Civility was the watchword of the 2010 Turlock City Council campaign.
During a special City Council meeting Monday night for “new member orientation,” the three returning council members and two newly elected representatives sat down to discuss how that return to civility might function – even before the two new members have been sworn in.
The meeting, held at the Chamber of Commerce and facilitated by Chamber Board Chairman Marty Jakosa, aimed to elucidate the roles of the mayor and the council members, to determine “what’s best for the City of Turlock,” and to set goals for the new council’s term.
“What do you want to leave?” Jakosa asked “What do you want to be remembered for?”
When Mayor John Lazar first joined the Turlock City Council in 1992, he didn’t meet the manager or the mayor until his first meeting. Following the Nov. 2 election which determined Bill DeHart and Forrest White would replace outgoing council members Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher on Dec. 14, Lazar saw fit to begin the new term with everyone ready to act.
“I thought it was important to try to hit the ground running and embrace our new members with our 2011 council as we move forward, because we have a lot to do in terms of moving our council forward and accomplishing good things for our city,” Lazar said.
Lazar hoped the new council would be able to improve on communication issues that plagued the outgoing council. Rather than fling accusations in the media and thrive on rumors, the new council agreed to speak directly with fellow council members to hash out issues.
“Frankly, this council had a control issue in terms of the release of information from certain council members,” Lazar said. “… I’m tired of making a statement and then the next day getting browbeaten because I didn’t have the authority to say it.”
The new council will likely designate an information officer to speak for the council, either Lazar, City Manager Roy Wasden or City Attorney Phaedra Norton.
The council also agreed to respect and follow the Code of Conduct – a document oftentimes wielded more as a weapon than a tool under the past council, Lazar said.
“In my opinion, the Code of Conduct is a very clear, concise document that, if everyone just followed it, the world in Turlock would be a better place,” said Councilwoman Mary Jackson.
The document is based on respect, Norton said, guiding the conduct of the mayor, vice mayor, and council members in interactions with staff, the public, other commissions, and the media. Examples of respectful and disrespectful communications are provided as a guide, and, should the council members fail to heed the Code of Conduct, council members can be formally censured.
The Code of Conduct also explains the relationship between the city manager and council. Under Turlock’s strong-manager form of government, Wasden runs the city while the council serves as a board of directors, with the mayor acting as chairman of the board, top elected official, and a representative of the city.
In the past, Lazar said, a lack of respect for the chain of command has led to controversial items being placed on the council agenda without mayoral approval or the support of the majority of council. The Code of Conduct says that the mayor alone can ask for extraordinary items to be agendized, while the city manager handles all routine items.
The new members hope to prevent these political battles of the past from occurring over the next two years of the seated council.
“We look at it as everything started the day the election was final,” White said. “We’re moving forward, and we’re going to do the best job we can.”
But some echoes of the past still affected Monday’s meeting, as Councilwoman Amy Bublak participated but was largely silent except when asked a question. Late in the meeting, she stated that she was intentionally reserved due to pending litigation from a fellow councilmember, though she does intend to be a “team player” on the new council.
As the meeting drew to a close, Jakosa complemented the new council on how well all members were listening to one another and not simply waiting their turns to speak or, worse yet, interrupting.
“I believe it’s a pipedream to think, as a group of five, you’re all going to always get along,” Jakosa said.
But despite that, Jakosa stressed the new council would be able to address any issues that came before them if they remembered to respect one another.
That message rang true with Lazar.
“For the most part, I see really good things in the days ahead,” Lazar said.
The new council was unable to complete their agenda, as the meeting drew to an unexpected early close when DeHart was forced to leave due to a family emergency. The council will continue the meeting and prioritize goals at a follow-up session, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31, 2011.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.
This article has been corrected to state that Bublak faces a potential lawsuit from a fellow councilmember. Originally, the article stated that Bublak faced a potential lawsuit from a former councilmember. The article has also been clarified, stating Bublak's hopes for the new council and participation level in the meeting.