Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happenings: Striplin to Rule; Boydston still "Difficult"

Tonight’s was a one-issue meeting, that issue’s name being Ken Striplin.  After mostly supportive comments from the public regarding Striplin and a half-hour closed session at the behest of Councilmember TimBen Boydston, the contract to make Striplin our next city manager was approved.  Apart from dealing with this most central of personnel issues, the council had to pat itself on the back for an awful lot: becoming LA’s third largest city, a rather favorably spun public opinion poll, and the glory of a triple-A rating from Standard & Poors.  In short, we got approval for a new city manager who will, by current indicators, be inheriting an all but perfect city[1].

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar delivered the invocation this evening.  He considered how his September 11, 2012 was experienced in a way not unlike the same date in 2001—watching the horrific footage and feeling a sense of shock both then and now.  He ended by remembering George Bush’s words that “a great people has been moved to defend a great nation” and by appreciating those who have served in the armed forces to fight terrorism.

 Next, Councilmember TimBen Boydston delivered a proclamation for National Preparedness Month.   He cited the memory of 9/11 as an impetus for preparing our families for a variety of threats both natural and man-made.  His words were prefaced with the concern that Islamic labels were being used in the public discourse about 9/11 and called the events acts of terrorism rather than acts of a particular religion.   

Councilmember Laurene Weste was in charge of the next proclamation, which supported “No Texting While Driving Pledge Day.”  She said 43% of teens admit to texting while driving and repeated the pledge day’s catchphrase, “It can wait.”  I’m not sure how well city council meetings do with viewers in the 12-17 age group, but others will be repeating her message, I’m sure. 

The final presentation covered highlights from a recent public opinion poll commissioned by the City[2].  Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin gave the presentation, his hands characteristically fidgety and his voice animated in a forced sort of way.  He promised highlights and, indeed, only highlights were offered.  According to the poll, people trust the City of Santa Clarita, overwhelmingly approve of its services, believe we’re in a stable financial position, and are satisfied with our parks, landscaping, and stores.  Notably missing were statistics about the areas where less than a majority is thrilled with the City, like regarding its performance in protecting air quality, controlling growth and development, and attracting new jobs (though he would lament that 52% of Claritans work outside the valley).  Striplin chose to let the City bask in its favorable statistics rather than hear mention of the less spectacular stats.  Even when he reached the topic of Cemex, he explained the lack of public knowledge/interest in the topic as the result of less City outreach following the truce between city and corporation.  He was proud that 49% of people surveyed knew at least a little bit about Cemex “even with the limited outreach that we’ve done.”

The last page of the poll  results presentation said that residents want an “Applebees”, omitting the apostrophe.  In any case, a gentleman from the polling firm said Santa Clarita had truly excellent numbers compared to other cities and advised “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”  In response to Councilmember Marsha McLean’s question about sampling methods, he revealed that calls were made from a pool comprising both landline and cell phone numbers.  In response to TimBen Boydston’s question about what the City could do better, he was at a loss to answer, noting his papers were presently elsewhere.

During public participation, John Cassidy of Isabella Parkway expressed “grave concern” about his street and how fast people drive on it, often to cut through.  City Manager Ken Pulskamp promised a speed measuring trailer and increased speed limit enforcement. 

Committee reports followed, during which we learned about Santa Clarita’s excellent triple-A rating from S&P and the official annexation of Fair Oaks and Jake’s Way into Santa Clarita.  Kellar said that the annexation makes Santa Clarita the third largest city in Los Angeles County, behind LA and Long Beach but ahead of Glendale.  For his comments, Boydston asked that agendas be published well in advance of meetings and hoped that contracts set for voting would be furnished to council members so they have enough time to read them over prior to the meeting.

Discussion of Ken Striplin’s contract to serve as city manager began next.  City Attorney Joe Montes said that a few modifications needed to be made regarding penalties from abuse of the office or felonies.  Language regarding cost of living increases was also updated. 

Most Claritans had good things to say about Ken Striplin during their comments.  Duane Harte and many others thanked the City for saving money by hiring in-house rather than starting a lengthy, cross-country job search.  Dee Dee Jacobson was thrilled at the hiring of who she called "a comapny man."  A few speakers, however, were upset at the expeditious hiring and said they would have preferred to see a more thorough and open candidate search.  The tone of most speeches was congratulatory and expressed great confidence in Striplin, though his qualifications were described rather vaguely.  He handled communications well during the serious wildfires a few years ago, he’s a good baseball coach and involved in numerous community non-profits, and he has spent a lot of time listening to Ken Pulskamp.  Those, in a  nutshell, were among his most notable qualifications. 

Mayor Frank Ferry said that he and others had known all along that Striplin was well-suited to work as City Manager.  In one of the worst analogies ever, he said losing Pulskamp was like losing Steve Jobs, but Striplin was a solid Bill Gates, so it was better to hire him right away than to go to Atari and find its manager. 
Councilmember Laurene Weste said that Striplin’s knowledge of local issues like Cemex was invaluable in that it saved the City the downtime of an outside applicant reading up and get acquainted.  Weste had an interesting perspective on what makes the SCV interesting itself—our cowboy history, consumer culture, colleges, and unified opposition to outside forces that will change us (e.g., Cemex, the Elsmere landfill...).  Kellar moved to approve the contract for Striplin, but Boydston stepped in and said he had questions.  Indeed, he did.  After asking about benefits, severance packages, etc, he requested a closed session to discuss details of the contract.  Mayor Ferry said the council could vote on the standing motion to approve Striplin’s contract, but with support from Bob Kellar, they instead entered a closed session for just over 30 minutes. 

Since it was a closed session, there’s not much to say, but TimBen Boydston emerged from the session voting “no” to approve the contract, making yet another 4-1 vote.  He explained that he thought all executive positions should enjoy pay raises as a reward for performance, not automatically to keep up with cost of living increases.  That said, he expressed great faith in Striplin and had no complaints about him.  All the other council members were happy to approve the Striplin contract.  After Boydston’s explanation for a “no” vote, McLean was clearly annoyed and said “no” to Boydston when he asked if he could offer a comment.  Luckily for Boydston, McLean is not mayor, and Mayor Ferry allowed Boyston to talk to his heart's content.  McLean wanted to express what had been said in closed session but couldn’t directly, so she hinted that Striplin wasn’t making out with the kind of outrageously good compensation that Boydston might have suspected.  She did so by asking if she could ask whether the employee got the amount he originally asked for, smiling slightly as she spoke and was told to keep mum by City Attorney Montes.

Striplin’s approval was followed by examination of an utterly unremarkable consent calendar, and the meeting ended at 8:25. 

[2]Here's the survey


TimBen Boydston said...

Thank you for understanding that my issue was on the increase in compensation which had to do with the automatic COLA increases (or any other increases)which are given to the upper management staff that would then apply automatically to the City Manager.
I wanted all increases of any type to be considered separately for the City Manager.

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