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September 28, 2010 > Editorial: Council lite

Editorial: Council lite

So far, since the summer break, the calendar for Fremont's City Council has been minimal; heavy decisions are either being held for later meetings or summer doldrums have extended to the fall. In either case, this is a good time for councilmembers to assess and revisit issues of prior sessions that have been left on the shelf for later discussion and action. Are these significant opportunities no longer of interest, subject to the whims of a city manager?

Leadership is a combination of discovery, discourse, deliberation and decision-making. An important addendum to this process is a deliberate and directed follow-up that maintains focus on the subject matter. Too many items have been addressed and then left for another study in the future, if ever discussed again at all. The philosophy of letting the next group of councilmembers grapple with the problem is an avoidance program that ill serves the city or surrounding area. Integration of city actions with schools, adjacent cities and essential services can flounder.

Too often, good intentions are left to gather dust. Without adequate institutional memory, new faces replace those who were involved with a prior lengthy process. Information, gathered over months or even years, is rendered useless or must be reviewed again... and again. Staff responsibilities are defined by its leadership but that select group is supposed to take direction from the ultimate power, the elected representatives of citizens, the mayor and city council. When this group simply sits back in less demanding times and waits for information and direction from their employees, something is wrong. It is at times like this, when council can direct the agenda, that the true value and benefit of our elected leaders is revealed... or not.

When Mayor Wasserman warned those in City Council chambers upon return from summer break to "bring your sleeping bags" for the next council meeting because light agendas would be a rarity, he may have been surprised to find little substance in future meetings. In fact, the discussion of Caltrans plans for Niles Canyon was partly at his suggestion. Staff professed to be unaware of much of the initial preparations and Fremont was caught off guard, missing the public review period of the first "project" changing an important historic and scenic resource of Fremont and adjacent cities. Sunol citizens, without benefit of a city council and staff, were much more prepared to evaluate and comment on this significant change. Why?

A presentation by PG&E of pipelines in Fremont is prompted by a catastrophe, not a planned program of review. After approving a $1.1 billion increase for the Fremont Redevelopment Agency, all is quiet on that front. There has been little or no mention or action on the Center Theater or information about the Unified Site. What happened? Is the council left to wait until staff (i.e. City Manager Fred Diaz) decides to allow our elected representatives to know what is happening?

A case in point is the new Skateboard Park. When a presentation was made on September 14, 2010 to approve a design, little time was left to consider alternative locations or changes. The council was faced with a time crunch similar to an ultimatum. A unanimous decision was not the result of a complete process; rather a capitulation to time and appearance.

Mayor Wasserman and Councilmember Harrison voted approval of the staff recommended site not because they thought it was the best plan, but rather they feared that if left for an investigation of another site, the skate park would be lost to the time honored tradition of the dusty shelf. A decision based on fear and loss of control is rarely a good combination.

Councilmembers Chan and Natarajan were in favor of observing a bit more restraint and at least investigating alternatives, if this could be done in a timely manner without jeopardizing the construction schedule. Staff reluctantly agreed that this was possible. Only Councilmember Wieckowski flatly stated that he had no interest in anything other than staff recommendation. After all, from his perspective, he is convinced he will be elected to serve in the state legislature in November and this could be another inflated claim to sainthood for him.

Is this the type of decision-making we seek from our elected representatives? Council actions appear to be orchestrated by a staff micromanaged by a city manager that carefully screens and grudgingly releases information. Who is leading the city into the future?

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