Palo Alto Weekly
Spectrum - December 16, 2011
Guest Opinion: Fazzino calls for electing mayor to two-year terms
Former mayor also urges council to give Sid Espinosa another term to lead the city
by Gary Fazzino
It is hard to believe Sid Espinosa's term as mayor is almost over. And what a great year of accomplishment it has been...approving the Stanford hospital project...establishing a long-term infrastructure plan...approving a fiscally sound budget without a significant negative impact on city services. And perhaps most important, exhibiting a style of leadership that focuses on transparency, inclusiveness and decision-making.
One good year deserves another!
But unfortunately, due to Palo Alto's current mayoral selection system — which is a 25-year tradition and not part of the municipal code, Sid is limited to only one year as mayor. He could accomplish so much more as mayor for two years.
This is not intended to raise any concerns about Sid's presumed successor, Yiaway Yeh, who also is a bright young visionary leader and would be a great mayor as well. In fact, Yiaway also deserves two years as mayor.
One year is simply not enough time for a mayor to accomplish all that is needed to be done. It is not enough time for a mayor to establish and follow through on major priorities, grow into a strong leader presiding over meetings and working collaboratively with the city manager, or providing critically important leadership on regional or state issues impacting Palo Alto such as high-speed rail.
Throughout most of Palo Alto's history and until the 1980's, mayors regularly served for two or more years. Some served for four, five and one even served for eight years. These mayors were chosen for their leadership abilities, representation of the public's priorities, ability to get things done, and to represent the city on challenging local and regional issues. And several of those multi-term mayors such as Hutchinson, Porter, Arnold, Comstock and Henderson are recognized as some of our greatest mayors.
But once the great pro- and slow-growth battles were over in the early 1980s, it was decided to pass the mayorship around among different council members. Imagine how much more Larry Klein could have accomplished on regional transportation and land use issues in the late 1980s as a multi-year mayor or if we had had one mayor for several years — whether it was Jean McCown, Liz Kniss or me — addressing East Palo Alto issues impacting our community and theirs in the early 1990s?
I would also change the way mayors are selected.
Under the council election of mayor system, either everyone gets the chance to be mayor — which typically occurs in a five-member council — or in the case of Sunnyvale, Mountain View or Palo Alto with seven or nine members, one half to three quarters of the members become mayor. There is little public transparency associated with the process of becoming mayor in such a system, and often times — particularly in a pure rotational system, where the expectation is that everyone will become mayor — sometimes we trade a great presiding officer and leader for others who do not have similar skills.
But unless there is a pure rotational system, which is the case in Palo Alto, there are unintentional violations of the Brown Act in the mayoral selection system. I am surprised this issue was not raised during the recent campaign to enact a directly elected mayor system in Sunnyvale. At annual city council reorganization meetings, council members are not sitting in papal conclave waiting for the Holy Spirit, or spirits of mayors past, to inspire them at that particular moment in time to vote for a particular candidate. Conversations have been going on among members for weeks as to who has an interest in becoming mayor, and commitments are made to vote for specific individuals.
Although this is human nature, and a natural result of the system in place, it also is a technical violation of the Brown Act. Kelly Fergusson in Menlo Park got in trouble last year with the San Mateo County DA's office for speaking with other council members about the upcoming mayor selection vote, and yet, countless council members in other local cities — including Palo Alto — have been engaged in the same activity for many years. There is little transparency associated with the current mayoral selection system because de facto decisions regarding the mayorship are made prior to the council vote and as a result of serial conversations.
I have long supported a directly-elected mayor system for Palo Alto but with a couple of twists. I would not significantly change the current powers of the mayor in a city government whose success is heavily dependent on an appointed city manager. The mayor's primary responsibilities are to run meetings, appoint committee and task force members, represent the city on regional committees and use the power of the bully pulpit to effect necessary change.
I propose having an election for a two-year mayorship alongside the city council elections every two years. Anyone currently on the council or running for election could become a candidate. It assures transparency, avoids Brown Act violations, and gives the public an opportunity to decide who is the most qualified to be leader of the community and presiding officer at council meetings. And I would make it a two-year term because the reality is that one can get very little done in just one year's time. It also provides important continuity of leadership on regional bodies. But the proposal does not increase mayoral powers significantly and maintains the proper balance of power between mayor and manager. Limit terms to two two-year terms to avoid too much concentration of power. If the successful mayoral candidate does not win a council seat, the second place finisher becomes mayor. I doubt that would happen often, but the system has to plan for it.
Mayors selected by the voters, public transparency, avoidance of Brown Act problems and two-year terms represent definite improvements over the current system.
Gary Fazzino served on the city council from 1977 to '81 and from 1989 to '02, and as mayor in 1992 and 1999. He is vice president of government affairs at Applied Materials.
Posted by No-Elected-Mayors,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm
This idea about electing is a terrible idea. Unfortunately for Palo Alto, which has been exposed to twenty-four years of "Gary Fazzino's bad ideas! Fazzino has never shown any real understanding of local government, other than how to pander to special interests that resulted in his being elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. But what did he do when he was on the Council?
1) Helped to increase the size of Staff perhaps 50% from the beginning of the period he was elected to the Council until he finally gave up his seat.
2) Watched as the cost of government expanded by perhaps three times, without his ever showing any concern, or suggesting the City was living outside its means.
3) Never once seemed to be concerned about the various crimes that were committed by various Staff, such as a murder/suicide in the Corporation Yard, or the illegal detainment and sexual harassment of at least seven women, and perhaps more.
4) Did Nothing to create Reserve Funds For Future San Francisquito Creek refurbishment.
5) Did nothing to recognize that long-term infrastructure costs were going to come due one day, and voted for "more services", which squander untold millions on the various special interest groups that were able to gain his attention.
It would not be hard to develop a real case as to how Gary Fazzino was not a particularly good City Council Member.
As to Sid Espinosa, what has he actually done this year that justifies his actually being on the Council, much less Mayor for another one, or more, years?
Well, Sid did get his picture taken a lot. He seemed to be where there were possible political "points" for being "on board" some one's, or groups', quest for City funds. For instance, stating he was "excited" to be a part of the establishment of electric "fueling points" in the Bryant Street Garage, which is more empty than not.
Did Espinosa actually write any "white papers" on his own, that outlined problems with City Government? No. Did Espinosa actually read the budget, and have any thoughts about future costs, areas for cost controls, or better documentation for the City's finances? No. Did Espinosa show any understanding of the future pension and post-retirement health care that is saddling Palo Alto, as well as every City Government in the Nation? No. And we could go on, and on, about the things the Espinosa did not do, as an individual, or as the non-elected Mayor, that gives us any reason to want to vote for him again, much less his being "the voice/face of Palo Alto".
Fazzino brings up a couple projects that did get Council approval this year. The Stanford Hospital was going to be approved, or there would be "Hell To Pay". While the previous Council, did manage to make a bit of a mess out of getting the approvals through "the process", what did Espinosa do to facilitate the process that Fazzino seems so enthusiastic about? And if Fazzino knows what he did, why don't all of us know?
The City has had a Strong-City-Manager/Weak-City-Council since the mid-1950s. At that time, the City Manager, a fellow by the name of Jerry Keithley, proceeded to "earn his money" by negotiating a 50-year contract for cheap electric power, and was responsible for getting a new City Hall constructed on Newell Avenue. He was probably responsible for getting the City's approval for the large Bank America building on Dana. At the time, the Carey Brothers (hot-shot real estate agents/developers) wanted to construct four of these buildingswhich they called "Super Block". They had visions for Palo Alto that didn't stop with one, sort-of-skyscraper. Keithley eventually lost his head about this time, and was replaced. The "residentialists" were begging to form, and eventually took control of the Council around 1971, putting to end the pave-it-over mindset in Palo Alto that was running rampant in the Silicon Valley at the time.
Those were dramatic timesand the people who were "the leaders" provided far more in terms of substance than we have seen out of any of the recent Councils (like being "for the HSR before they were against the HSR"). There is nothing, above board anyway, that can be traced to Sid Espinosa to show any leadership like we saw in the 1950s and 1960s in this town. Espinosa is a figure headand Fazzino knows it.
What is needed is a long look at regionalization. This is not going to sit well with a lot of people, who some have been living "big" on the every-increasing cost of real estate, and the homeowners/"residentialists" who fear that sooner or later Fazzino, or Espinosa, or whoever is Mayor, is going to cut a deal to have large areas rezoned to multi-unit housing, destroying what is left of this once bucolic little town. There are some who are so bold as to suggest that the "developers" would actually work to see much of Palo Alto turned into a parking lot for one of their multi-billion dollar housing/commercial projects.
No .. Fazzino is not "one of us". He is a part of the so-called 1%, that has its place in our country, and our townbut not to the extent of "ruling/ruining our lives", which Fazzino has shown myself, and his friends, to be more than willing to do.
We do need change, but we don't need more power ensconced in the hands of Palo Alto's "Inner Circle". Electing our Mayor is not a good idea, as it will end up being a role that only a very few will be qualified for; and, more likely than not, Palo Alto will end up with one person who is in the tool of the "Developers" riding roughshod over the rest of us. As imperfect as the current system is, it provides at least a modicum of "checks and balances", which Gary Fazzino seems to want to wash away with an "elected mayor".