Kaiser takes the Portola City Council back to the drawing board
“Honest,” “transparent” and “open” were just a few of the words exchanged when City Manager Ian Kaiser asked the City Council to describe what characteristics they thought made up a good government.
On Thursday, July 11, Kaiser and the council sat around a table at City Hall in an open discussion for the first public Work Study Session.
“How about ‘responsive,’ ‘efficient’ and ‘accountable’?” he asked. “Accountability. That’s what they’re all mad about. That’s what I want for this government. Regardless of what happened in the past, we are making that shift.”
“I think it has been unfocused energy for a while,” said Council Member Juliana Mark. “We have a lot of great ideas and great organizations. We want to see the organizations getting together and I think it requires some focus.”
“It’d be way cool if we could be the first trusted government in the world,” said Council Member Phil Oels.
Kaiser posed a question to the council.
“How do you want people to feel about where they live?” he asked.
Words like “safe,” “secure” and “represented” came up.
“As long as they felt like they’re being heard they may not make any more judgments on hearsay,” said Council Member Michelle Gault.
Kaiser discussed his first impression of the community with the members.
“The first impression I got is that people think I’m the boss and I’m going to change the town. I’m not the boss, maybe the culture before was the boss, but I’m not,” he said. “There is no vision. It’s almost like there is anarchy. I hear the discontent.
“We have a lot of issues,” he continued. “There is a huge drug issue that I don’t think anyone’s really attacked, and it affects the image of the town. We have a good school, but no jobs. There’s also an infrastructure problem. We’re going to have to work hard here.”
The discussion flowed. The council and city manager spoke on the need for transparency in any government, and the call for trustworthiness.
“The people don’t feel like we’re accountable. Why is that?” Kaiser asked.
“In the past some council members didn’t educate themselves,” said Gault. “Some claimed it wasn’t their business to know.”
Kaiser then asked the council to come up with ways to earn the people’s trust.
“By being concerned, being open and come up with creative ideas, and follow through with them,” said Mark.
“By supporting ideas that come to us,” said Mayor John Larrieu. “The ideas may not work and we have to accept that, but if it does work we can take some credit for it.”
Kaiser also touched on the city’s policies.
“Policy sets the course of the town. You set policy to create a standard of living. That’s an awesome responsibility. My job is to implement the policies you tell me to. Your job is to make good policy.”
“Every policy should have the focus of improving something,” said Larrieu.
Along with that, Kaiser brought up the subject of mistakes.
“If we make mistakes as a town or a council, we need to own up to them,” he said.
Gault said she agreed and she wanted to make a list of the people she has heard about who have felt ignored or disrespected by the city, and write a letter of apology.
“In government you’re going to make mistakes. Just say sorry. We didn’t do our job,” Kaiser said. “You don’t argue. You just say you messed up.”
Kaiser talked about the importance of the council allowing him to deal with the staff, rather than the council speaking to them directly.
“Daily activities is my responsibility,” he said. “Trust is eroded when the council gets involved in daily activities.”
Kaiser then pulled out some papers. They were city council members’ codes of conduct from various towns, including Portola’s old one from 2005.
He said most council members don’t even look at these, but it is a policy so he is required to enforce it. He asked the members to look through the code of conduct and find anything that isn’t clear or needs to be reworded.
He also requested the council take the time to help bring up the morale of the staff.
“The staff needs to hear the positive. They are trying the best with what they have. I need you guys to be positive for the staff,” he said.
Kaiser touched on the “low-hanging fruit,” or the easily fixed aspects of the town, that he has already acted on since he has been manager.
He said he has ordered new stop signs, because the other ones were faded and unclear, and he’s had staff fill a majority of the city’s dreaded potholes. He has solved ADA issues at the pool. He has contacted Solar City, and Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative about a solar farm at the landfill, and he has had staff repaint the sidewalk red zones.
“We’re doing a lot of stuff that hasn’t been done that I’ve heard you say needs to get done,” he said.
He asked the council to come up with ideas that could help the city in a 30-day period. The council members shot out ideas like putting up the train town signs, working on allowing mobile vendors like ice cream trucks in town, and starting up a business development committee.
Kaiser concluded by saying his main focus right now was establishing a relationship with his staff, and preparing for the water forum tonight at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall.
“People are already talking about the new positivity they are feeling,” said Gault.
At the adjournment of the meeting the departing members all had smiles on their faces.
“What a good meeting,” said Mark.