Friday, August 31, 2012

Happenings: The Striplin Decision

For details on the 4-1 vote to select Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin as the man to replace City Manager Ken Pulskamp upon his retirement, read SCVNews coverage here.

There is one word for this evening’s hasty, closed-door city council vote to select Ken Striplin as the next city manager: Enderic[1].  By that, I mean it’s like Laurie Ender’s approach to library privatization: it may be a logical thing to consider, and it may even be the right decision, but when you rush onward with no apparent need for rushing, it raises suspicion and ruffles feathers.  It is August, after all, and City Manager Ken Pulskamp will not be retiring until the very end of December, some four months from now.  Naming our next city manager this far out can’t exactly be called urgent[2].  Why couldn’t there be an item at the public meeting Tuesday after next to discuss the selection process and listen to comments from everyday Claritans?  Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked for that very thing.  Instead, it appears that Striplin was the only person given full consideration.  We may solicit competitive bids for landscaping firms and garbage haulers, but when the council looks for the next person to manage the third-largest city in Los Angeles, its 300+ employees, and its nearly $200M budget, making the decision at a special meeting days after the issue is raised seems adequate.  Enderic, indeed. 

The decision was shades of the library debacle in other ways, too.  Striplin was selected with Boydston's dissenting vote in favor of a more thorough selection process; on the library vote, of course, it was Bob Kellar who dissented on the same grounds of prudence.  In another parallel, Berta Gonzalez-Harper gave her blessing for both the library privatization and the as-then-unannounced selection of Striplin (she said the Council should “shop local” and hire him when she spoke at the CC meeting earlier this week).  It seems like the recipe for accomplishing really big things in Santa Clarita is mixing together a hyped sense of urgency, a sole dissenting voice, and the Blessing of Berta. 

You get the point, I know.  The decision was unduly rushed and can be deemed opaque, arrogant, and hasty even if it is, ultimately, the right decision.  That means we can move onto the more complex question: who is Striplin and was he indeed the right choice to manage Clarita? 

One crude caricature of Ken Striplin is that he’s just another Ken Pulskamp…only better looking.  The two have worked very closely for over a decade, so it doesn’t seem an entirely illogical assessment.  Just think about what dramatic changes you'd expect to see in the Striplin versus Pulskamp's tricky.  Striplin doesn’t talk at council meetings or get quotes in The Signal nearly as often as Pulskamp, and probably not even as often as the deputy city manager.  He's just not the most public of public figures.  Therfore, in an effort to learn more about him, I watched a half-hour interview on Leon Worden’s Newsmakers series from SCVTV[3].  Worden, bless his heart, has a lot to say about the State, redevelopment, and Newhall, so he didn’t give Striplin much time to shine (“I'm sorry for talking so much, but…” Worden says 20 minutes in).  I was, however, able to glean these facts from Striplin's interview on the topic of enterprise zones and redevelopment:

*He likes notes for security, bringing a stack of papers with him to the interview.
*Striplin speaks relatively quickly but softly, and he occasionally has awkward phrasing like, “we have outreached to so many businesses.” He is generally articulate, though.
*He exhibits skillful use of rhetorical chuckling and affirmations while Worden continues to talk and talk and talk. His sincere desire to establish a rapport with Worden using verbal and non-verbal social skills indicates that he is probably not a sociopath.
*Striplin can confirm and recite some key economic figures without hesitation.
*His answers to questions about budget changes, business outlooks, and so on aren't particularly bold or daring but rather in-line with City Hall's typical messages. 

In short, I still don’t really know a lot about Ken Striplin, but I hope he’s the right guy for the job and I assume that his work at City Hall has acted as a long, thorough, honest interview in and of itself.  Even if his promotion was a foregone conclusion, going through the motions of outlining a selection process, seeking public comment, and acting with purpose rather than haste would have made this decision less, well, Enderic.  

[1]Maybe more than one word as here, I think "Ferryic" would be more apt...just harder to say.  I don't mean to vilify former Mayor Laurie Ender since other council members were willing to move hastily right alongside her...but again, that's an idea that is not tidily summed up in one word, better relegated to a footnote.
[2]I mean hell, Mitt Romney was just officially named the Republican Candidate for President of the United States, and that election happens two months before we need to bother replacing Pulskamp! 
[3]Here's the interview from SCVTV.  Worden might do well to consider shorter furniture than this pub-style stuff.  He has a habit of distracted foot shuffling.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happenings: Mortality, Boydston Theatrics, Scouting

The End

Tonight’s City Council contemplated mortality.  It was broader than the notion that people die—though there was a fair amount of discussion about that.  Ken Pulskamp’s impending retirement, the cause of feeding the homebound elderly, TimBen’s failed committee appointments, a sense of inevitability about Cemex…all contributed to a focus on the end and the finite this evening[1].   

Perhaps Mayor Ferry’s invocation is to blame for the tone.  He spoke about the many preventable deaths and serious injuries plaguing the valley: tragic accidents involving children at swimming pools, motorcycle accidents that result from speeding, and alcohol- and heroin-related deaths among teens.  Ferry was particularly frustrated with the last group, noting that dealers are offering heroin for free in order to get kids hooked.  Drug prevention efforts will continue, and a plan to raise awareness about reckless motorcycle driving is in the works. 

Next, there was a departure from the normal meeting sequence to address City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s impending retirement.  On Monday, he submitted his resignation to the council, stating his plans to leave his post at the end of the year.      He has been city manager since 2002 and was assistant city manager for many years preceding.  Having been here since incorporation, Pulskamp was probably justified in saying that he was proud of “helping to shape its [Santa Clarita’s] destiny.”  With four months left, it wasn’t clear whether this was his big farewell speech, the kickoff to a string of farewell speeches, or something else entirely, but he touched on some of his proudest accomplishments.  High on the list were his close, productive associations with a stellar staff and the city council members.  The council gave brief responses, nearly all highlighting Pulskamp’s greatest legacy of mentoring, training, and developing the hundreds of City staff members.  McLean thanked Pulskamp for always treating her with respect, observing with a smile “You gave your opinion, and I could either take it or not.”  Laurene Weste, the city council’s most practiced eulogizer, was reflective and ended by saying, “Thank you isn’t enough, but it’s all we have.”

Mayor Ferry pointed out the recent departures of City Clerk Sarah Gorman, City Planning Manager Lisa Hardy Webber, and City Manager Ken Pulskamp was a lot to endure, and there will be a closed session meeting this Thursday to discuss “personnel issues”—primarily the need to fill Pulskamp’s post.  Reliably, though, Ferry would bring this discussion to a more upbeat note with his promise of a raucous and thorough roast of Pulskamp before year’s end.  “We’ll have four months to really send you off right,” Mayor Ferry said, to the inscrutable Pulskamp’s delight or dismay.


Oddly, tonight’s awards and recognitions included one for work opposing Cemex.  I’ve always thought it’s more customary to make proclamations once the battle is done, but the Sierra Club and Sandra Cattell were thanked for their legislative work, lobbying, and community outreach regarding Cemex mining that may still very well happen.  At the microphone, Cattell encouraged Congressman Buck McKeon to “stop talking about his influence and start using it” to keep Cemex from mining in the SCV. 

This topic spilled over to Public Participation.  First, Cattell may have ruffled feathers of some on council when, after accepting her award, she advocated appointing Valerie Thomas and Alan Ferdman to Arts and Planning Commissions.  Both were snubbed by a majority of the council at the last meeting, so she was essentially telling her awardees they messed up.  When Duane Harte spoke, he was a little peeved that other key figures in the fight against Cemex--including his wife and members of SAFE--didn’t get an award like Cattell’s.  He sounded at once resigned to the victory of Cemex yet committed to fighting the corporation.  McLean would assure him that all the key parties would be getting an award in time.  Other comments came from Dr. Gene Dorio, who offered a tortured analogy about the Senior Center being an ailing old woman in need of help, and a business owner wanted to build a public square in downtown Newhall and even presented a diorama complete with miniature trees and a wall of water to hide an auto shop.   

Councilmember reports followed.  Boydston suggested that residents support non-profits like Carousel Ranch and asked for a public meeting on city manager selection.  Kellar suggested residents patronize his friend’s steakhouse, Bergies.  McLean spoke on transportation issues and advertised a $60 library gala to be held at the Newhall Library benefiting Friends of the Santa Clarita Public Library.  Weste mentioned the library grand opening and coincident street fair, and she remember the late veteran and community advocate, Harry Gratz.  Ferry asked for broader dissemination of the results of a 400-person community poll.  Highlights included 80% of residents saying they trusted or strongly trusted the City and 82% of those interviewed assessing libraries as good or excellent.  He read off a number of figures that had one underlying conclusion: the vast majority of people in Santa Clarita are content with things.   

Consent Calendar

There were a few highlights from the consent calendar.  Some $75,000 will be spent for a conference center master plan to meet a need identified in an earlier study and shared by local hotels that want to attract conferences and conventions that need bigger meeting spaces.  Funds were directed to construction for the Canyon Country Community Center.  A contract for sport field lighting was awarded.  It seems Realtor/Astronomy Enthusiast/Lighting Pollution Advocate Steve Petzold commented on this item to the Council, as Councilmember McLean said  “we are very concerned with night sky contamination,” and asked for details on the lighting plan, which City Manager Ken Pulskamp was ready to answer in considerable detail, stressing that lighting was carefully planned to minimize adverse impacts.  The calendar items passed with unanimous approval, excepting item 13.  Boydston pulled it for a separate vote and abstained.  He said he had only been given materials about the item 15 minutes before the meeting, leaving him too uninformed to give his support for a plan to allocate money for unforeseen landscape maintenance repairs.  As you might expect, this little discussion went over extremely well with other council members, especially McLean. 

Boydston Digs on Climate

In order to avoid future litigation and other unpleasantries, Santa Clarita is charged with developing a Climate Action Plan (CAP) by the State of California.  Jeff Hogan presented on this topic, noting CAP mitigation goals based on greenhouse gas emissions from the year 2005.  To meet mandated cuts in carbon emissions, planners are modeling (i.e., hoping) for a major reduction in vehicle miles traveled.  During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, it would be revealed that mixed, denser, and smarter developments are seen as significantly reducing the average distance of trips people will be making in the future.  Open space acquisitions also helped meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.  Essentially any development that is consistent with Santa Clarita’s new General Plan will also be consistent with CAP.  However, projects that require modifications to the plan will need to show a 12% greenhouse gas reduction (relative to what, I'm not sure) in order to meet CAP mandates. 

TimBen Boydston asked numerous questions on this topic, most revolving around use of old versus new general plans and old versus new projections and data.  He expressed disbelief at an assessment that traffic conditions and resulting air quality would not get much worse despite adding more cars to unimproved roads over future years.  But it is modeled (again, hoped) that the future of Santa Clarita will be characterized by shorter car trips, more walking, and more public transportation, helping alleviate traffic woes.

Public speakers on this item were generally upbeat, excited, and supportive of making a better environment.  The Lutnesses spoke about the serious problem of global warming and their hope for community-wide efforts to ensure a better future.  Two girl scouts, one of whom was their granddaughter, spoke on this item as well.  They talked about wanting to work with the City to get more kids to walk to school and to make streets more walkable with sidewalk additions.   

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar had a somewhat different take on the whole idea of CAP.  He believed that state mandates compelled him to vote for it and that many ideas from the plan were good and worthwhile.  But then he got to his real point, saying that we’re losing jobs, businesses, and people because “we’re losing balance.”  Kellar said the focus on greenhouse gases was coming at a dear cost in other areas and was entirely too much.

No Val or Al; Kellar Upset at Boydston

Following a 15-minute recess, it was time for TimBen Boydston to appoint members to Arts and Parks Commissions.  Recall that at the last meeting, he could not get a majority of votes for Val Thomas for Arts Commission, and he couldn’t even get a second for Alan Ferdman for Parks Commission[2]. 

Mayor Ferry asked City Attorney Joe Montes very explicitly: “Your legal advice is we cannot take a second vote on previously rejected people?”  Montes said, “Right.” 

Following this clarification, 14 of 15 public speakers asked TimBen to submit Valerie Thomas and/or Alan Ferdman for a vote again, some questioning Montes’ legal opinion.  The extensive qualifications of Thomas and Ferdman were highlighted, and Ray Kutylo said of the at-times outspoken community activists, “These people are not adversaries.”  Allan Cameron remembered an incident from 1998 in which Frank Ferry had expressed a strong desire to let council members take responsibility for their appointments rather than seeking approval from the full council, a position he has now clearly rejected.  Other speakers pointed out that the resolution prohibiting re-nomination of Thomas/Ferdman could be voted down (Montes would say such a vote requires placement on the agenda at a future meeting).  In general, then, people wanted Thomas and Ferdman to get commission seats.  But one out of the 15 speakers, the indomitable Berta Gonzalez-Harper, supported the move not to appoint Alan Ferdman. 

With comments completed, TimBen Boydston said he wanted to present a video about Al Ferdman.  Mayor Ferry simply would not have it.  He told Boydston the presentation was useless since Ferdman could not be nominated again, and he challenged Boydston to defend his assertion that the video would be in keeping with a norm allowing for presentations relevant to the item at hand (Ferry’s point being a video of an ineligible candidate was a waste of time).  McLean gave one of the most vitriolic scowls I’ve ever seen (and she’s scowled quite a lot through the years) after she said Boydston wouldn’t give a complete or accurate view of Ferdman from a  single, biased video clip. Ultimately, Boydston did not get to show his video of Ferdman praising City staff for something or other, and he could not renominate Valerie Thomas or Alan Ferdman. 

Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar was quite upset at the whole production.  He said it’s “going to be a tough four years,” implying that Boydston opposes almost everything.  Kellar expressed particular outrage at being asked to do something very basic: explain why he didn’t want Alan Ferdman as a commissioner.  He took it as a personal affront that he should have to justify his rejection of Boydston’s candidate--because public officials are expected to make decisions and never bother justifying them to the voters.  In classier Kellar fashion, he talked about meeting personally with both Ferdman and Boydston and hoping to maintain relationships with both. 

 Ultimately, Boydston found no interest in changing commission appointment procedures, so he picked new candidates and his nominations of Michael Cruz for Parks and Gary Choppe for Arts were unanimously approved. 

$200,000 for kids and seniors

Three hours into the meeting, we arrived at an item to address the dire financial circumstances of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center and Boys and Girls Club.  Mayor Pro Tem Kellar made a motion to give a one-time infusion of $100,000 to each of the two organizations considering that their services are vital and their finances extremely tight.  There was a great deal of conversation on the potential $100,000 from staff, directors, the council, and so on.  The public, too, chimed in.  Carole Lutness said that Santa Clarita's affluence should mean donations of $200,000 each, not a mere $100,000.  She said this would help to “make up for the sins of the rich oligarchs that have brought us to this terrible place.”  In the end, the seniors and kids got the money, which will go towards feeding homebound seniors and to avoiding furlough days at the Boys and Girls Club.  The long-term outlook for these local institutions is far from secure, but McLean is pushing for a letter to Supervisor Antonovich, asking if he will use discretionary funds to make a matching contribution. 

Finally, the second round of public participation began with Doug Fraser speaking on behalf of residents of manufactured homes.  He said the CPI dictates rent increases, but home residents are not informed of these changes while home park landowners are.  He asked for the City to do a better job of communicating the kinds of rent increases residents might see, and was referred to the City Attorney’s office.  Berta Gonzalez-Harper spoke in favor of “shopping local” to fill the City Manager position.  “Consider the other Ken, Mr. Striplin,” she said.  When she talked about knowing both of the Kens for a long time, she had to scold the mayor with “Frank, Frank, Frank!” as he made a comment about hair loss—his second for the evening.  Finally, there was another Girl Scout comment on adding a sidewalk to a stretch of Orchard Village Road to improve walkability.  Ferry promised to help the scout work on her goal while teaching a lesson in “Government 101” about trying to make multiple parties happy.
[1]Here’s the agenda. 
[2](I recapped the events of the meeting on SCVTalk which, as you well know, has archives that are temporarily offline after Mr. J-to-the-Wilson had hosting troubles. I am restraining myself from making comments about the newest incarnation of SCVTalk as Notes from Newhall, a land where only pithy, anonymous comments thrive. Like other loyal SCVTalkers, I hope things all work out.)