Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 13, 2016

You could have been anywhere in the world

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

One of Mayor Trish Spencer’s big things is attending other city of Alameda meeting, like the Planning Board or the Rec and Park Commission meetings.  Often some of the board and commission members seem to really like her presence as well, probably because some of those meetings hardly have an audience.  This attendance seems to be viewed as some sort of positive to her mayorship. However according to those that follow good governance for cities, this may not be best practice.

From a 2010 League of California Cities article:

As innocent as a council member’s motives may be, when he or she personally attends a planning commission meeting or another subordinate committee meeting, he or she may be crossing an ethical boundary. Council members do not violate any laws by attending commission meetings. However, they run the risk of:

  • Potentially revealing a biased view, thereby causing their own disqualification should the matter at hand subsequently come before the council;
  • Interfering with the role of the commission as an independent advisory body; and
  • Not acting in accordance with the views of the city council as a whole.

Beyond the issue of perceived bias, participating in a commission meeting raises other ethical questions. For instance, council members generally have the authority to remove a commission member. With this power, a council member’s mere attendance at a meeting can be highly influential, especially when he or she makes his or her opinions known. Merely indicating that one is not speaking for the entire council, but rather providing one’s own opinion, does not address the significant impact of the “boss” offering an opinion. This influence may also jeopardize a significant role of the commission, which is to provide independent recommendations or decisions to the city council. After all, none of the cities’ commissions are required to exist; if the city council wants to have the role of decision-maker, it could take that role. But when a city establishes a commission, the city council has also by implication indicated its desire to have an independent body make decisions or recommendations. The presence of the appointing authority at the commission meetings affects that independence.

I’ll note that the analysis also indicates that simply caveating that you are speaking as an individual won’t necessarily dampen the impact of the person who would be in charge of re-appointing you is expressing a very specific opinion.

And simply because an elected official does not attend a meeting in person does not mean that they don’t have opportunities to listen to the discussion and understand the deliberation process of that body.

This does not deprive council members of the ability to learn what occurs at a commission meeting. A city council member may listen to most meetings online, on television or by using the city clerk’s taped recordings. Information can also be obtained by reading the commission’s meeting minutes. A council member’s personal presence at or participation in a commission meeting, on the other hand, could reveal a biased view, disrupt the independence of the commission or exert undue influence on the commission, regardless of the council member’s intent. It is best avoided.

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7 Comments »

  1. C’mon, the Mayor’s attendance sends an important message about accountability, and highlights the work of these panels or committees. Remember when all the trees on Park Street were suddenly removed? Remember when Alameda Power lost millions trying to compete with Comcast? How about when the Fire Department decided they didn’t need water rescue although we live on an island? These events and others happened without sufficient public scrutiny. Criticize the Mayor all you like for her policies, but most people appreciate her high visibility at Alameda events, meetings, business openings, or ceremonies.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — April 13, 2016 @ 6:44 am

  2. I get the point about wanting to avoid pre-judging or exposing the appearance of bias on matters that may come up later before the City Council on appeal (e.g., particular land use applications), although even in those cases we kid ourselves if we think that that there are no politics in that type of proceeding. On the other hand, if the mayor or others (other Council members, candidates for Council who make speeches in front of the Council and other bodies, etc.) are so easily able to unduly influence those other bodies by their mere presence and/or speech, in public and on the record, just think of the influence they can exercise off record and without scrutiny. Discouraging the former may only lead to more of the latter.

    Are there specific examples where this mayor, since she seems to be the one singled out here, has crossed any ethically boundaries by way of her attendance at a public meeting?

    Comment by MP — April 13, 2016 @ 7:10 am

  3. First, Lauren criticizes the Mayor for not knowing what’s going on. Then, when the Mayor attends other city meetings so as to be better informed, Lauren criticizes the Mayor for attending the meetings. Bottom line: Lauren will always criticize the Mayor, no matter what the Mayor does or says. Lauren is rigid and inflexible regarding her views about the Mayor. So far, logical reasoning hasn’t helped to change her mind.

    Comment by vigi — April 13, 2016 @ 9:57 am

    • vigi, you accusing Lauren of being “rigid and inflexible” is really hysterical.

      Yes, even after attending planning board meeting for example, Trish can still not understand the issues, so it doesn’t make any difference does it? .

      Comment by MI — April 13, 2016 @ 10:24 am

  4. The funny thing is the mayor goes to these meetings and she still hasn’t a clue about what is going on. She is also the 1st to complain about how long the meetings go on.

    Comment by joelsf — April 13, 2016 @ 10:04 am

    • 4. I hadn’t read your comment before posting reply my to vigi. Good point about her complaining about the length of meetings because as far as I can tell, she is most often one of the main reasons for this happening.

      Comment by MI — April 13, 2016 @ 10:26 am


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