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City responds to audit criticisms

Original post made on Dec 21, 2007

Calling for effective, efficient government from outside City Hall is easy. But actually enacting reforms within 250 Hamilton Ave. is much trickier, Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting highlighted.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 21, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (55)

Posted by Dave, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 21, 2007 at 2:17 pm

I think it is important for us to rely on city management to make the right decisions and listen to the staf that performs the majority of the work. I know that may be difficult at times to do, but years of experience in the private sector performing various tasks, and then having a auditor come in for a few weeks and think they know how to make everything better, really is not practical. Some ideas may be good, but often they just look good on paper!


Posted by Kimberly, a resident of Addison School
on Dec 21, 2007 at 2:55 pm

I called the city once to report something happening in the street that did not look right and looked to be a safety hazard. The Code Enforcement person then forwarded my call to an Inspector for Public Works who had the expertise to handle the situation. The next day the problem was resolved. That was not hard to do and they directed my call perfectly. What is this Erickson lady talking about, sounds like if money is a concern, they should be looking at places where reccomendations are made to do some cuts and save money.


Posted by Matt J., a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2007 at 3:02 pm

I agree with Dave's comment. I wonder how involved the auditors were with the staff that performs the work instead of just listening to the top level management people, who often don't have a clue. Then of course our city council listens to management and the auditors and never seem to get direct feedback from the staff that do the work. Sometimes in the morning I have ran into several street crew workers who fix our roads and chatted with them briefly. They have great ideas for getting things done and work really hard for us. Maybe we should take the time and listen to them for once, instead of just listening to some pencil pushing auditor!


Posted by Vicky, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 21, 2007 at 3:11 pm

The solutions to these problems are simple. Hire good staff and poof..problems solved! A good staff member directs calls to the proper party and the resident won't get passed around to different numbers, street crews coordinate their efforts and work more efficiently. We complain alot about this city, but we are all very blessed to live and/or work in a city that has such high service standards. Erickson may be off with her reccomendations because of her lack of expertise in all the work fields that are discussed in the article, but I believe her intentions are good. Perhaps the departments management should step up and be firm about what are good, and what appear to be very bad ideas and state the obvious, then be done with it. Twice a year to review ideas that probably don't make much sense right now, do not seem economically smart. Management should stop pushing it under the table and just say Nah.


Posted by Mikey, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 21, 2007 at 6:24 pm

Sounds like you all descended from the same space ship. The auditor doesn't just drop in for a couple of weeks. The auditor is on the city staff. She knows what goes on and can talk to anyone.
The managers can respond to the audit, if they take it seriously. Sounds as though they don't have to take it seriously, maybe they know their boss won't ask about it. "Just say Nah" is what they are doing.
Reflects very badly on city management. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 22, 2007 at 9:24 pm

All I can say is that all parties above have pretty skewed visions of reality.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2007 at 9:01 am

Kudos to Sharon Erickson, she is one of the city's smartest employees. As a city employee she interacts with other members of the staff all the time and enjoys their respect.


Posted by Adam, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 23, 2007 at 9:24 am

I wonder how many of those commenting have read all or any of the recommendations. Please read them and then ask the auditor or one of her staff for how and why the recommendation(s) was/were made.

Erickson and her small staff do talk to department heads, many of the lower tiered employees, and any citizens who seek her out to get a realistic perception of what needs correcting. She is definitely not working from a position removed from the problems reported.


Posted by Erica, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2007 at 9:40 am

If I could live my life over again I'd go to work for a Government bureaucracy with tough Union representation instead of private industry.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2007 at 3:36 pm

Just because an auditor claims that this, that or the other "ought" to be done, it doesn't mean that the auditor has looked at the big picture and is correct about his/her suggestions. The current city auditor has not done a very good job in justifying the recommendations in her audits. Anyone can make recommendations, but a lot of work is required to take a suggestion from an audit, look at the problem to which the auditor claims that this is a solution, and determine if this, or a better solution, is best for this particular problem. It could easily be that all of the auditor's recommendations would not be implemented because bettter solutions might be available that the auditor was able to devise.

This auditor has NO experience with computer/information technology, so that her solutions frequently show no particular gain when a "whole systems" approach could well provide a fully different set of solutions.

While Benest is hardly a person to listen to when he says: "trust me. I know what to do", this auditor isn't such a great gift to the city's taxpayers either.


Posted by Mikey, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 23, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Your theoretical critique sounds good, Show-Me, but can you be a little more specific? I have read things I don't care about too, but it is up to the managers to respond, isn't it? rather than ignore the recommendations.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2007 at 4:30 pm

> Your theoretical critique sounds good, Show-Me,
> but can you be a little more specific?

Well, the audit on the streets was not all that well done. The auditor spent a lot of time focusing on "street cuts", but did not full justify the time spent on the audit and the savings to the city if things were done any differently.

The P/W Director objected to the auditor's claims, but he didn't really do all that good a job defending himself. At that point, the city manager should have sat with the auditor and the P/W Director and tried to figure out what each of these two key employees was saying. (It's totally possible that each was correct at some level, wrong at some level, and both missing the point at some level.)

The CM should have then decided which of the recommendations made sense, and directed the P/W Director to come up with an implementation plan, developing the costs and benefits for each of the selected recommendations. (The auditor rarely ever demonstrates that her recommendations will actually save money.)

If all of this gets cumbersome, that the CM should hire a consultant to provide him (and the Council) a review of the situation from presumably a "best practices" point-of-view of an uninterested party.

At some point, enough information should be on the table for the CM to make a decision about what direction to take (from accepting the auditor's recommendations to doing nothing).


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2007 at 6:56 pm

SMTNF - That all makes sense. So, like most orgs, it comes back to the folks at the top and their ability to manage people and process illuminated by analysis.

Do those good "block & tackle" city managers exist out there? Why did we go from an in-the-weeds micromanager to "big picture" Frank Benest? Has the City Council done a bad job hiring or is the position really hard to fill? Or ??


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2007 at 7:37 pm

> Has the City Council done a bad job hiring
> or is the position really hard to fill?

This is the $64M question. Bill Zaner, who left around 1990, seemed to be a fairly together CM. However, during this period a lot of infrastructure was not getting managed. It's quite possible that he was (sort of anyway) responsible for not doing the necessary department reviews that would have flushed this out. It wasn't until 1998 that the $100M Infrastructure problem came to light, and then it was because of the prompting of Council member Dick Rosenbaum.

This city government has its fingers in a lot of pies--which it probably shouldn't. The Utility is clearly one that puts the average CM well over his head (not to mention the profession energy management community). And then the City Council does not require any previous management responsibility or experience--so we get "environmentalists", and "social engineers" and so on trying to make a name for themselves, rather than attending to the details of a fairly expansive "empire". If one were to inventory just the "hardware" for a city this size, it comes to an asset base of about $5B (meaning if one had to replace each bit of the city's hardware/infrastructure, the bill could easily come to $5B). Being able to get one's head (and arms) around this much of an asset base requires a lot of experience, good 1st and 2nd-level managers and good information management systems in place. All of these requirements are hard to learn so that someone with 12-15 years of experience (total) can take over the helm (and retire at 20-25 years too).

Given all of the "irons in the fire" here--and the lack of what seems to be a good middle management structure (people who doubt this should read the material released about the Assistant City Manager). One of the jobs of a CM is to figure out what is wrong--and get things under control. This last guy was not up to the task--no matter how many times he told the City Council: "I'm the CEO!"


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Thanks, that's illuminating and it is good to have the historical perspective. So we sound like not quite a turnaround, but more an under-performing org.

My experience is that one or two key hires (CEO plus a key VP) can really impact an org like that, getting the obvious stuff done and then raising the standards for the rest of the organization, weeding out the weak players and attracting more like themselves.

Let's hope that the City Council - with, as you say, its share of "cause-minded" members - is up to the task of hiring someone like that, who is focused on blocking & tackling and will put nose the the grindstone. And hopefully the Council too will focus on and take pride in the nitty-gritty of running a small city vs. whatever else various members have thought important over the years.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 24, 2007 at 9:24 am

Information in the audits is the ONLY information we get about City operations that doesn't come from the City Manager. It is no easy task to be part of the organization and take on the various departments so I say good job to the auditor. The point is about fixing problems and the audits bring attention to those problems. For management to address only 5 of 93 is unacceptable. The auditor strikes me as a reasonable person who isn't insisting that the problem be fixed her way, she's just saying it needs to be fixed. Management seems to be focusing on the fact that they don't like this recommendation or they don't like this particular aspect of a report instead of saying "we are fixing the problem."


Posted by Adam, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 24, 2007 at 9:25 am

SMTNF makes some good comments. However, the auditor's perspective is more that of a citizen, not a "big picture" viewpoint. That is the City Manager's job. She may not be able to support her suggestions as an expert could but can see when something is amiss, e.g. potholes, excessive overtime, etc. She can then sit down with dept. heads, who have the expertise and must effect any changes, and together they can arrive at an action or agree that more analysis must be done.

Her job is not to define the problem in detail, suggest the methods to make the changes, and support the recommendations as an expert. The corrections, if necessary, must be agreed to by the dept. head. If there is disagreement, the City Manager must do the job he's paid to do - manage - and direct a resolution to the problem/suggestion.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2007 at 10:52 am

" It wasn't until 1998 that the $100M Infrastructure problem came to light"

And that was the CM's fault? Please. Prior to the present City Countil , PA City Councils (excepting the occasional outstanding individual, like Rosenbaum) were exceedingly weak. We're still paying for that. We're still hobbled by a policy making system that is *designed* to go slow, too.

As for Frank Benest, what other regional city manager managed a surplus - in a city whose policy makers, and a small minority of determined citizens - did almost everything they could to keep viable retail out of this city?


Posted by Mikey, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 24, 2007 at 11:47 am

You are skillful at changing the subject, Mike, but this thread is about audits. Please peddle your hobby horse on a more appropriate thread.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Mikey, until the editor sends you away, you're going to have to deal with people who disagree with you.

About this thread: it appear to be another in the volley of threads that call the CM and City operations folk on competence. It's all a bunch of Monday-morning quarterbacking by a bunch of wannabe CM's. Go apply for the position, if you think it's so easy - or maybe for one of the recently vacated positions. Maybe you'll learn a thing or two about the business of government, instead of making judgments based on your Sim City outcomes.


Posted by Mikey, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 24, 2007 at 7:14 pm

My Sim City outcomes. Yes indeed. Mike, you are indeed a universal expert and you display your universal expertise on Every subject. There is no subject on which your opinion can be avoided. It's good to know that you also know why there is so much to complain about, just people Monday-morning quarterbacking. Elegant.
The bad streets, the playing field giveaway (Oregon and El Camino) funny you don't complain about the lost revenue there, because you can't as you do all the time, blame the citizens for it. It was the city manager who didn't put a money making hotel there. A web site that is so bad, words fail to express it.etc etc.
5 out of 93 audits have been begun. How dp you interpret these numbers?
Your unwavering support of the staff reminds me a little of the Bushies. No matter how obvious Bush's mistakes, they support him. Your support of the staff is just as mindless.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 25, 2007 at 1:08 am

Reminder: Palo Alto citizens are mostly happy with their government. It's hard to face facts, especially when they prove one wrong.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2007 at 5:56 pm

> Information in the audits is the ONLY information we get
> about City operations that doesn't come from the City Manager.

Not really. The auditor does produce a booklet ever year, usually during the first quarter that comes from all of the departments about their operational performance. Unforntunately, the auditor does not audit this data, she just publishes it. There is no reason to believe that any of this information doctored; however, the auditor does not seem to be agressively determining what data should be published in this document.

This document is a posititive contribution from this auditor; most cities do not provide this sort of information on a yearly basis.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2007 at 6:02 pm


>> " It wasn't until 1998 that the $100M
>> Infrastructure problem came to light"

> And that was the CM's fault?

Yes! Who else is responsible for running the city? The Charter even restricts the Council from any operational directives to anyone in the city government. Mr. Rosenbaum's being involved demonstrated how he was heads-and-shoulders above the others on the council at the time.

Establishing the asset base of the city is something that should have been done a long time ago. Every building, structure, or property should be in a database, which allows directors/first level managers to input the servicability of each item in the database. This would provide every one "in the loop" what is currently going on, and what needs to be done. Unfortunately, no such database exists for Palo Alto property. Some databases do exist, but there is no comprehensive effort by the IT department to provide such a comprehensive accounting for the city's properties and infrastructure.

And to repeat--YES, the is the City Manager's job!!


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm

SMTNF - you make really good point. The CM isn't just another hired hand; we charge that person with overseeing all the city's interests. Unless that person is being actively over-ruled by the Council, they are responsible for all the successes and failures on their watch.

The Council's #1 job, in my view, is to hire the right person for that job. If they do that single thing well, a lot will go well; if they don't, tough sledding.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm

Terry: "Establishing the asset base of the city is something that should have been done a long time ago" and "The Council's #1 job, in my view, is to hire the right person for that job. If they do that single thing well, a lot will go well; if they don't, tough sledding"

Then why didn't past policy makers make sure this was done? This reinforces the view that past City Councils were egregiously out to lunch on key matters, with only a few exceptional members carrying most of the water.

Why would any polis elect a policy maker who didn't understand the basics of governing a city? If anything, this points out the disconnected nature of most residents (here, and elsewhere) municipal residents from their local governments.

As our region, state, and nation continue to become more challenged, we're going to have to do better than years past.

As for the CM, our outgoing CM performed well under extraordinary personal and operational circumstances. He deserves a medal.





Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Re databases and assets: The BID listed "a comprehensive database of all downtown businesses that serves as a built-in resource for everyone" as one of its major accomplishments.
Web Link

But when I tried to get a report of which businesses paid their assessments, I was told I would have to pay about $35 for 264 pages of paper.

I was then told by a city official that "there's no database of downtown businesses."

We're right in the heart of Silicon Valley (which city officials are always touting), yet the city seems lacking in essential informational tools. And then there's that web site. . . .

Someone deserves a medal for this?


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm

> This reinforces the view that past City Councils were
> egregiously out to lunch on key matters, with only a
> few exceptional members carrying most of the water

Actually, there is no disagreement here.

The Palo Alto City Council was about 15 members deep in the mid-60s. Things go so out-of-whack that the Palo Alto Times called for a recall in 1967, which actually occurred. The upside of this situation was that the Council was downsized over a several year interval from 15 to 9.

The Councils in the '70s might have been OK, but when the '80s arrived the quality of the Councils went down markedly. Some of the more "mobile" members have gone on to higher office, but their contributions to both Palo Alto (and "higher") government affairs can hardly be seen as laudatory.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Mike, I agree that our past Councils could have done a better job hiring (perhaps including the case of Mr. Benest) and certainly can do a better job of focusing themselves relentlessly on the mundane issues of running a small city.

I also agree that PA, for some reason, seems to favor some glamor in their candidates, and the Council Members tend to like the attention they get for grandstanding.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2007 at 3:12 pm

> I was then told by a city official that "there's
> no database of downtown businesses."

In addition to the rather useless "database" which the BID developed (and not known to key city employees it would seem), the PAU knows fully well where the business in downtown are. It would not be that had to pull the commercial accounts from the main accounting database and then create a "business" database. Merging the BID data from the PAU data creates an even more interesting collection of data. Then there is the GIS which the Planning People claim to have and sometimes the fire and police claim to use.

It's really difficult to believe at this time that there is not a database that the various departments of the City Government could use that would be reasonably up to date.

Yeah .. all those guys "deserve a medal".


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Terry, Frank Benest was a good hire. the city is working well, for the most part.

As for "glam" and "taking credit" in politics - it goes with the territory, and the job description. Politicians *have* to take credit, in order to get re-elected, or move up.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2007 at 11:07 am

> Frank Benest was a good hire.

There is little evidence that Benest was a "good hire". The Lee/Kan affair, the Utility situation the "Culture of Fear" that was allowed to exist in the City Manager's Office (description of the effects of the Assistant City Manager by the City Manager)--all of which occurred on this fellow's watch.

Other than the trial (or mis-trial) of Lee/Kan, most of the responses to these situations were all behind closed doors--making a mockery of the "democratic process" that is supposed to be open to the public. To this day, there is no one who can speak to the problems in the Utility or how much better the place is now.

This guy has only been in it "for the money" .. there is little evidence that he ever cared about the town and its future.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2007 at 11:20 am

SMTNF, reminder - the audit shows Palo Altans happy with their government operations. Refute that.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2007 at 12:17 pm

> the audit shows Palo Altans happy with their government operations

More "urban mythology" in action. For starters, there has been no "audit" that reveals that "Palo Altans are happy with government operations". There has been a "survey" which the City Auditor pays for every year (costing about $7,500) which allows the City to pick certain questions out of a large list of questions about government operations (one might suggest the term "cherry pick" to be in order here).

These questions were put to about 600 people (supposedly representing the 60,000 people who live here). (While the Auditor does not list all of the questions possible, the fact that these other questions exist can be found by locating the web-sites of cities using this "spin-oriented" survey and comparing the questions on those surveys to the questions offered to Palo Alto residents.)

What becomes clear from comparing these surveys is that there are no questions that are linked to the city being surveyed. All of the questions are generic. In short, this survey is intended to generate "smiley faces", rather than meaningful data about resident observations of their city's government.

The Auditor has added this survey information at the end of the yearly Services and Accomplishments report. According to the City Auditor's web-page, the results of this survey can be obtained at the following web-page:

Web Link

Unfortunately, when one selects this link, one gets the following:

Web Link

Page Not Found

Again--more evidence of the "excellence in government" that we are asked to believe in! (Not only can you not find anything on this new City web-site, but when you think you have found something -- SURPRISE, no you haven't!)

However, some information was found on a non-City web site about the Resident Survey:

---
Palo Alto Receives Voice of the People Award:
Web Link

The "Voice of the People" Awards are announced each year by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) to the jurisdictions with the highest rated services for the preceding year according to a representative sample of their own residents. Winners are identified among all the jurisdictions that conducted The National Citizen Survey™. The award was presented to representatives of Palo Alto at a recent ICMA conference
----

Note -- the organization International City/County Management Association (ICMA) is not a "survey house", but a lobby organization for increasing the size and cost of government. The "awards" come from having been paid to do the "survey".

While it would be easy to write pages on this topic, one particular point jumps out from the press release about the last year's "award":


• Excellence in Garbage Collection services In 2006, 92% of Palo Alto residents rated garbage collection good or excellent – including 52% excellent, 40% good, 7% fair, and 1% poor – placing Palo Alto in the 97th percentile compared to other jurisdictions.

So -- while 92% were happy with PASCO as their "Garbage Collection" people -- the City Manager has how spent $250,000 of our dollars to find another vendor. Why? There was something in one of the local papers that made note (furtively) about a suit involving PASCO and the City. However, the details (or at least the reasons for the suit) have not been generally made known to the public. So -- if 92% of the public is "wrong" about the quality of the garbage collection in Palo Alto (at least from the City Manager's point-of-view), of what value is public opinion on this matter?

Oh, and what does the City Auditor have to say about the quality of Garbage Collection? Has her office ever managed to do an audit on that?

So -- the refutation is that there has never been an a question on the ballot that asks: "Are you happy with City Government in Palo Alto" so that all of us can vote on the matter. Maybe some are happy, but lot's aren't! This so-call "Voice of the People" award is a sham!


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2007 at 12:23 pm

SMTNF, It appears that you are another "data point gatherer". I liken this type of poster to someone who manages to find one fact that supports his contention, among a sea of additional facts that opposes. Then this poster attached all assumption to the exception, and generalizes from there. Pretty weak.

Maybe you should conduct your own poll, or survey - and bias it in your direction.

The only sham in these forums is the misinformation about local government spewed by people with too much time on their hands. I am your remedy. :)


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2007 at 1:04 pm

> I am your remedy.

Interesting -- not a single point of refutation.

> I am your remedy.

Seems there's always a snake-oil salesman around when you don't need one.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Mike, can you provide the links showing the high level of satisfaction vs. other comparable towns? That would be useful. It would also be helpful to know if it has gone up or down on Mr. Benest's watch. Also to know how taxes are in the comparable towns, so we can assess the bang per buck.

If you don't have these, no problem - but I think these would be useful in assessing CM performance.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2007 at 8:10 pm

SMTNF: While you're criticized for actually providing a data point, Mike continues (in this and other forums) to claim that "...the audit shows Palo Altans happy with their government operations." Audit or survey? Specifically what questions – and answers – prove that we're happy?

This reminds of the city's response when asked why we have so many more employees than neighboring cities. The answer is always something like, "We offer more services." But those services are never enumerated. I've asked multiple times, but never get an answer.

When I go to the Mountain View web site, for example, it looks like they've got lots of parks, great services and better infrastructure. Not to mention a better web site.

I also want someone to show me the numbers.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2007 at 8:21 pm

"I also want someone to show me the numbers"

The numbers, and polls, and surveys, and opinion letters are all there - in plain sight. It's what you do with that information that creates *your* problem. Same with Terry.

Essentially, you think you can manage this city better than the professionals. Might I suggest a run for office. I would love to see that, and then enjoy watching either one or both of you get creamed. Who would believe your nonsense on this matter? You'd be marginal, at best - like "Smokey" or whatever his name was, last election. He has fun, but really, his entire platform was a joke.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2007 at 8:25 pm

> Audit or survey?

It's a survey.

> Specifically what questions – and
> answers – prove that we're happy?

If the City's web site actually worked, it might be possible to find a list of the questions provided to those surveyed. As pointed out earlier, the total list is not made public.

The problem is these are generic questions:

"How do you rate the police service? (0 - 100)"
"How do you rate the Fire service? (0 - 100)"
"How do you rate the garbage collection? (0 - 100)"

So, given these silly questions, most people say that they rate the services highly.

However, there are no "centering" questions -- meaning there are no questions that can be used to determine if the person answering has ever had to call the police, or the fire department or they have ever had any trouble with the garbage collection and tried to get the problem solved. In short, does the person answering the question have any sense of what he/she is talking about?

For instance, the issues with the police department never show up in this survey. Suppose there was a question like: "The Chief of Police claimed that Officers Lee and Kan did nothing wrong when they beat a resident for no apparent reason. Do you agree with the Police Chief that the Officers did nothing wrong?"

It's difficult to believe that most people would agree with the Police Chief--particularly after the City paid this poor fellow $250,000-- all the time claiming "they did nothing wrong" actually did nothing wrong!

Given that the questions are designed not to dig into anything controversial in this town, or any town where this survey is taken, it's not surprising that the "spin doctors" are able to claim that "every one is happy".


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2007 at 9:21 pm

Mike, since you are so familiar with the info, could you please link to it? Or tell us where to look? Please? That way we can all be looking at the same thing. Given that you challenged Anon to "refute" the "audit" you referred to above, and criticize others for the data they present, it would be helpful to understand.

I wish you wouldn't dump on other posters so, we're all doing our best, and obviously not as smart as you are ;-)


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2007 at 3:46 pm

"we're all doing our best, and obviously not as smart as you are ;-)"

Terry, that's a start; it's good to know your place. :)

Now, on to SMTMF, who says:
"So, given these silly questions, most people say that they rate the services highly"

What's silly is yuor judgment of the questions. You are *guessing* that things would turn out differently, because you disagree with the finding. Looks like sour grapes to me.

There are always giong to be a few residents who complain obsessively about city services. there's a relative few like that in every municipality. They make hasty generalizations, and constantly say "prove it" to every survey finding. That's the same as saying "prove I'm not wrong". That's proving zero. I suggest you look that up, and then move to another city if you don't like this one, because based on the line of yuor questioning, there is simply no pleasing you.

I know it's difficult to accept something that counters with one's view of reality, but that's what lofe is all about. Nothing is perfect, not even Palo Alto.


Posted by Sharon Erickson, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 28, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Terry,

You can find the full set of the annual Service Efforts and Accomplishments reports (including the citizen survey results) at Web Link

The full set of audit recommendation status reports are at Web Link

And the links to the various audits that we have issued are at Web Link

Thanks for your interest.


Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers-First, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2007 at 4:18 pm

> what is silly about the questions?

If there were questions that helped to determine whether the person answering the question had any evidence of understanding the question, or the answer -- maybe the questions would not be silly. But to put these questions to people without context makes the answers silly, if not the questions.

How many people in a random sample of 600 (or so) have ever called the police? If they haven't, what is the basis for their satisfaction? Or the fire department, or code enforcement.

Let's take code enforcement for an example. Questions like: do you know who to call to make a complaint about a situation involving code enforcement? How long do you think the average response to a code enforcement complaint takes? It's likely that most people would not have answers to these questions.

Then there is the matter of the garbage disposal. If 92% of the people asked believe that garbage collection is OK, then why is the City looking for a replacement? Bet there won't be any questions on next year's survey about the respondent's understanding of why the otherwise excellent services of PASCO (as rated by the residents) were no longer required by the City of Palo Alto. There will most likely not be any questions comparing the next vendor to the last vendor.

The point is that these questions are not rooted in our local government experience. This survey is very cleverly designed to allow cities to compare generic answers to these generic questions and see a difference in resident satisfaction between towns. Certainly, if a given group of questions provided an answer that suggested that only 25% of a city's residents were satisfied, then that may well provide a hint that something is wrong. But any city that has 75% of its residents unhappy about something most assuredly would already know that!


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Sharon, thank you very much for the links and good to know that you are reading some of this.

I love what you and your department do - enough in fact to print out the full 190 page report for some weekend reading ;-)

Is there a report specifically on the results of the Citizen Survey? I looked through the City Auditor section of the web site and did not see a specific report on the survey there.

Thanks.


Posted by Sharon Erickson, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 28, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Terry, the full survey results are attached as the appendix to the Service Efforts and Accomplishments report.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2007 at 5:44 pm

Thanks Sharon, I look forward to getting that far!


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2007 at 6:06 pm

"How many people in a random sample of 600 (or so) have ever called the police?"

what does it mean if they don't hav to call the police, because the city is kept safe? See what I mean?

If you don't think that the police do their best to create internal systems that are more pleasing to residents, you're smoking something.

fwiw, I and many people I know here have had excellent results when calling the police.

Same goes for the library, and other public services. This is a well-run city. We could stand a little more innovation in policy making, and an approach to housing and retail development that resonates with all the grandstanding on those issues, but we're otherwise OK.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2007 at 11:59 pm

SMTNF: There is a reason why bloggers are advised not to feed the trolls. Trolls NEVER accept other viewpoints and have to have the last word. But some of us appreciate and agree with your comments.

Sharon Erickson is a city super star! She and her (small) team do great work. If only it didn't take MINUTES to download her reports from that fantastic website created for all us happy residents.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 30, 2007 at 2:29 pm

" Trolls NEVER accept other viewpoints and have to have the last word."

You mean like the last word that you wanted to take, above? :)

Sure, the website is a mess, but that doesn't change the results of satisfaction surveys. As suggested, perhaps starting up a survey firm of your own, with your own interrogatory algorithms, might be the way to go.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Sharon:

What colum would paying 600,000.00+ dollars for 2 Fire Engines. 1.2 million+ total..

That should have cost Hundreds of thousands of dollars less.

For a program the City and Fire Department do not have?

For Fire Equipment the firefighters have told the Fire Admin is unsafe and need to be replaced?

How much say so in what really happens do you have?
Are you listened to?


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2008 at 7:56 am

So Sharon we should believe Web links???? Or should we believe what are eye's see.What the employee's are telling you. Or excuses on why thinks are not what the promises were?
Read the web link, little baby then shut up and go away?? NICE

Lets see are you coved by Franks Golden boot also.. Do a bad job,try and cover them all up,sell the citizens some BS cover up, get exposed, then get big bucks when you go. Golden Boot?


Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2008 at 11:05 am

To Fireman,

The former Fire Chief is gone. The City Manager will soon be gone. New Fire Engines will replaced the two bad ones (you always bring up) along with some aging ones in about a year.
Everything and everyone is moving on- EXCEPT you. Try to be positive in 2008. Good luck.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

So the money/funding falls from the sky? These leaders can do anything they want with it? I thought it came from the citizens,taxpayers,state and federal government?
I thought that they were accountable for it and how it was spent?
Tell you one thing and do something differant?
Waste huge amounts on projects that have not been approved?
Waste huge amounts in inept acts of trying to run a city?
Tell the employee's that there is no money to pay them or for there benifits? Why? They wasted it all.
Maybe you should let Frank and Rebun manage your personal money?

So it is the old ,These people must go so give them to someone else?
Pass the buck,pass the problem?

Things will always be fall apart when you look the other way.
The city does not have endless funding. Take a look at all the services that have been cut.Limited.
I guess terrible leadership is ok for you?
I guess lies and coverups are ok also?
I see no hope in this city,state,country or world getting any better with thinking like yours
Reward Frank and Ruben with Great retirements and large amounts of money for doing a terrible job.
Have you been so beat down that you just rollover and say do what you want? for as long as you want. Then please leave and everything will be ok then? Who is the sick one? ME?
Did you miss the 100pages on how unsafe these Engines are. These Engines that the men and women of the Palo Alto Fire Department must/had to use. Because Ruben had to cover it up any way he could.
No problem that these Engines cost maybe 3 times what a good engine cost. And were unsafe and made the job of protecting the public unsafe and harder for the firefighters?
It seems that you are ok with all the lies and poor performance as long as they leave when they are done?
No wonder this city is having so much trouble with thinking like that.


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