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With new rules, City Council looks to tighten its grip over boards, commissions

Original post made on Oct 14, 2020

Palo Alto's long-standing system of citizen boards and commissions could see a shake-up Monday, when the City Council prepares to adopt new rules that give it more power to shape commission agendas and remove members.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 2:29 PM

Comments (15)

20 people like this
Posted by accountability
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2020 at 5:03 pm

accountability is a registered user.

"create a system in which commissioners have less autonomy to defy council wishes or to pursue projects that don't have explicit City Hall approval."

The major difference is council members are elected. These other positions are appointments of trust, made by council on our behalf. Unfortunately, in more recent years there seems to have been a misunderstanding by some council appointees as to their role. Behaving instead as if they have been given carte blanche to pursue their own personal agendas and goals and accountable to no one.


19 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2020 at 7:10 pm

ALB is a registered user.

I agree that trust is a critical quality when it comes to council members, commissioners and city staff. What exactly triggered this handbook? It appears to me as I have witnessed many planning and transportation commission meetings that a commissioner whose behavior was not professional is responsible. This commissioner has berated the public and even a fellow commissioner. The ninety year old Elaine Meyer used a word that Michael Alchek found objectionable -- cabal. I witnessed his shouting at her from the dais. The public stood to object to his unconscionable and irrational behavior. The chair, Ed Lauing, had to caution Alchek to cease and desist. Another issue that has in my opinion contributed to the spawning of the handbook is the 'garagegate.' Alchek used his position to his advantage regarding the city code. This was clearly an abuse of power and he got away with it. Why wasn't he made to adhere to zoning law like everybody else? I have witnessed bad behavior on the part of this individual but not other commissioners. Therefore I conclude that because the city attorney and the council were weak and unable to dismiss the offending commissioner they now want a handbook.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 15, 2020 at 10:35 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

During this summer when the PACC members were on vacation we had various people who serve on commissions opting to voice their positions on topics in the press. Some of those issues surfaced to the national press. And some of our local papers took up causes as major topics. This felt like a set-up. A take-over. A coupe. Coercion.
Some of these people are running for office so they were in effect using taxpayer money and time to front their political asperations and goals.

Generally we appreciate people who serve on commissions as they are providing their advice on many topics in which they have expertise. That does not mean that every piece of advice they provide has to be acted on.

In every major company there are rules concerning venting company business to the press. There are specific offices that are designated for that discussion of management direction.

There is a process in city government where a topic or issue is reviewed with some conclusions that are then provided to the city manager and PACC for their review and discussion, and action if required. Since it appears that that "normal" execution and practice has been trampled on suggest that an agreement be executed by each person who serves on a commission to follow a specific, itemized set of principles that they will follow in the process of their contribution of service. In that manner we will not end up with a city who is asking "who is in charge?" And of course since most resolutions require some form financing a signature by the finance staff that the budget can accommodate the end result of the decision. We, as a city, cannot have our city budget co-opted by special interests acting on their interests.


15 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Barron Park dad is a registered user.

This proposed change to give the City Council more power over the Boards & Commissions is fine. Why? Because the people elected the City Council members, and thus we expect them to be accountable. Board and Commission members whom we did not elect and thus not accountable to the people therefore SHOULD BE accountable to the City Council.


15 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 15, 2020 at 1:42 pm

Observer is a registered user.

The PACC might want to also examine certain similar behavior - speaking or writing as an individual purporting to represent a council consensus - by members of the group. I recall two recent instances of Mayor Fine utilizing city stationery to communicate positions on issues (an example being advocacy for SB50). There should be some consequences for such transgressions by council members in addition to commission members.


8 people like this
Posted by Paly02
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2020 at 2:24 pm

Paly02 is a registered user.

After getting our city in trouble twice with the ACLU over the past few months, why not infringe upon free speech again? With respect, not everything should go through the City Manager. The City Manager already controls City Council communication with the police department, which is problematic for police reform. Why should the City Manager now also control communication between Commission members and the media?


16 people like this
Posted by Problematic Commissioners
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 15, 2020 at 4:07 pm

Problematic Commissioners is a registered user.

Or you could have just fired Alcheck for 'garagegate' and his heavy handed attempts to further what was best for himself and his agenda including yelling at others. Steven Lee was another particularly aggressive (yelling and making others cry) commissioner who should have been fired before he wrote 'its all about me' editorial to the Palo Alto Weekly.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 15, 2020 at 4:20 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Comments above - when the city accepts a person to contribute their time on a commission they are serving the city as an organization contributor - not themselves - one hopes. To accept a position on a commission then do an end run around the city management is contrary to every norm of organizations. We expect our city to run in an organized manner with respect to overall management. This was not a good summer with groups trying to undermine the city in general and that is NOT APPRECIATED.


4 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 15, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I’d eliminate the Chief Communication Officer if their the one who wrote this thing, rather than try to handcuff or hamstring the commissioners.
But more fundamentally I’m concerned about the trend away from a robust Democracy, with debate and dissent.
Who told Ed and Adrian to do this?
I think Alchek is a red herring or stalking horse.
Interview 40 people who’ve applied to commissions, not just the 60 recent “BCC members” who replied to a poll.
Palo Alto doesn’t want its microcosm of “a more perfect Union”.


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Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 15, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

People make comments - Mark - what is the end result of these actions? If people are wheeling and dealing in their own sphere of influence and usurping authority for any one issue then where are they going with their actions. Get to the end result and the COST of that end result.
Example - FHP - people usurping the city budget to support higher maintenance cost, and personnel cost with no regard for what in the budget is going to be eliminated. We had a local judge who threatened legal action - read coercion - and now we have the ACLU frothing at the mouth. So now the city budget has been usurped again for even higher costs and now we are sidelined to address the legal actions.

That is your end result of people who basically have no fiscal responsibility trying to manipulate the city budget to their own ends. Ans it is unclear if they have any fiscal knowledge to even understand what the impact is of their actions.


7 people like this
Posted by Simple Guideline
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2020 at 7:07 am

Simple Guideline is a registered user.

There is one simple guidleline that respects the free speech rights of volunteer Commissioners. They just need to do as most do now - state they are speaking for themselves and not as a Commissioner on issues.

Surely that is sufficient, and surely staff nor council members don't presume to silence Commissioners altogether. If they do, they are looking at a lawsuit.

Commissioners need to be given real training on how to conduct good meetings, that the Chair must reign in uncivil behavior by Commissioners, and the public who rudely address Commissioners at times. And City Attorney's often provide weak or no support at all at meetings. This needs to change.

Council needs to reign in their own conduct - council member Cormack runs amok constantly, knowing no boundries when a liason to Commissions, or when taking over the Cubberley community process at the 11th hour (even now creating a community group to carry on her plans there).

There does need to be a some minimal process and cause to dismiss a Commissioner, otherwise it can be at political whim.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 16, 2020 at 7:54 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Love the comment above - "looking at a law suit". PA is a small suburban city in a county that includes San Jose - the major city in the county. PA's history revolves around SU and the spin-off of technology that results from the proximity to the university. PA has a longer history than many of the surrounding suburban cities that were fields of fruit trees and ground level crops. Most companies that had a birth in this city have moved on to other surrounding cities because those cities have the available land for large production facilities and available housing. That results in PA school closures as families with school age children move out to the newer, cheaper housing where the emerging companies are building large facilities.

That reduces the tax base of this city. We have "commissioners" who have inflated their importance to the region in general who are attempting to coopt this cities budget to support their political agenda. The emergence of technology in this small suburban city which then moves outward they somehow translate into their importance.

So they will threaten a law suit if the city does not kowtow to their agenda? We did not vote for these people and they are not on the city payroll. If their agenda is bigger then this city then they need to move out to a larger city where they can usurp that cities budget. And their attempts to coopt this cities resources are not appreciated. Those attempts become very visible. Possibly they work for companies who need housing for their employees and we are the target for those companies.

Those companies need to focus on how they can locate subsidiary locations in cheaper, inner state locations. Proximity to universities usually work well. Lots now in the east bay and inner state locations.


3 people like this
Posted by mxhr
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2020 at 7:36 pm

mxhr is a registered user.

Speaking truth to power always earns the ire of the powerful. Not sure this effort to "reign in" the appointees is anything but an effort to suppress those on the commissions and boards that speak for many of us in Palo Alto. And enough already with the Alcheck nonsense.

This is verbatim the minutes from the meeting where Alcheck mentioned Elaine Meyer (no edits). Read for yourself. The comments above are clearly uninformed. It's mind-boggling to me how often people refer to this specific example as proof of Alcheck's unprofessionalism. Educate yourself and read up.

PTC Meeting July 25, 2018

"Commissioner Alcheck: Ok that’s sort of what I understood the ballot measure to say. Ok, so I’m going to… are you setting time limits or are we… ok, so I’m going to… I’m just going to address one thing about process real quick. I’m glad Elaine Miller that you joined us tonight. I was hoping I’d have an opportunity to meet you. I want you to know that when I saw your Next-Door post on Monday at 4 because I get the roundup, I was a little disappointed. Because you wrote and I’ll quote it because I think it’s worth… that we all work setting the tone here, which is you said that the development cabal on the PTC is concerned about the Citizens Initiative to restrain office growth will pass. And so, the Planning Commission has scheduled a discussion to raise the Downtown Cap to preempt the election and the expression of the citizen’s voice. I think it’s safe to assume that when you say development cabal you are referring to some nefarious group of which you believe I am a member. And if that’s the case I just… I want you to know that none of the Commissioners before, all of which are volunteers, have any oversight or influence on agendizing an item like the one before you… before us tonight. In fact, I had only begun and had not yet finished reviewing this item when I saw your post and so I just hope that everybody knows that there’s no effort… the cabal members are… did not ask Staff to bring this forward. And you know you may not realize it but on our Commission’s website my contact information is provided and I really wish you’d called me before suggesting that somehow there was nefarious intent."

If that's the sort of comment that you find objectionable, then we should talk more about some of the things your favorite council members have said in the last 6 months alone. Oh and don't get me started on the nonsense that is carport-gate. The only fact about that story is that the FPPC didn't pursue an investigation. Alchek's accusers call that a conspiracy or it could just be that the FPPC didn't think there was anything ethically wrong. I guess it depends where you stand on conspiracy theories.

Support those who speak truth to power. Vote for the progressives!


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Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:27 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Excellent article today - 10/18 in the Bay Area News group (SJM) Business Section - "Match your personality type to the right job." This gives a breakdown of the Myers-Briggs test that many large companies use to best position their employees in the right jobs to develop career paths for their employees. How people function in general and how they solve problems.

Companies know that there are people who are excellent in selling a product, and then there are people who are excellent in actually managing how to get that product produced. People who have skill sets in accounting, marketing, engineering, management, etc. Check this out - you will find yourself and how you project yourself in life. Introvert? Extrovert? Organized?, etc.

Working on teams means that you all recognize that everyone is not going to approach any topic in the same way. But each person on the team can bring a perspective for the future success of the endeavor.

The topics for the PACC encounter every variable out there. So a suggestion - "speak truth to power" only means something to a portion of the audience. Another portion of the audience views that as gibberish and wants to know specific facts, figures, projections of how any activity will be managed, and how much will this cost. And where is the money coming from.

The people who threaten law suits have an approach that is totally different then other participants who are looking for other type information - how to actually execute an effort successfully. Law suits do not work well for that type.

Worth your time to find out who you are and how that is working for you.

Other note of interest - Sunnyvale is the second biggest city in Santa Clara County. They are going to elect their mayor rather then let the city council chose a mayor. Based on the type of comments we are seeing I think that is a good move for this city - we have obvious disagreements on where this city is suppose to be going.


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Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2020 at 4:20 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Sorry MXHR - maybe people get ired by the "truth to power" comment because it does not identify a specific problem and a specific solution. It does not lay out a case for what ever a person is talking about. The comment - in itself - means nothing other then the person has a gripe. So identify the gripe with specific terms and a solution that you are looking for.

Possibly the person making that statement does not have a proper response so think that statement is just a delaying tactic to a definite resolution to a problem. It is an obfuscation to resolution. Maybe that is the goal? In these political times people are posturing and positioning with no stated end result in mind. Just trying out their current desire to be an "activist" and join the political fray.


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