Monday, March 29, 2010

None of the Above

As City Manager of Fontana, I have been afforded the opportunity to be involved in many exciting projects within the City. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been associated with an organization that has accomplished so much during the past eleven years.

The Mayor and City Council have done a wonderful job in creating a vision for this community and then taking the actions needed to turn that vision into a reality.

Some of the projects we have been able to work on that have made a difference within Fontana include the construction of the Lewis Library, the Sierra Interchange, Fontana Park, Heritage Community Center, Jack Bulik Park Renovation, Baseline Avenue, Cypress Overpass, Fontana Aquatics Center, Senior Community Center, Center Stage, Town Square, Sierra Lakes Golf Course, Vets Park Renovation, Almeria Park, Cherry Avenue, Foothill Boulevard, Bill Martin Park Renovation, Fernandez Park, Pacific Electric Trail System, Four Phases of Senior Housing, Jessie Turner Center, Jurupa Avenue, Paramedics, Fontana Fire District, Downtown Fa├žade, Empire Center, Annexations and the soon to be constructed Citrus and Cherry Interchanges. This is just a partial list, but I am sure you get the point.

A staff member recently posed the following question to me: “If I were to leave the City tomorrow, what accomplishment would I highlight as being the most important?” The answer is very easy - none of the above.

It’s the people, it’s the community, and it’s the Fontana family.

Some thoughts on my experiences….

-I recently had occasion to be walking back to City Hall from the Lewis Library at about 9:00 in the evening. I left the Steelworkers’ Auditorium, walking north across the Pacific Electric Trail and saw parents with their kids enjoying the evening in safety, walking the trail system in downtown Fontana.

-I was at an event at Miller Park last summer and watched several hundred socially diverse residents and families enjoying an evening of music and dancing under the stars.

-Last fall, I was at a swim meet at the Fontana Aquatics Center watching better than a thousand kids competing at our facility from all over the State of California and in awe of the community’s facilities.
A month ago I stopped by Jack Bulik Park and listened to parents shout encouragement to their kids competing in roller hockey.

-I talked to a new resident in our new senior housing facility and listened as they broke down in tears because they were so excited about being able to call Fontana their home.

- With the recent economic downturn, I sat in humble awe as employees across this entire City gave up raises and made other concessions voluntarily because they wanted to be part of the solution for the community.

It’s all about Fontana pride and it is a very special place of which to be a part. It is the community of Fontana in which I take most pride.

I wish to thank the Mayor and City Council for their trust in allowing me to be a small part of it all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Keeping the Public's Business Public

Periodically it is said that government needs to run more like the business sector. This statement is normally made in the context of financial or operational issues. While there are many excellent business practices that can and should be incorporated into the running of government, the simple truth of the matter is that government can not operate like a business because of its need to conduct business openly and in public.

Imagine walking into the board meeting of a major corporation such as Coca-Cola or Apple Computer. If you were not an invited participant to the meeting, you would be immediately escorted out of the building because businesses do not operate under the principles of public scrutiny. This is not the case for government, however. Not only is there an expectation of open access in government, but there is also a legal requirement that government must conduct its business in full view of the public and not behind closed doors.

With a few exceptions, the Brown Act requires all actions taken by the governing board of a government organization to take place in public and be documented in a public record that can be viewed and scrutinized by anyone. Those few exceptions that can be dealt with in closed session are personnel issues, property negotiations, and litigation. Even for those exceptions, decisions that result in agreements, contracts and board actions must be disclosed publicly.

Operating in such a fish bowl environment can make the accomplishment of government business both difficult and time consuming. Though admittedly not efficient, this concession of efficiency is necessary to prevent both the perceived and actual influence of political deal making. Governing board members, such as the City Council, are not only precluded from taking action in private, they are also precluded from discussing city issues with a majority of members from their board.

The Fontana Mayor and City Council go to great lengths to live within the confines of the Brown Act. For example, area community meetings, where City issues are discussed, are generally not attended by a majority of members from the City Council. When more than two City Council members show up to these public meetings, all City Council members in attendance refrain from talking about or participating in a presentation of City issues. This can be very frustrating on the part of the elected leadership, but it is the right thing to do to remain compliant with the Brown Act. You may also often see City Council members sitting apart from eachother at luncheons and other events just to avoid the appearance of violation of the Brown Act.

The Brown Act not only prevents business from being conducted in private, it also precludes what are called serial meetings between a majority of the City Council Members. This means that if Councilmember A discusses an issue of city business with Councilmember B, that neither Councilmember A nor Councilmember B can discuss that same topic with any other member on the City Council, unless it takes place during an agendized public meeting.

The Brown Act is specifically designed to preclude political deals from being made behind the scenes, but even more importantly, it allows for the public to participate in the policy discussion before a vote may be taken on an issue.

The Mayor and City Council hold City Council meetings because they are truly interested in the opinions of the members of this community and do not want to come to a consensus decision until after all those interested in speaking on an issue have had the opportunity to be heard. Dissention that leads to an honest and forth right discussion of the issues is a good thing for government because it helps all involved to make well informed policy decisions.

It certainly happens that people may disagree with a decision made by the City Council. As long as both sides of an issue have a fair opportunity to voice their opinions, the process has worked. While you may disagree with the result of the decision made, you should not have disagreement with the process. Open meetings, though not business-like, are important to the success of any government organization and the Brown Act is one of those laws designed to benefit the needs of any community or individual we serve.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Time to Be Counted!

What is the Census?
Every ten years the United States conducts a census to gather statistics about its population. The census is a ten-question form that is mailed to each household and only takes ten minutes to complete.

The Federal Government consolidates this information and makes program and funding decisions based upon the results obtained during this process.

It is critical to the welfare of all Fontana residents that everyone take time to fill out and return the census form.

What if I don’t fill out the form?
Ten’s of millions of dollars for Fontana can be lost if the community is undercounted. This funding will affect our community’s ability to provide public safety, education, and recreational opportunities within the City.

The information gathered during the census process is also invaluable to our economic development activities and assists us in working toward the creation of more jobs for Fontana.

What happens to your information once you fill out the form?
All of the information collected by the census is confidential and is only used to determine funding for your community.

Please keep an eye on your mailboxes and fill out the form when you receive it. The ten minutes you spend in filling out the form will set the stage for OUR community’s success for the next ten years.

We need your help - Stand up and be counted!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Elected Officials Must Be Team Players

Community Member Question:

What quality or qualities do you expect from someone considering a council seat?

City Manager Response:

Honesty, Integrity, Courtesy and Common Sense.

This is an excellent question and one worthy of some thought. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with a number of people who have been elected to office and I have enjoyed my interaction with all of them. I generally find that elected officials all care a great deal about the community they serve and truly desire to do the best job possible. The skills and abilities of these individuals vary greatly based upon their individual backgrounds, but I think there are a few very important qualities that a person should have to be successful in an elected position.

First, be willing to listen respectfully to both sides of an issue before making up your mind. God has given each of us two ears and one mouth for a reason and we are always better off taking the time to listen and learn before we act.

Second, you can accomplish nothing alone. You must be a team player. It takes a majority of the votes of any board to get anything accomplished and you must be willing to spend the time and effort to build a consensus on an issue if you are to have success, even when that means working with people you have had disagreements with in the past. An elected official is too burdened with responsibility to carry around personal grudges.

Third, be responsive and accessible to your constituents. If you can not defend a decision publicly to your constituents it was likely not a good decision.

Fourth, be humble enough to be willing to admit to mistakes and to take what corrective action is necessary to resolve an issue. Nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes at some point in their life. The biggest mistake of all is not fixing them when they happen.

Fifth, fix windows instead of throwing rocks. It is far more beneficial to the community you serve to fix problems rather than laying blame.

Lastly, be willing to communicate openly and often. In my dealings with elected officials I often remind my staff that it is our job to make sure that there are no secrets or surprises. Be willing to ask the difficult questions even if you think it may be a stupid one. If you have a question then it is very likely others do too.