Manteca’s elected leaders now have a written policy regarding how they ask questions of municipal staff.
And as far as Mayor Ben Cantu is concerned, it may not be a good thing.
The City Council Monday on a 4-1 vote adopted formal procedures for council requests of staff and/or department heads seeking information.
Cantu wasn’t critical of the process per se with Michael Harden as the interim city manager or himself as mayor. Instead he was concerned if future city managers adopted the approach of some past city managers and use the policy just adopted to marginalize elected council members they disagreed with.
As a City of Manteca employee in the planning department for nearly 30 years, Cantu said “I have seen it happen.”
Cantu said the policy as adopted can create a “downhill spiral” in reference to the ability of council members to work with staff. If that occurs, it would be the exact opposite of the intent of the policy elected leaders adopted.
Although he offered no specific examples, the most glaring one when Cantu was a city worker was how city staff worked in tandem at times with the council majority to block — or make it difficult — for then council members Wayne Flores and Carlon Perry to obtain information they sought on how the city was run.
At one point the city spent $20,000 on outside counsel to investigate how Flores and Perry conducted themselves. The conclusion was neither had done anything illegal.
What makes the “request policy” adopted Monday a bit ironic is it is designed in part to avoid a collapse of decorum and undermining staff’s ability to do their jobs which is exactly what happened in the mid-1990s.
The policy is also in response to a scathing Grand Jury report released last month outlining what the citizens’ panel saw as a dysfunctional city created in part by council members overstepping boundaries as individuals with how they interact with the city manager and department heads.
Councilman Charlie Halford didn’t see the policy as impeding individual council members. Instead he saw it as a way to eliminate staff time being devoted to gathering extensive information on a subject that there wasn’t a council consensus to pursue.
Councilman Jose Nuño noted the policy could be modified if it proves not to be effective.
At one point during an earlier presentation of outside consultants providing a refresher course in state laws and best practices governing the conduct of the public’s business, Cantu pointed out the California Legislature were “hypocrites” for mandating local government such as schools and city councils to adhere to the Brown Act covering conducting the public’s business in the open. Yet, as the consultant concurred, the legislature is allowed to do much of the public’s business behind closed doors.
The legislature — unlike city councils, school boards, county supervisors, and such — can use “daisy chain” meetings where one elected official talks individually with numerous other elected individuals to build a consensus. They can also have person “A” lobby person “B” who in turn lobbies person “C” and so forth.
Cantu made his comments as an observation. He did not say that serial meetings were something he wanted local elected officials to have the legal ability to do.
The presentation also touched on the use of social media including council members texting on the dais while a council meeting is taking place.
The consultant cited a case where a San Jose council member was doing that a few years back during a discussion on a development project. A citizen submitted a public records act request to find out what the council member was texting during a meeting.
The courts upheld the request.
In the past eight years several Manteca council members have been seen texting from the dais during council meetings.
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