Reply to Leo Cunningham/NextDoor/

5-13-20

Leo, thank you for your comment. You are certainly entitled to your opinions and we are happy to see you post them on this open forum. However, we need to set the record straight and share with the readers some factual background regarding the Finance Commission Initiative. Secondly, we have never questioned the ethics nor the intent of any Council Member. I certainly hope that you were not suggesting that in your piece. We have questioned their judgment, which is always necessary in the world of politicians.  Lastly, we are confident we all want the same outcome – good and transparent government, capable of making informed decisions.

Regarding the Finance Commission initiative; you are correct that the LGCA has sponsored this initiative. We did realize that local governments have been ensconced in the same way of doing business for decades, and many fear change of any nature. It was a risk that we thought worthwhile taking.

We did this only after approaching the Town Council last year with a resolution to form a new finance commission consisting of 5 voting citizen members and 2 non-voting Council Members (one of which would be either the Mayor or Vice-Mayor). Each Council Member would appoint one citizen member. The citizen positions are non-paid volunteer positions whose members must meet a high qualification standard in financial management. These individuals are seasoned professionals with distinguished careers – not “bureaucrats”. You do correctly point out that the Town is leanly staffed, and we believe what better way to add “fire power” to the Staff than to have 5 resident experts contributing their knowledge, experience  and time at no cost to the town?

The function of the Finance Commission would be to serve strictly in an advisory capacity to the Town Council with the duties and responsibilities to review the Town’s finances including but not limited to the Annual budget, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (aka, CAFR), capital expenditures, the revenue and expenditure of Measure G Sales tax, and make recommendations about the Town’s financial, budgetary, investment,  and operations matters to the Town CouncilAll decision-making responsibility rests solely with the Town Council. The Council is free to accept or reject the Finance Commission’s recommendations. The Finance Commission is purposely setup not to interfere in anyway with the decision-making authority of the Council.  That is written into the initiative.

If giving solid and thoughtful advice to the Town Council that results in the Council making better-informed financial decisions in an open and transparent way is what you meant by “more influence over how our taxpayer money gets spent”, then you are absolutely correct! We see this as a terrific outcome for the residents of Los Gatos, as do many cities throughout California who have established finance commissions. In fact, Los Altos, Menlo Park and Los Altos Hills all have similar finance commissions that work well.  We have spoken with two of the finance commissions and recommend all readers to look at the Los Altos system.  The Los Altos Council and Finance Commission work very well together and complement each other’s skill levels.

We originally took our proposal to the Council and asked them to consider this in the form of a resolution. We informed them that if they chose not to do so, we would take it to the residents of Los Gatos and see if we could get enough voter interest to qualify for the November ballot through the initiative process. The Council declined to take up our proposal and instructed us to “go get the signatures”.

However, before we took that step, we also approached the Town Manager and the Assistant Town Manager to seek their input on our proposal. We had an in-person meeting in which we asked for their comments. Unfortunately, we were told that they had no comments, and while they had concerns, they were unwilling to share these concerns with us. It was a frustrating meeting for sure, which lasted no more than five minutes. So we left and have never heard from them since.

It was at this point we formally launched the initiative process. All other attempts to bring change had failed and this was the only option open to us.

And here Leo is where we part ways. There is nothing more democratic than using the California initiative process to get an initiative on the ballot when your elected officials decline to act. Thank goodness California has this protection. Because without it, the residents of this Town would not have the opportunity to VOTE on this initiative in November. The initiative process exists to address this very issue – namely when elected officials fail to act on a matter that is important to the voters. We took up the Council’s challenge and we sought the necessary signatures to qualify.

And boy did we get the signatures. We obtained over 2,824 signatures in a six-week period. That is more than 10% of the registered voters in Los Gatos. We submitted the signatures to the Town Clerk in late January and were notified in late February that the County Registrar of Voters officially qualified the initiative for the November ballot. It is important for you to understand that this initiative is not just about the will of the three sponsors, but the will of 2,824 who signed the initiative.

Once the initiative was qualified, in early March we went back to the Council and had them again discuss the option of adopting the initiative as written and thus avoid the cost of placing it on the ballot. We believed that armed with nearly three thousand signatures the Council would see there was broad support. However, the Council declined to adopt the initiative and instead voted to move forward with placing the initiative on the ballot. They were fully aware of the cost to place this on the ballot. So that is why the Town is now faced with the $50,000 election charge. It was the Council’s decision to place this on the ballot, not ours.

I also do not accept your characterization that the $50,000 is “squandered”. First, it is the law – that is how the California initiative process works. Secondly, 2,824 voters have said we want to vote on this initiative. If left to the Council, the system would remain in status quo – which has proven to be well behind modern, progressive, and transparent financial thinking.  Presumably, the voters who signed the initiative did so because they supported the idea.We are proud of our hard work and effort. It cost the residents of Los Gatos nothing to get this on the ballot. We did this as a community service. Now it is up to the voters. If a majority agree with our measure, it will pass. If a majority do not agree, it will fail.

We would like to make one last comment to clear the air as to why we chose not to “even show up at the meeting”, as you have pointed out. Frankly, we are not sure why you mentioned this, but it must have deeply troubled you. The reason we purposely chose not to attend the “virtual council meeting” was because we had already spent many hours to prepare and send to the Council in advance a very thoughtful and detailed letter outlining why we wanted the agenda item pulled from the consent calendar.  This gave each councilmember several days to deliberate on a full and thoughtful discourse in a transparent forum. Additionally, we presented our view as to why it was not the right time to grant any salary/bonuses due to the massive economic uncertainty facing the Town. It is possible to hold both views that the staff are hardworking and deserving AND that now is not the time to grant salary adjustments. That was our point.

Given all of the effort that had been put into this written communication, (all of it is available on-line as part of the agenda package) there was no point to participate in a 3 minute commentary over Zoom. Please recall that the citizens are not allowed to ask the Council any questions, and if you look at what we wrote to the Council, there was too much information to squeeze into 3 minutes.  What more could we have said?

And now you have the rest of the story.

Los Gatos Community Alliance

  1. Marlene Rodman

    I cannot thank you enough for all of the work and effort you have so freely contributed on behalf of the citizens of our town. As one volunteer to another, it is imperative we maintain a financial balance.

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