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Will Rogers

April 24, 2001

Will Rogers

Can someone save citizens $5 million just by asking a question?

Exactly that may have happened in Glendale's City Hall earlier this

month.

At their first council meeting, all new council members are

miraculously transformed into experts in finance, sewers, street repair,

waste disposal, planning, zoning, law enforcement, business development,

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public utility management and parliamentary procedure. By the official's

second meeting, that list probably doubles.

All right, so there is no miraculous transformation. The guy who

couldn't balance a checkbook before the election is no better at it

afterward. What an individual brings to council service isn't necessarily

a college degree or special expertise.

Glendale's form of city government holds that part-time council

members, citizens from any walk of life, make decisions with guidance

from full-time staff and other paid advisors. That's not to say it's an

official's duty to approve staff recommendations. If that were so, we

wouldn't need a council.

Rather, it's a council member's duty to explore issues and weigh

proposals in light of their own priorities, and those of the citizens.

It's their duty to ask questions. Sometimes staffers go too far in trying

to lead the council to what they believe is a right decision, and that's

when the council member's questions are most important.

*

We've had, and probably always will have, an official or two who takes

their first look at meeting agenda packets during the meeting itself.

They skip to the last page of staff reports, read the recommendations,

and try to keep up with discussions among colleagues and staff.

About the only time this kind of council member is more involved is

when an influential advisor speaks up in advance. "Keep an eye on item

7-A tomorrow night," says the advisor. "The resolution will..." and from

there you can fill in the blanks.

Either the advisors urge an approval, or they want it killed. The

official is then primed with the questions to ask, or arguments to make.

Some defend this means of doing the city's business.

"Why hire staff if we won't listen to them?" is one defense I've

heard. "It's in the staff's interest to get it right," is another. "I'm

not a lawyer, so how can I reject the city attorney's opinion?" is one

variation on a very popular argument for councilmanic abdication.

*

Two weeks ago, the two newest council members, Bob Yousefian and Frank

Quintero, reviewed agenda reports before their first meeting. It was

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