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Impractical Proposals Santa Monica
The saga continues
Turns out the assistant city manager is going to have to twist in the wind a little longer before enjoying his elevation.
Apparently, the council is going to go through one of its sham deliberations before anointing him. In response to a query by the Coalition for a Livable City about the council's intentions for tonight's show, outgoing city manager McCarthy responded that, "[o]ver the next month or more the City Council will be meeting periodically in closed session for the purposes of considering the credentials of applicants for City Manager. This will include review of resumes and interviews. Wednesday is the first of those meetings. The City Council is keenly aware of the requirements of the Brown Act, and has received advice from the City Attorney about how to proceed in a manner that respects both the candidates' privacy and the public's interest under the law."
While it's certainly good news that, however belatedly, "[t]he City Council is keenly aware of the requirements of the Brown Act," what possible reason is there for star chamber interviews with the candidates? Privacy? This is the public's business and it should be conducted in public. If a candidate has something that it would be better to keep private, he or she is free not to apply for the job.
It's equally good news that there's more time now to consult the community about the qualifications desired of the next manager. For starters, the council should make public the names and cvs of the manager wannabes. Once the council has narrowed the list down to three or four, a community meeting can be convened where SaMo residents and organizations can evaluate the finalists for themselves and where the council can see how the candidates handle themselves in relation to the natives.
Wednesday evening (2005-10-26), a special meeting of the Santa Monica city council will be convened to determine who will reign over the burg as city manager.
You may wonder, what's the rush? Who is being considered for this high-paid, professional position? Why hasn't there been a well-publicized hunt for the best qualified person? Why has the process been conducted in secret? And why hasn't the community been consulted?
If Pam O'Connor and Bob Holbrook, the council members who have been charged with finding a new manager, believe that city hall-denizen Gordon Anderson is qualified to be city manager, as it is rumored they do, then surely they would find him capable of serving for a time as acting manager, while a responsible search is conducted.
The rush -- and the secrecy -- is almost certainly meant to head off growing concern in the community about the qualifications of the next manager. The last thing most people in this town want at city hall is more of the same -- more fiscal irresponsibility, more inefficiency, more insensitivity, more arbitrariness, more bureaucratic stasis.
We need a change. New blood. A new point of view.
It was a mistake to follow autocratic John Jillili with his understudy, Susan McCarthy, especially without enlisting the support of the citizenry. It will be a disaster to follow McCarthy with another insider, especially if rushed through without due attention to process. The McCarthy-Anderson regime turned a well-run municipality into a model of administrative mediocrity; they presided over a polity increasingly under the thumb of an unresponsive, arrogant and aggressive beadledom, an outside occupying force with little or no stake in the community it oppresses.
We need a deliberate, well-publicized campaign to recruit a new manager. And the process of selection must include extensive consultation with the community. To do otherwise is not only arrogant and irresponsible, but stupid. It will only lead to further trouble down the line.
At a recent council meeting, citizens described some of the qualities they'd like to see in a city manager. Ted Winterer from the Ocean Park neighborhood association said the new city manager should be “responsive and sensitive to community concerns and have a willingness to meet annually with neighborhood organizations and other local stakeholders.” Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights co-chair Denny Zane suggested the new manager should be “comfortable with a range of political philosophies, but at the same time share important community priorities.” He also argued that the new manager should “not see their career success as tied to planning some big development projects or tied to the fiscal health of the community but have a broader range of concerns.”
Winterer also insisted that the three or four finalists for the job should be asked to meet with the neighborhood organizations so that the latter could advise the council on which finalist should be hired.
An even better plan would be to require the candidates to meet with all the stakeholders in the community, not just the neighborhood groups. This could be accomplished efficiently by holding a public meeting with all the candidates present. From the dais, with the council members watching, the finalists could take questions from residents and representatives of organizations active in the community -- neighborhood associations, business districts, the Chamber of Commerce, the unions, parents of school age children, beach users, bus riders, the hospitals, Santa Monica College, Neighborhood Watch, Heal the Bay, service agencies like Step Up and Clare, Community Corp., in short anyone who comes into contact with city hall.
Is Candidate A committed to open government? Is Candidate B a sweet talker who slips past every question without touching it? Does Candidate C have a plan for creating more affordable housing? Is Candidate D an arrogant technocrat who can barely deign to look a citizen in the eye?
After seeing the candidates in action, council members would be in a much better position to make a judgement on what is arguably the most important decision of their incumbencies. And the candidates themselves would benefit from a crash course in the issues that are on the minds of the people they will be hired to serve.
In the meantime, there's still an slim chance to head off Gordon Anderson. His appointment would guarantee business as usual; instead, we need a change of direction: we need accountability; we need to replace obscurantism and manipulation with openness and sensitivity; we need a new ethic of service. Tell the council that Gordon Anderson is not acceptable. It's nothing personal. No one from within the current bureaucracy can be allowed to have this job.
It's not as though it isn't generally understood that something is amiss with the way Santa Monica governs itself. The council has a rare opportunity to start to do something about it. Let them know you'll support them if they act courageously on your behalf. And hold them accountable if they don't.
In the section of Santa Monica where I live, the neighborhood organization, the Ocean Park Association, is trying to decide how it should govern itself.
People join community organizations for many reasons. Some look for community. Some are political animals. Some have political ambitions. Some want to help improve the place where they live. Some are passionate about a particular issue. There are probably as many different reasons as there are people in an organization.
Any successful community organization must overcome a basic contradiction: in order to encourage people to join, it must have very low barriers to entry. It has to be friendly and unintimidating, undaunting in complexity, undemanding (of time, money, energy, expertise). In order to retain members, on the other hand, it needs to be disciplined and effective. And in order to be disciplined and effective, it needs to access people's time, money, energy, expertise, and loyalty.
Any organization that is easy to join is going to have a lot of members riding for free. This puts a tremendous drain on the leaders and active members, and it has a tendency to be self-perpetuating. The committed members make every effort to get things done, but in so doing they let the easyriders off the hook. Why should I give (time, money, whatever) to an organization if it is getting the job done without me? The leaders and activists, meanwhile, feel used and abused; inevitably, they burn out.
One very seductive response to this problem is not to grow. This has typically been the choice of the community groups in Santa Monica, which have mostly settled for being small clubs focused on the issues that move their handful of members. City Hall has liked this solution because it fits comfortably with its manipulative approach to community involvement. Much easier to handle a clique than a mass movement.
A way to resolve the contradictions between recruitment and retention is decentralization. Among the many advantages of decentralization: it lessens the burdens of leadership, it provides more opportunities for effective participation, and it is flexible.
An organization like OPA, for example, could benefit enormously by keeping itself as unstructured as possible. If, instead of modeling itself on the rigid hierarchy employed by government and business bureaucracies, OPA were to think of itself more along the lines of a political movement, many of the difficulties that have plagued other neighborhood assemblies could be avoided.
The real work of almost any organization is done in committee. Small groups are easier to organize, they are better at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of participants, the necessary work is more apt to get done both because it is more focused -- a small group is likely to be organized around one or a few issues that energize its members -- and because there is much greater peer pressure to commit the resources, especially time, needed to complete whatever project is at hand.
If the committees are where the action is, do we need a board at all?
Alas, yes, because there are certain minimal fiduciary and organizational responsibilities that have to reside somewhere; but when in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of too much democracy than too little.
It can be argued that the primary job of a community organization is to inform the community. In Santa Monica, we have a thin political crust resting uneasily on a thick, smothering mantle of bureaucracy. The last thing we need is another level of government. Instead, we should be enabling an informed and active citizenry to influence the direction and resolve of its elected representatives.
Here, offered for further consideration, are a few ideas that have come up in recent discussions of ways that OPA might think about its structure:
Every resident of Ocean Park is a member at large of OPA.
Decisions about OPA policy and direction are made at monthly (if necessary; possibly fewer) membership meetings.
Voting members include: the elected officers of the organization; the elected chairs (or co-chairs) of committees officially established by the organization at a previous meeting (a committee has at least three members); residents of Ocean Park (over 16 years old?) who have attended at least two of the previous three meetings (or, less restrictively, one of the previous two meetings); certain others (the editor of the newsletter?, the webmaster?) if designated by the membership.
Elected officers will consist of a chair, a vice-chair, a secretary and a treasurer, elected annually. The principal job of the chair will be to build the organization by recruiting and mentoring committee leaders; by actively working to increase membership; by acting, when directed to do so by the general meeting, as the public face of the organization; by being responsible for organizing and facilitating a permanent communications committee to inform the members (i.e., the residents of Ocean park) about the issues confronting the neighborhood; and by convening and chairing an oversight committee of elected officers and permanent committee chairs or co-chairs.
The principal job of the vice-chair will be to conduct general membership meetings (including the preparation and distribution of agendas; the vice-chair will be expected to be familiar with and abide by Roberts Rules of Order as accepted and amended by the general membership). The secretary will keep a record of all meetings and act as historian/institutional memory for the organization. The treasurer will keep the books and be responsible for fund-raising.
A goal will be to keep the responsibilities of the elected officers to a minimum to allow them as much time as possible to participate in committees and issues that interest them. Committees will be considered the fundamental organizational structure of OPA.
All committees associated with OPA must be approved by the membership at a regular meeting. Committees will be designated as official, ad hoc, affiliated or unofficial; the OPA chair will be expected to make an informed recommendation about the acceptance and designation of committees.
* An official committee will be a more or less permament association (probably most often these will meet an organizational need -- newsletter, website, fundraising -- or will correspond to a more or less permanent area of interest -- traffic, parking, noise, development). * An ad hoc committee will be an officially designated group with a specific task or deadline (an ad hoc committee will go out of business at a date certain or when its assigned task is completed). * The chairs and co-chairs of official and ad hoc committees will be able to vote at membership meetings; official and ad hoc committees will be expected to report at membership meetings; chairs of permanent committees will meet periodically jointly with officers to discuss and make recommendations on the overall direction of OPA. * Committees will elect a chair or co-chairs; otherwise, committees will be responsible for their own organizational structure, meeting schedule, etc. Actions taken in the name of OPA must be approved by the membership. * An affiliated committee is an independent group with which OPA has formal ties (possibilities might include a joint committee on Lincoln Boulevard or with the Main Street Merchants; an organization cleaning Santa Monica beaches; etc.); but (unless the general meeting decided otherwise) it will not have the privileges or expectations attached to official and adhoc committees. * An unofficial committee/entity will be one that is invited to keep OPA informed of its activities, but with which OPA has no formal ties (Ballona Creek; Main Street Merchants; the Constitution Day Parade; the Library; the Church in Ocean Park; the schools, are possibilities); it will not have the privileges or expectations attached to official and ad hoc committees.
The elected officers and the chairs or co-chairs of the permanent committees will meet together regularly to consider the direction and growth of OPA and to provide general support to the committees, especially to those attached to the membership and communications functions (fundraising, membership, events, outreach, newsletter, website).
In other words, let's keep OPA simple. Let's keep it focused on whatever issues the neighborhood indicates -- by starting and joining committees -- are important. Let's make changes in the rules as circumstances dictate by taking them up at membership meetings, instead of trying in advance to dot every i and cross every t. <http://www.opa-sm.com/>
Wireless Access: Fed-Up Cities Seek to Provide Net Access (LATimes)
By Michael Hiltzik (LATimes, 2005-10-20) Of all the monopolies, oligopolies and other arrangements that subvert progress merely to benefit the few, perhaps the most pernicious is the conspiracy by telephone and cable companies to exercise control over high-speed Internet access.
DSL and cable modem connections provided by these companies account for roughly 98% of all high-speed, or broadband, service in the country. But their success at discouraging competition has left them gorging on a pitifully small pie: In recent years, the U.S. has fallen from third place to 16th globally in the penetration rate of broadband service. (Chauvinists can take pride that we're still ahead of Portugal.)
It's unsurprising, therefore, that many local communities have taken matters into their own hands by building or contracting for their own municipal Internet systems. Generally these blanket an area with transmitters based on Wi-Fi wireless technology to bring Web access to residents and small businesses.