." Among the managers, the statements that scored the poorest related to whether executives "create an environment in which staff is comfortable raising ethical concerns"; "appreciate staff bringing forward bad news and don't 'shoot the messenger' for saying so,"; and "appoint and reward people on the basis of performance and contribution to the organization's goals and services." These statements received scores of 6.1, 6.1 and 5.6, respectively, on a 10-point scale. The two qualities that don't seem to be an issue at all are civility and avoidance of corruption. A vast majority of managers gave the city high marks (8.7) for whether executives "treat the public with civility and respect" and "refuse to accept gifts and/or special treatment from those with business before the agency."
THE NEXT BATTLE ... Fresh off two successful petition drives and riding a tidal wave of both enthusiasm and rage, Palo Alto's land-use critics are now plotting their next battle. The group includes opponents of a recently approved housing development on Maybell Avenue, a development that they hope to quash through a referendum. The effort hit a milestone last week, when they submitted more than 4,000 signatures for the drive, more than enough to qualify for the next general election. But now they are preparing to take aim at a bigger fish — the city's "planned community" (PC) process, which allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for "public benefits." Bob Moss, a Barron Park resident who took part in the Maybell signature drive, said the group is now discussing an initiative that would eliminate or severely restrict this zoning, which was used for the Maybell project and for two proposed developments on Page Mill Road. Moss told the Weekly that one idea he supports is not allowing PC-zoned projects in residential zones and requiring a vote of the people on any PC-zone proposal. He noted that the exact nature of the ban has not yet been determined, but he said many residents agree that this issue needs to be addressed. "I think, from talking to people, that they're not happy with the PC zone. I've been saying for years; it's a racket. The private-versus-public benefit comparison — it's a joke," Moss said. His idea comes at a time when foes of dense developments are coalescing into a formal coalition. The new group "Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning," which led the petition drive for the Maybell referendum, has formed an official political-action committee. Former City Council candidate Tim Gray, who is the group's treasurer, told the Weekly that he has recently filed the needed paperwork for the coalition.
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