Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Assessment of Last Night's Commission Meeting re Sheriff Merger

As reported, the vote was 3-2 to go with the Sheriff (PBSO). This was a good thing for many reasons. And, the Commission will have the time - about two weeks - to have a special meeting to address the concerns raised by Mr. Karns and others regarding the contract. However, we again need to talk about process, the power of city staff over the will of the Commission and the need to get information out in a timely manner. The last point being the most important - we need to engage the citizens as a solution to the city's problems. Not all answers lie in City Hall.

More on that topic later, but here are my observations from the meeting. I was concerned that people would not be able to find the location and therefore attendance would be limited. While I am sure some people might have been confused about it, I was delightfully surprised that many people showed up. The number would not have fit in the City Commission chambers at 7 N. Dixie Hwy. More reason to think about returning City Hall back into the auditorium it once was so that more people can regularly come and participate in the city's public meetings - especially for big issues such as this.

The meeting started with Mr. Baldwin taking the lead and summarizing what had happened to date. This is something that I thought the Mayor should have done, but alas. Mr. Bates, our Administrative Service Director, got up and painted quite a gloomy scenario and wanted to link the pension situation with the choice of going with the PBSO. Commissioner Vespo did an excellent job at correcting that train of thought and rightly indicated that the city would be facing the pension situation with either choice. He also pointed out the prospect of amortizing the pension liability over a period of 20 years instead of 7 years as presented by Bates - which even Commissioner Jennings later acknowledged as a "brilliant idea."

Public comment was extensive and the great majority thought now was the time to go with PBSO. Many acknowledged the increased crime and the perception that creates in relation to the City's image. This leads to decisions not to invest in the City etc. We learned from Laurence McNamara that there may be a hang up in the City Charter regarding the PBSO switch and it came across as a not-so-veiled threat of a lawsuit that could block the will of the people. He is going to law school now - I guess in an effort to save future legal fees. One of Mr. Karns tasks over the next two weeks is to determine if that is the case and whether or not a ballot measure needs to be put in place to amend the Charter. More on this later.

During Commissioner Jennings and Golden's comments, I hearkened back to both their speeches on the Greater Bay beach matter. Commissioner Jennings' speech would be the same for beach, just switch out "Sheriff" and replace with Greater Bay.

Overall, one was left with the impression that the staff is leading the Commission and Mayor - not the other way around. Which really is the proper dynamic. There is no reason that what was an issue when I campaigned a year and a half ago would have its first public airing now. And it could have been entirely possible that it completely pass last night. At least this two week period gives time for more public input and possible changes to the contract that would be more favorable and protect the City better than the current version.

Chief Smith continued to be vague regarding how many patrols are out at any one time, shift structure, etc. He was obviously a reluctant participant. Not so the rank and file, as they ponied up and gave away part of their compensation to make it happen. As was pointed out, they would likely more than make it up under the PBSO system, but it seemed to be a smart decision for them to do so.

WE NEED TO HAVE INFORMATION AVAILABLE WELL IN ADVANCE OF MAJOR DECISIONS (really any decision) SO THAT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE DECISIONS CAN BE PROPERLY EVALUATED. THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE STAFF'S JOB - AUTOMATICALLY. FOR FAR TOO LONG IN THIS CITY IT HAS BEEN THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

THAT HAS TO CHANGE. It just does.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wes, I found it interesting that neither Golden or Jennings focused any of their questions to our Finance Director about the cost savings of going with the sheriff. They did not ask for the numbers related to savings with insurance, police law suits, legal fees, workers compensation, staffing requirements and lots more. They only focused on the cost ofthe contract.

Wes Blackman said...

You are absolutely correct. They are obstructionists. They do not lead. They are meant to stop progress at every corner and one way they do that is only look at one side of the issue. It is a sad commentary. Don't think the dramatics are over with - I am sure we'll be hearing more why we can't do this at the special meeting(s) to fine tune the contract.

Anonymous said...

Let the change begin with a new city manager.

Anonymous said...

I hope something is put intoo the contract that prohibits our city from being used in any airing of the "Cops" TV program. PBSO is always on there and gives the nation we (PB County) have an extraordinary amount of crime.

Wes Blackman said...

That's a very good point. I have seen many such episodes - and they seem to be on a pretty tight rotation - meaning that you see the same show a lot. Not the way to make a positive impression to the world to say the least.