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City leadership seeks improved communication

Study finds that some officials feel their access to the City Council is blocked, inefficient

Posted: April 8, 2009 12:42 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2009 9:00 a.m.
Councils. Commissions. Committees. Analysts. Managers. For these levels of city government and more, Santa Clarita officials are hoping to improve communication and expand the understanding of individual roles and responsibilities.

At the behest of City Manager Ken Pulskamp, four city analysts carried out a review of the Planning Commission; the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission; the Arts Advisory Committee; and the Newhall Redevelopment Committee.

Members of each group answered an 18-question interview for the study, which was conducted over several months, Management Analyst Elena Galvez said.

The 27-page analysis of the review sheds light on several concerns. Namely, it states, “(a) common thread among the boards is the need for clarification of purpose and role ... (and) some members perceive that their access to the City Council is stifled, blocked or filtered.”

“I feel that there are times when the commission wants to be able to have a greater dialogue with the council,” said Diane Trautman, a seven-year member of the Planning Commission, and a member of the Arts Advisory Committee for several years. “I think we need to look at the processes we have in place and make some (recommendations) to the council for improvement.”

A concern raised by the staff members conducting the review was that there seems to be varying levels of clarity among board members, concerning their roles and responsibilities.

Also, the study identified a “lack in consistent administrative training,” related to topics including ethics, sexual harassment and the Brown Act, the state law that ensures the public’s access to local government meetings.

“We need a more formalized approach,” Trautman said, and added she had no formal orientation when she joined the arts committee. “I think that to be most effective, everybody has to have a basic grounding in ‘this is how it works.’”

Concerning access to the City Council, 10-year Planning Commissioner Tim Burkhart said: “I think the amount of input I have with them is totally appropriate.”

If anything, he said, he believes a bigger public concern might be the council having too much influence on the boards, “which is certainly not the case either.”

When it came to concerns about access to the council, he said, “I was kind of taken aback by that. I don’t want to see a knee-jerk overreaction to what may be only a few people’s concerns.”

The review concludes with several recommendations:
  • Establish consistent processes among commissions and committees
  • Clarify the roles of the commissions and committees
  • Maximize the effectiveness and productivity of the commissions and committees consistent with their goals and purpose
  • Establish effective two-way communication and information flow.

Mayor Frank Ferry said he has already begun taking steps to improve communication and has met with the chairs of each committee and commission.

“I think you have a situation where we meet and have joint sessions ... but outside of those meetings, everyone is so cautious (of violating the Brown Act) that it becomes almost sterile.

“We need to build relationships.”

There has always been a concern that the Arts Advisory Committee does not have enough of a voice with the City Council, committee chair Sherry Klahs said.

“It’s really hard to know if we’re being effective when we don’t get a chance to advise the council,” she said Tuesday.

In light of the ongoing development of the city’s new Arts Commission and the stated intent of the city manager and council members to attend meetings, she expects that a better relationship is on the horizon.

“I’m very hopeful,” she said.



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