Council bolsters Nakamura’s plan

Despite concerns about process, panel supports his reorganization proposal

City employees who are waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to City Manager Brian Nakamura’s proposed organizational restructuring plan will have to wait two more weeks to learn who’s being laid off or demoted and whose jobs are safe.

Last week, when he presented his plan, Nakamura said he would reveal cost-savings figures for the council by its meeting Tuesday (Feb. 5), but he didn’t do so. He apologized, saying he’d been unable “to get all the information together regarding the costs” of the plan. He said he would have it by the council’s Feb. 19 meeting.

Council members used the moment to reiterate their strong support for the actions Nakamura has been taking to tackle a $3.24 million structural budget deficit.

Earlier, Councilwoman Ann Schwab had used the “business from the floor” agenda item to explain why, when the plan was introduced on Jan. 29, she had been the only council member not to comment on it. Her voice quavering at times, she said she supported the plan but was upset at how it was introduced to city staff, at a public meeting, with no preparation and no follow-up.

Just as the ends don’t always justify the means, she said, “the means do not always justify the ends. I know this [plan] is something we need to do, but we need to do it with respect.”

There was some agreement among other council members that the process had been less than ideal. “While the delivery may not have been acceptable or smooth or appropriate,” Councilman Scott Gruendl said, “I think as a council we are also responding to needing to take action….”

Councilman Mark Sorensen agreed. “No matter how it gets done,” he said, “it’s not easy.”

Councilman Randall Stone said reorganization was an “extraordinary task” and that he appreciated the work Nakamura had done. And Mayor Mary Goloff asked people not “to shoot the messenger” because any person put in Nakamura’s position would have found it difficult.

Task force is reshaped, refocused: The most significant action that came out of Tuesday’s meeting concerned the Sustainability Task Force. Goloff had put it on the agenda because, she said, she thought the time was right to reconsider its ongoing role, now that the purpose for which it was created, writing a Climate Action Plan, had been accomplished.

“It was originally formed as an ad hoc committee, which by definition is temporary,” she explained.

It soon became clear that the council had to answer a number of big questions. Should the STF be continued or disbanded? If continued, did it remain temporary or become a permanent commission? In either case, what were its—in Gruendl’s words—“scope, structure and membership”? And what was its institutional relation to the council and its standing committees?

There were also concerns about cost—a staff member must be present at meetings—and the STF’s widening involvement in matters not associated with the Climate Action Plan.

The task force’s most ardent council supporter (and its chairwoman), Schwab, noted that only Phase 1 of the Climate Action Plan’s three phases has been implemented, and that the STF is positioned to help with implementation of the more difficult second and third phases. “I feel that this task force has done a lot and has a lot more to do,” she said.

Members of the audience took varying positions toward the STF. One, John Salyer, said it should be disbanded because “sustainable development is a big scam” promoted by the United Nations as part of its conspiracy to “remake every city in America.”

Business owner Michael Reilley said that, to save money, the city should set aside the STF for two years and shift its duties to the council’s commissions and committees. And former Councilman Bob Evans noted that the STF had expanded beyond its original environmental purpose by adding such issues as social equity to its portfolio.

(Actually, the “three E’s”—equity, environment and economy—are a core principle of the sustainability element of the city’s general plan.)

Several people spoke strongly on the STF’s behalf, including members Tom DiGiovanni, a developer; Jon Luvaas, a former city planning commissioner; Valerie Reddemann, who chairs the Chamber of Commerce board; and Tiffany Thom, the student representative on the STF.

All argued passionately that the task force was just too important not to continue. Reddemann, for example, pointed out that more and more state and federal mandates are coming down requiring businesses to respond to climate change, and that the STF can help local businesses respond to these mandates.

There was general agreement among council members that the STF should keep its focus on implementing the Climate Action Plan. Councilman Sean Morgan thought it was important for the city to let the STF do the work, lest business owners begin to think “‘hope and assist’ becomes ‘require and mandate’ and ‘social equity’ becomes ‘social engineering.’”

In the end, council members were able to answer all of the outstanding questions about the STF. They decided, by unanimous vote, that the STF would continue to exist on an ad-hoc basis, but that it would be trimmed to seven members (it now has twice that) who would be selected in the same way members of city commissions are chosen. In addition, it would self-select its chairperson, meet bi-monthly and make referrals to standing committees, primarily the Internal Affairs Committee.