How to Differentiate and Select CPA Council Candidates
Original post made
by Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Alto,
on Sep 24, 2009
On occasion, I am described as being as an "insider," which makes me laugh. I am willing to offer up a point of view on this blog and as a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. I hardly feel like an insider, as that term is thrown around.
I will endorse people I know who are running for elective office and in my view are good choices locally, but I don't look to get sought out by candidates, nor do I want to be. I do support those who have asked me for an endorsement if I think it is the right thing for me to do.
But I am thinking about where I was as a dad, a guy with an SF job, a person who had no clue who were our elected officials and appointed Commissoiners less than 10 years ago. I had no clue who was in charge of our City or School District.
I chose to get involved. I worked on the language (Spanish) immersion effort in the mid-1990's, and then for reasons that are not worth explaining, I now am the longest serving member of the City of Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission.
And I get to blog about stuff in town.
I think most Palo Altans are like the way I describe myself before I chose to get involved. For parents of young and elementary schools aged children, the involvement is much more intense, but its half life goes quickly for many after that. Involvemt may continue with private organations, but schol involvemetn drops in a huge way when the kids get to middle schools. Having an understanding of how things work in the City of Palo Alto, as opposed to the PAUSD, is even less understood, from what I perceive.
And the role as a citizen/parent also changes, compared with being a parent/citizen.
The choices for those who sit on the dais at City Hall has limited correlation of understanding for many who are active in the schools and other activities that are independent of what the City of Palo Alto provides. Many things the City does are for members of our community that an individual voter knows nothing about and does not experience. That said, those things are important to the fabric of this community.
It is not clear to me that how people choose their City Council members is based on as informed an understanding of who they are choosing than is the case for the school board or various private and school site organziations.
So when it comes to selecting our next City Council members, just what is it that we are in need of and looking for? How does that decision get informed to the public at large?
The PAN folks, who represent the various Palo Alto neighborhood assocations, have another candidates forum this year, and that is great. What about the rest of folks who cannot make that?
Are the City Council candidates creating distinct positions and points of view? What are the key ones that you are in support of or will lead you to not voting for a candidate?
Please focus on the issues, not the candidates, whether you support a particular position or oppose it
I have my points of view, but that is not the point. It is for those who weigh in on PA Online to provide some thinking.
And it up to the candidates to decide if what those who weigh in on this blog are offering thought and perspective, or just want to provide invective and negativity. What is said may affect the thinking the candidates have, but please use care when you offer your thoughts. I tire quickly of polemics directed at me that are extreme or too ideoligical, one way or the other. Imagine how candiates for office feel about such comments.
And I suspect the current candidates are all terrific folks, so they need points of view on the issues, not their qualifications or character. Unless there is a point of view that the sort of background a candidate has does not fit with the imperatives we need from our next City Council.
5 positions are up for election. Think about your choices seriously.
Like this comment
Posted by Sun and Sand
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2009 at 4:22 am
Boy, does this all sound familiar. You want issues? How about looking hard at Palo Alto's governance model, and how that model perpetuates not only itself, but many of the same problems (from a structural perspective) from election-to-election. As the world turns...
1) does it really matter what any one Council candidate elaborates as a position, given that that Council candidate will need 4 more votes to move on that position, should s/he be elected. Sure, it matters to a degree, but how much does that degree *mean* in the large picture, when a 9-person dynamic becomes involved?
2) Where is the locus of power in Palo Alto? Does it reside with the Council? City Manager? Both? WHO (name one person) is accountable for not fulfilling a vision? The answer to that question doesn't exist, because the answer is "it depends". Does the City Manager's head roll if the streets aren't fixed, or capital intake slows down? Does the Mayor?
Why do I bring this up? Because Palo Alto, like so many municipalities in America has an outdated governance model. It's a model that worked great in times of no constraint - i.e. a large body of people with innumerable commissions and almost unlimited citizen input (on even the smallest decisions) that grind adaptation to a halt. Palo Alto cannot elaborate a vision, because no 9-person body of political representatives will every agree on a large vision. They may agree ona a smaller municipal project (like the library), but when the big picture comes into play, it's fireworks, and sub-optimal decision-making, borne of too many decision makers, and a governance model that eliminates ultimate responsibility and accountability. Power in Palo Alto is diffuse, and as a result, it's largely dysfunctional. That's why we keep having the sdame old problems popping up, over and over again.
How to fix this? Elect a Mayor, and shrink the Council to 5, or 7 members (preferably, 5) Give the Mayor just enough separation of power to hire and fire the City Manager. Pay the Mayor and Council members 1/3/ to 1/2 the median Palo Alto wage. That way, Palo Altans will get to hear a *diversity* of positions and visions from candidates, with a really good chance if we elect a Mayor, we'll also elect a few people who agree with him, among a smaller body of decisino makers. What does that enable? Forward direction - instead of relecting on a bi-annual basis a siginifcant portion of a 9-member Council that doesn't really have a leader with enough power to elaborate a vision.
If the Mayor fails to deliver, we elect a new Mayor. That way we risk only 4 years of bad decision making, rather than repeating the merry-go-round of process that a large body of collaborative process leads to.
Palo Alto's governance model is essentially a bad habit. We've cone to think of the way we govern as "inclusive", and "collaborative" etc. etc., but it's really not. It's mostly slow and ponderous, and wastefull of opportunity that could generate a new spirit of growth and sustainability in Palo Alto.
So, go on with your issues; go to the PAN meetings and hear the same old, same old - often organized by the same neighborhood representatives (all good, well-meaning people) that have been operating these things forever (and are comfortable with our present governance model, because they get to play in it, like a sandbox). Even bad habits can feel comfortable.
Can you imagine what it would be like if we had a really accoutable Executive in Palo Alto? Someone who had the power to drive over to Mountain View or Menlo Park and ask about sharing public safety infrastructure, or road maintenance? or someone who could go out and really solicit large capital opportunities, instead of ribbon ncutting visits to foreign capitals and other places (with due respect to the fine people who sit on Council, who are also caught in a metaphorical trap, re: their perception of what governance should be, rather than what it has to become - in order to adapt to serious constraints).
Can you imagine the wonderful political ferment that would occur if we had someone in Palo Alto who's desk is where the buck really stopped - instead of passing the buck around 10 musical chairs (yes, the City Manager is the 10th Council member - don't kid yourselves).
I expect that what I'm pushing for won't happen, because we're not at crisis stage, nor will we probably ever be. We're close to one of the greatest universities in the world; you really have to muck things up to go down the tubes in a sitation like that, but it does lead to a kind of stagnation that is mind-numbing, leaving those of us who have seen the power of what an elected Executive can do.(and sometimes it's not all good - far from it, but at least you can throw the bum out - here, we get to elect a lot of decision makers, but we can't throw the governance process out).
And so, the world turns...