Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happenings: On Trusting Ken Pulskamp

NOTE: Sorry I've been bad about posting this month. It is the breeding season for the animals I'm studying and I've been busy trying to keep tabs and grab data. Expect more regular posts soon, though, and know that I am resenting my study species for tearing me away from that which is truly important: hearting SCV.

Did you hear it—that bellow of rage and distress just a shade more desperate than the noise a mammoth would have made after wandering into a tar pit to be devoured by cave lions? Well that was me. To be more precise, that was me after Mayor Bob Kellar announced that there were going to be SEVENTEEN speakers on the Smiser Ranch property development[1]. Of course it’s a horrible idea to build densely on the Smiser property, I yelled at the commenters on the screen, But you don’t need to remind me every week! I begrudgingly concede that such displays of opposition can be important. Indeed, we know that Jeff Lambert talks to folks at City Hall when we’re not around to listen, so hearing from the public on a week-to-week basis may legitimately reinforce the magnitude of opposition in the minds of City leaders. Lambert, incidentally, was appropriately villainized during comments and would do well to stay clear on Southern SCV.

Before comments about the Avenue project, though, public participation had focused on the closure of the Transitional Care Unit at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. The planned closure would leave the citizens of Santa Clarita without a TCU for at least 18-months, which Mayor Kellar described as an “optimistic” estimate of how long the wait would be.

Everyone in the City and on City Council was upset by this issue and wants to see something done about it. For an in-house opinion, HMNMH's own Dr. Gene Dorio showed up to say that most admissions to Henry Mayo are old people (although I believe he phrased it “senior patients”) who derive a lot of benefit from having a TCU available to them. Public speakers agreed, oft regaling us with tales of ailing mothers using the facility or how they may be in need of it in the near future.

All of these comments could only do so much. “As a council, we have no power over the hospital to tell them what to do…I get very frustrated…that we can’t do anything about it” said Councilmember Marsha McLean. She suggested contacting state agencies to see if there was some way to step in and intervene. McLean also proposed investigating whether a partial, as opposed to full, closure of the TCU was feasible. Councilmember Laurene Weste suggested partnerships with in-city groups like the Senior Center to drive the relatives of TCU patients to visit their loved ones in facilities out of town. Laurie Ender agreed that transportation-based solutions might be the best option assuming there was no way around a closure.

It was Mayor Bob Kellar who took action—at least on paper. He proposed a letter be drafted that said something to the effect of “The closing of the TCU…is an inappropriate course of action.” The agreement to write and send such a letter garnered applause from the masses and settled the issue for the time being.

Next, we heard some bickering over landslides and soil stability and house foundations and heritage oaks that was far too tedious to coalesce into anything meaningful in my mind. If you’re worried about the particulars, well, that’s too bad.

Adoption of the City Code of Ethics and Conduct proved slightly more bearable an agenda item. There were a number of speakers on this issue, one that has been floating around since last year. Claritans agreed that the Code of Ethics[2] was a good start (or an “OK but impotent start” if they were feeling less generous) but that a more aggressive code would be needed. Several called for an Ethics Commission, but the City Attorney noted that such a group would not have the power to enforce or control ethical conduct.

Instead, everyone pointed to an existing hierarchy of what-to-do-when-ethics-are-violated that essentially leads to City Manager Ken Pulskamp. Got a grievance and want to take it to the top? See Ken. Need to report a breach of ethics but afraid of confronting your direct superior? See Ken. All of this led Annette Lucas, among others, to say “I just think we need somebody to check Ken Pulskamp.” [Yikes.]

Everyone on Council was more or less OK with the code, though some tweaking (e.g., a list of who to contact) was needed[3]. The fine-tunings shall come, I think, but until then, it’s a matter of how much you believe Bob Kellar’s closing speech. In it, he expressed how frustrated he is that people harass a City that employs so many quality individuals. “This council and this city lives by a high ethical standard,” he said. If so, I guess there’s really nothing to worry about.

[1]This is the proposal to build about two-million square feet of retail, residential, etc… on a parcel that is clearly much too small to accommodate a project of that scale. Read more about it in my posting here, which also has helpful links.
NOTE: Also check out the site put up by the Calgrove Corridor Coalition. This group arose in response to the proposed Avenues Project, and they have a nice side-by-side of potential City seals.
[2]Read the
Code of Ethics and Conduct
[3]Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ferry was a little upset by the issue of ethics even being raised, as was Mayor Kellar.

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