The proposal not to hold the closed session Monday was made by Councilman Greg Scharff, with Councilman Pat Burt concurring. The council then voted 8-1, with Vice Mayor Liz Kniss dissenting, to hold a broader policy discussion about meeting behind closed doors when discussing compensation for non-represented employees. Once that discussion takes place, the council will schedule a closed meeting to discuss the status of negotiations.
Monday's abandoned closed session was one of two that the council was scheduled to hold that night. It went ahead with the second on the status of the city's negotiations with the Palo Alto Police Officers Association. Scharff said that city is prohibited by law from discussing its negotiations with the police union publicly.
The decision about closed meetings came a week after the council officially responded to a stinging audit from the county Grand Jury, which criticized the city for insufficient transparency in its negotiations with developer John Arrillaga in 2012. The negotiations involved Arrillaga's ill-fated proposal for an office-and-theater complex at 27 University Ave., as well as his offer to buy a 7.7-acre parcel of city-owned land near Foothills Park. In response, the council had agreed earlier this month that its Policy and Services Committee should consider the broad topic of when to go into closed sessions.
The Monday decision concerned itself specifically with labor negotiations for non-unionized workers. Scharff told the Weekly that while the Grand Jury report sensitized him to the topic of closed sessions, he had similar concerns during recent closed-door sessions on the city's lease with the school district over a section of Cubberley Community Center.
He noted that the city's compensation changes for the managers and professionals group typically mirror the adjustments the city makes to its agreement with the Service Employees International Union, the city's largest labor group. As such, there's nothing particularly controversial about this, he said.
"For this item, I see no reason why we should go into a closed session," Scharff said. "I think it would actually help them to have the public understand what we're doing."
Kniss, the sole dissenter, said she felt the council's vote to have a full discussion about this topic is pre-emptive. The council, she said, has never discussed the idea of holding public discussions about labor negotiations. She told the Weekly she felt the idea should have been vetted first by the council's Policy and Services Committee.
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