NELSON MEMO - Mayor-Elect Garcetti, Congratulations!
I’m submitting 48 ideas for your new term as mayor that won’t cost taxpayers a penny.
You have a choice about what kind of mayor you want to become.
One option is to focus on your re-election and next office by playing it safe, kicking the can down the road, and not risk making any mistakes by taking no chances.
Or you could be true to your values, and become a national model by implementing and proposing fundamental changes to the way government operates.
THE 100-DAY REVIEW
1. Begin preparing now for that 100-day review by the media. Begin now to control the narrative. You can speak in lofty terms about general goals, but also develop some achievable goals that the media cannot ignore during their evaluations. Hold a news conference on the 95th day to evaluate yourself.
OPEN UP CITY HALL
Mayor Jim Hahn said (paraphrasing) that the greatest unit of distance is the distance between the public and City Hall. I believe that one of the reasons for the dismal voter turnout is that people feel removed from City Hall. It has a diminished significance to their lives. They feel that their voices aren’t being heard, and that they don’t matter. Changing that culture could be accomplished without any cost.
City Charter Section 900 explains that the purpose of the neighborhood council system is "To promote more citizen participation in government ...." That too should be the goal of City Hall.
CREATE MEANINGFUL BLOGS
2. Create a blog for the mayor’s office, and instruct all departments and commissions to do the same, that would allow two-communication with the public.
Presently, blogs are used only to push out information from City Hall to the public. They are essentially a way to post news releases. Allow people to post comments and ask questions. Moderate the sites to keep away the ranters. Accumulate the answers in an FAQ. Eventually, most questions will have an answer in the FAQ. Don’t shy away from the controversial questions.
GENERAL MANAGERS AS THEIR OWN SPOKESPERSONS
3. Instruct general managers to personally respond to as many media questions as is humanly possible. The media deserves to get straight answers and get them quickly. Too many general managers look at the media as their enemy, and hide from them behind press secretaries.
While I was Joel Wachs’ chief of staff, and later general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, I never employed a media aide.
SUBMIT AND RANK IDEAS
4. As President Obama did when he took office, create a place on the Internet for the public to list their suggestions to you, and to vote on the ones they like best so that the public can drive the best ideas to the top of the list.
GO ONLINE LIVE
5. From time-to-time, set aside a day and time for you to answer people’s questions and respond to their suggestion live online.
Celebrities do this all the time. You’re a celebrity. Have staff screen those questions that make it through to you. Sit at home if you wish and respond with your keyboard. About 7 years I asked ITA about this, and it is technically possible.
HOLD TOWN HALL MEETINGS
6. From time-to-time hold “y’all come” town halls in different parts of the city so people can interact with you face-to-face. Mayor Bradley used to do this all the time. Your town hall meetings could be modernized by buying, renting, or getting donated, hand-held voting equipment and computer software that would permit everyone in the room to learn about, be asked questions about, and have their choices recorded on the city’s most pressing issues.
I’ve been part of several of these meetings. People pay more attention because they’re more involved. Maybe one of the proprietary departments could purchase the equipment and loan it to you when you need it. The results can be instantly displayed on a screen and/or available as a printout at the end.
HOLD OPEN HOUSES
7. From time-to-time hold an open house in your office. People can line up and have 3 minutes with you and some aides, face-to-face. It’s something else Bradley used to do. Have someone taking pictures of you and each visitor, and printing them on the spot.
PETITION THE MAYOR
8. Establish a petition system, as President Obama did, that will ensure that petitions collecting a certain number of electronic signatures will receive a response from you.
PERMANENT TOWN HALL
9. Create a moderated electronic town hall would allow participation by infinitely more people than can currently participate in their government, not just sounding off, but in reaching an action-oriented consensus on a variety of issues.
Very few people can take the time to attend meetings in person, often to speak for just two minutes and be ignored. There are simply too many people who are transit-dependent; work; have family or religious commitments; have other volunteer activities to attend; are uncomfortable speaking in public, perhaps because English isn’t their second language; or have more valuable information to share than time permits. These traditionally disenfranchised people need a way for them to participate.
Blogs and public forums are most like soap boxes, and are dead ends for the development of solutions.
There are free programs available to create a place on the Internet where local and citywide issues could be listed and discussions held. People wouldn’t be limited in the number of comments they could make, and there could be real back-and-forth discussions.
The key is that a few people would be needed to moderate the site in order to control the ranters and off-topic posters who have made so many other sites unpleasant and unproductive places, just as would be done in an in-person meeting.
The moderators could encourage experts to provide facts, answer questions, and respond to legitimate comments in order to create a fertile environment where ideas could grow. For instance, the CAO wouldn’t have to attend 90 NC meetings in order to discuss the city budget.
With a place for a civilized discussion, you could instruct city staff to answer questions and provide information to raise the quality of the discussion.
This would make it immeasurably easier for people to participate. People would have a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and action plans to be developed.
DEPUTY MAYOR FOR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
10. As part of their other duties, assign one of the deputy mayors to be responsible for promoting transparency and public participation throughout city government.
MAKE IT EASIER TO COMMUNICATE WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS
11. Instruct Information Technology Agency to modify the city’s website so that people can have the option of sending the same message to all members of the City Council and the mayor at the same time with a single command.
Presently, 16 separate messages need to be sent regarding a single issue.
BRING BACK DONE’S NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL DATABASE
12. Instruct the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to revive its database of neighborhood council members that is required by city regulations. This is needed for you or anyone else to communicate directly with the neighborhood council board members.
SELECTING GENERAL MANAGERS
13. Formally involve neighborhood council representatives in the interview process for general manager candidates, similar to what was done in the past in the selection of a Director of Planning and general manager of DONE.
EVALUATE GENERAL MANAGER PERFORMANCE
14. Formally involve that neighborhood councils be involved in his performance evaluations of general managers. Recommended by Jim Hahn, but didn’t get implemented because he lost re-election.
15. Instruct that all departments create and maintain a list of persons in their departments who are the primary contacts for neighborhood councils, and update the list with DONE.
CONTINUE MAYOR’S BUDGET DAY
16. Urgent! You should announce ASAP that you will continue the Budget Day process with neighborhood councils.
Every year since the neighborhood council system was created, the councils have followed the City Charter mandate to provide budget priorities to the mayor each year. Mayor Hahn created a process whereby he could initiate the process with Budget Day at City Hall, and he would end it with a private meeting with a handful of neighborhood council representatives in his press room.
Hahn worked with DONE, the CAO, and some USC professors to design the online questionnaire. He worked hard to encourage each council to discuss the questionnaire and submit their vote online. This was in addition to all members voting as individuals. The mayor would print the results of each NC’s vote in the budget summary.
Villaraigosa dropped the idea of reporting the votes of the NCs, and focused just on votes by individuals whoever they were.
The neighborhood councils require lots of lead time leading up the private meeting in February or so. Budget Day was held in early fall, but mid-summer would give everyone more time. The councils and city staff need to know soon if the process will continue.
THE DIVERSITY OF CITY COMMISSIONS
17. Include more socioeconomic diversity on some or all city commissions by appointing at least one person from the working class.
Every commissioner is and has been an elite. They are retired, self-employed, head of a union or non-profit organization, business owner, etc. “Ordinary folks” aren’t represented. This may require meeting at night, or allowing the working class commissioner to teleconference. The City Attorney can explain how teleconferencing can work under the Brown Act.
18. Instruct each general manager and commission to establish procedures for communicating with neighborhood councils and the public on a regular basis, and in a manner that ensures information is disseminated in a timely matter.
Instruct commissioners that at the beginning of each meeting, or during discussion of major issues, each commissioner must briefly explain which efforts (s)he made to reach out to the public for input.
DRAFT MINUTES/COMMISSION SUMMARIES
19. Instruct commissions to e-mail drafts of its minutes to those who have asked to be e-mailed the commission agendas so they can be made public sooner.
BE MORE DESCRIPTIVE IN MINUTES
20. Instruct that the minutes of commission meetings include a description of the issues raised during the discussions, the reasoning (briefly) behind the decisions, and the points raised by the public speakers.
BE MORE DESCRIPTIVE WITH AGENDA ITEMS
21. Instruct commissions that agendas go beyond describing agenda items to meet with bare minimum of the Brown Act. Be more descriptive regarding the more important items.
GENERAL PUBLIC COMMENTS
22. Instruct commissions to never put “general public comments” at the end of any agenda. It’s rude.
Few people will attend the meetings if they have to sit around for four hours in order to speak for two minutes.
PUBLIC COMMENT ON ITEMS
23. Instruct commissions to allow those wishing to comment on a particular item to have the option of speaking before the commissioners begin their discussion, in order to try and influence the discussion, or after the commissioners have finished their discussion, but before they vote, in order to correct misinformation or to make final arguments.
READ WRITTEN COMMENTS
24. Instruct commissioners to read aloud the comments submitted in writing (within a prescribed word limit) by those who cannot attend the meeting.
DISCUSS PROPOSED BUDGETS
25. Instruct that each city department discuss its finances at a regularly scheduled or special meeting of its commission prior to submitting its proposed budget to the mayor, and gather input from neighborhood councils and the public.
POST THE RULES
26. Instruct that commissions write their procedures and laws in a way that is transparent and easy to understand. Post this information on the department’s website, and provide written copies at each meeting.
Decades ago, a City Charter amendment that I designed requires the city to write city ballot measures in simplified language and send it to all voters. Therefore, city staff has the skills to do this.
FUTURE AGENDA ITEMS
27. If it is anticipated by the commission president that an item MAY appear on a future agenda, that item should be listed at the bottom of all preceding agendas. This can include a statement that the date is tentative and subject to change even after the agenda is released.
Often lobbyists and parties with a financial interest in an item will privately arrange with the commission president to have an item scheduled for a specific date, usually at a time when it's convenient for them. The problem is that the public never knows about it until the agenda is released, usually 72 hours in advance for a regular meeting, or 24 for a special meeting when the insiders want to wait until the last minute. The Board of Neighborhood Commissioners does this.
OUTREACH BY COMMISSIONERS
28. Recommend that commissioners plan meetings in their area to have face-to-face, real discussions with NC members and stakeholders. And that they do the same online.
The city’s commission system was developed in the ‘20s as a way to infuse more public participation in the decision-making process. However, no one can remember a time when an individual city commissioner went into the community and gave people an opportunity to share thoughts and concerns with him/her on a timely issue in an informal and meaningful way. As a result, too many commissioners end up only representing their own points of view.
29. Instruct commissions that, except in the event of an urgency, the commission should not schedule an item, or cast a final vote on any item until the staff report, if there is one being prepared, has been made available to the neighborhood councils and public X working days before the meeting.
Too often, critically important reports aren’t available until moments before a meeting is to start.
MAKE PUBLIC DOCUMENTS PUBLIC
30. Instruct general managers and commissions that all preliminary drafts and department memoranda be declared public information. (Source: City of Riverside)
PUBLIC INFORMATION REQUESTS
31. Instruct general managers and commissioners that requests for non-exempt public information shall be delivered by the end of the next working day. (Source: City of Riverside)
32. Remind city staff and commissioners about Administrative Code Section 4.242.75 (a provision that I designed for Joel Wachs to introduce) requires that any city staff (elected officials are exempt) attending a convention file a written report upon returning that describing what they did, and most importantly, what they learned.
The was done so that the mayor and City Council members could more easily determine which events were worth sending staff to.
MAKE COMMISSION AGENDAS AVAILABLE IN OTHER LANGUAGES
33. It’s too expensive to print agendas in multiple languages, but the online versions could include a link to Google Translate, which can translate English into 64 other languages. Instruct commissions to do so.
COMMUNITY IMPACT STATEMENTS
34. Instruct commissions print the first Community Impact Statement it receives from a neighborhood council on commission agendas.
Or, recommend adoption of the recommendation by the Neighborhood Council Review Commission that ALL Community Impact Statements submitted by neighborhood councils be printed on the agendas.
IMPROVE THE CITY’S BIDDING PROCESS:
35. Even if it requires an amendment to the City Charter, the city should want the ability to allow all the qualified bidders for a service or product bid against each other until there is a winner.
This would take the politics and corruption out of the process, and produce more revenue or less cost for the city.
As it is done too often, city staff designs the bid requirements and evaluates the submissions. They rank the bidders and eliminate those who don’t meet the city’s minimums. And the lobbyists for the losers begin negative campaigning in attempts to reverse the recommendation.
PROMOTE PET ADOPTION
36. Arrange with the Department of Animal Services to stage a pet adoption day in City Hall or across the street in the mall.
At one event years ago, all 50-70 shelter animals that were brought to the City Hall Rotunda were adopted, including many hard-to-place mature ones. You’ll feel good about it, and collect tons of karma points.
CREATING COMMISSION FILES
37. Allow a neighborhood council, or perhaps three of them together, to vote to place a matter on a commission agenda.
SPEND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT FUNDS:
38. Allow neighborhood councils to designate, subject to approval by the City Council and mayor, X dollars worth of capital improvement projects in certain departments.
In Porto Allegre, Brazil, the NCs are given the ability to designate where ALL the capital improvement money is spent. Each year, 50,000 of the city’s 1,500,000 people participate in the meetings.
A process for doing this under Mayor Hahn was designed and utilized when each NC was given the ability to pick $100,000 worth of street repair projects. There are so many projects on every capital improvement list that any list of projects attached to a bond measure couldn’t go wrong.
MUNICIPAL BEST PRACTICES:
39. Ask the California and National League of Cities to create a database of best practices ideas so each city can learn from the others.
Include, as a duty for one deputy mayor, the collection of best practices from all city agencies so they can be shared with other general managers. There is no reason why each department has to have a difference process for public outreach, communicating with staff, ordering office supplies, maintaining files, managing e-mail messages, responding to Public Records Act requests, etc.
ANNUAL COMMISSION SELF-EVALUATIONS
40. Instruct each commission to prepare an annual self-evaluation. The design, discussion, and approval of the evaluation shall be done in public meetings.
PUBLIC RECORDS ACT POLICY:
41. Each department and commission should adopt a policy that describes which documents are available to the public without requiring persons to submit a Public Records Act request.
The public should have access to public documents without being burdened with having to file a Public Records Act request and await an answer.
BRING BACK NEIGHBORHOOD SERVICE CABINETS
42. Revive the old Jim Hahn system (talk to Doane Liu) of neighborhood service cabinets through which a deputy mayor and high-ranking city agency officials meet regularly with NC representatives, area by area, so that NCs present their service requests, and the deputy mayor gives directions to the city staff for handling them.
VERBAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURES
43. Instruct that each commissioner at the start of each meeting, declare whether or not they believe they have a conflict of interest in any matter that is on the agenda, or have had private conversations with the parties about to come before them.
This helps eliminate the “I forgot” excuse. It was done by the old commission in ITA that regulated cable TV franchises.
CHALLENGE THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCILS TO DESIGN A CITY BOND MEASURE
44. The usual process for the development of a bond measure for the ballot is for the City Council to late until the last minute, ask city staff to figure out which projects would be built, and how the bonds would be sold and paid off. The public is always left out of the entire process except to be asked to vote for it.
Instead, neighborhood councils could design a bond measure themselves with the assistance of city staff. Whenever the councils decide the time is right, they would ask the City Council to place it on the ballot. In this way, the campaign to pass the measure would begin with the support of a large segment of the public because they designed it.
ADVERTISE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL ELECTIONS AT NO COST
45. If the city ballot pamphlet will include at least one blank page (they are printed in multiples of four) instruct the City Clerk to include one page to print a page that encourages people to get involved in neighborhood councils. There is no cost, and this was done years ago.
Explain “forthwith” actions:
46. Tell the City Council that any files sent to you “forthwith" should include an explanation of the urgency.
This would help alleviate concerns by the public that the action has been taken to purposely eliminate the public's ability to influence the mayor's actions, and to eliminate the ability of the City Council to reconsider the item.
47. Tell the City Clerk that twice a year, the City Clerk should post on its website a list of the files pending in each City Council committee.
These lists already exist in electronic form so posting them wouldn't create additional work for the office.
48. Recommend to the City Council that before it agrees to a settlement and sends it to you, the deal shall be made public at least 10 calendar days before the meeting, or 15 days if it’s a collective bargaining agreement. (Source: City of Riverside)
(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs … and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])
Vol 11 Issue 46
Pub: June 7, 2013