Hey – thanks for the thoughts/concerns, those of you who called or e-mailed thinking some bigwig earwig ordered us to buzz off after our last column.
Only UC cheerleader Polly Armstrong lamented our fall into the murky waters of Opinion. By the way, Armstrong, who staunchly defends the university’s right to build anywhere but in her district, is vigorously attacking proposed Memorial Stadium lights and the Big U’s refusal to do an Environmental Impact Report on them. Go Polly. When you get back from vacation.
Actually, we’ve been bizzy. The Planet powers let us out of the hive for a week at the Lost Coast, where we briefly interrupted ocean/redwood bliss to read what passes for papers up there. Gee, all you who say Berkeley’s business-unfriendly, up in Fort Bragg, the council’s trying to get a hotel that’s been up and running for two years to do an EIR.
Back in our Buzzerkeley honeycomb, we jumped stinger-first into the paper morass and joined the council struggling to speed read its weekly 800- to 1,000-page agenda reports.
Bet I’m not alone to skip items. But then, the fifth column doesn’t vote.
Even if the most compulsive of our public servants did read through every report, it’s still often impossible for them to make informed decisions. That’s because, when they arrive at the council dais, they’re presented with a fresh stack of documents detailing the items on which they’re expected to vote.
There are solutions – other than the characteristic group whine.
When the buzz used to fly ‘round Oakland, we’d watch a couple of council people regularly refusing to vote on items they hadn’t been able to study. An interesting concept, n’est-ce pas?
Another idea that doesn’t take too many smarts, is simply to slash the trivia.
Some questions need to be fully aired – like deciding whether to plow $1 million into a parking garage or a bike/wheelchair/foot overcrossing. The council should be applauded for giving these issues full public debate.
Why can’t our overactive policy makers need to trust staff on the minutia?
Come on, let Jim Keene decide if the Personnel Department should be called the “Human Resources Department.” Leave it up to public works to get the college paper to clean up after itself. And have enough confidence in the parks’ folk that they can figure out themselves how to mark off a doggie area.
Alas, even without micromanaging, the council would still have its plate full. So it ought to be able to establish a reasonable agenda.
And if common sense does not dictate what reasonable is, the state’s sunshine law, the Brown Act, covers it.
Councilmembers might want to read the commissioners’ handbook: “The purpose of the agenda is to inform the public regarding the issues to be discussed. It is required by the Brown Act that agenda item titles describe fully the issue or action to be discussed and/or taken. This requirement, therefore, precludes ... listing a topic on every meeting agenda to cover the “possibility” of discussion. In preparing the agenda, you should place yourself in the position of a member of the public.”
Other jurisdictions have figured it out. Some hold extra council catch-up sessions. Others meet every week or take fewer vacations. Some use rules committees to limit the agenda to a reasonable number of items. Berkeley council has a Rules Committee that hasn’t met in months.
While council meetings tend to be packed to the brim, some of the most interesting stuff seems to happen away form the public ear.
Remember the bureaucracy’s musical chairs program we wrote about a while ago – renaming four staff people as Neighborhood Liaisons and giving them $90,000 salaries. The process continues. Seventeen top staffers put in their bids for the plum posts. They’ve taken a written exam – and will be interviewed by a group of department heads.
The subject of this interview will be a book by Peter Koestenbaum: “Leadership, the Inner Side of Greatness.” We were gonna buzz through it for you - but none of our independent local booksellers – or corporate ones either – have it in stock. Must be a good read.
Here’s Amazon.com’s thumbnail of the $36 tome: “Adopt the characteristics common to all great leaders – realism, vision, ethics and courage – to achieve your own brand of greatness.”
NO, NO, Andy (Cody’s own) we have not, nor ever will order e-commercely.
Here’s something else wending its way through bureaucratic back rooms.
Remember that auditor’s report of a year ago revealing that relatives were supervising one another? More surprising, perhaps, was that the city has no policy prohibiting the practice. And even more shocking, the city manager didn’t know there was no policy against relatives supervising each other.
Well, there’s still no policy on the matter.
But the bureaucratic gears are grinding. A proposed policy prohibits: “a supervisor-subordinate relationship between (related) employees, whether direct or indirect,” shared duties between related employees or related employees having the same supervisor.
The buzz applauds this good – normal – policy, but thinks it should go farther.
Recall the alleged peccadilloes we buzzed about, where the city attorney was ordering councilmembers to deny, deny, deny some bureaucrat’s alleged affairs with an underling?
So we asked the guy charged with employee relations – Dave Hodgkins – if the proposed rules apply to persons who haven’t officially tied the knot, but are, uh, knotting. Shouldn’t staff be prohibited from supervising their lovers?
“I don’t know how you can have a policy (like that) and enforce it,” Hodgkins replied. “As we all know, it’s common for people to meet at the work place. Things happen.”
Oh, by the way, there is an exception built into the city’s proposed relationship policy: “Where no transfer is possible or practicable, the City Manager may authorize exceptions to this policy whenever the City Manager determines that the best interests of the City so require.”
• • •
Meanwhile, on the parking lot beat, the buzz noticed that downtown parking’s got a bit tighter.
Patrick Kennedy – you know, the developer the mayor mentioned three times in her state of the city speech – took over 27 spaces on the city-owned Oxford Parking Lot for his work on the so-called Gaia building.
Interim Planning Director Wendy Cosin says Kennedy forks over $12 per day per space, six days a week for the spaces. The rest of us who park there more than five hours, shell out $15.
Normally, there’s no monthly parking in that lot. Remember the hours of council discussion about needing that lot for short-timers to help out nearby merchants and bibliophiles.
• • •
Back to council, budget discussions are off and running – and that’s put a bee in the buzz’s bonnet.
Numerous money requests have been directed, over the past few months, to “the budget process,” for example, staff for the University-City Commission, dormant because it’s not staffed and funding for programs such as Berkeley’s Dispute Resolution Services. (Hey – maybe they could trade work for funding. Could they tackle the council?)
But, no one whispered admonitions to wait for “the budget process” when the manager’s salary was raised 9 percent ($13,946) from $141,010 to $154,956 annually.
And the council wasn’t asked to wait for “the budget process” when the manager got the council’s OK for him to hike senior staff salaries, at his will, up to 31 percent?
By the way, we checked with Nikki Spillane over in personnel – oops, Human Resources – and found that only few increases have been authorized so far:
• The auditor’s raise – Ann-Marie Hogan’s an elected official, so the council, not CM OKs her pay hike from $85,188 annually to $97,116 – a cost of about $11,928 to you and me.
• Housing Director Steve Barton’s salary went from $84,708 annually, to $89,808, a cost to us of about $5,000 a year.
Some staff got raises when their duties shifted.
• John Rosenbrock took over as manager of capital projects his salary jumped about $8,000, from $85,776 to $93,768.
• And Brian Zandipour, deputy city auditor, got a merit increase under the old, not new, pay schedule, going from $71,604 to $75,900, a mere $4,000 increase.
One buzz reader in deep cover displays his or her cynicism, e-mailing the buzz: These (projected) raises are “but another example of the council’s proclivity to pander to the manager’s wishes and his ability to manipulate the shrinking divide between the council’s two political factions for his own ends.”
The buzz, with its own brand of “realism, vision, ethics and courage,” could not have stung it stronger.